Innovation & Technology
• 5 minute read

Succeeding in the Age of Disruption

In today’s ever-changing digital world, how do we reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the game?

By Mabel Sieh, Managing Editor, China Business Knowledge @ CUHK

Whether you like it or not, we are officially living in the digital age with the internet taking over almost every part of our lives: we read the newspaper, shop for food and clothing items, book a movie ticket and our next flight, all on the internet, without having to interact with a real person.

“We’re living in a truly ‘mobile-first’ world with over 10 times more smart phones or tablets being sold every day than babies being born,” says Tony Tai, General Manager of IBM China/Hong Kong Limited.

“On average, we check our smart phones 150 times a day, or nearly once every six seconds. Just ask yourself: how many emails do you receive every day? How many WhatsApp groups are you in?” he says.

The Disruptive Force of the Internet

The ubiquitous use of internet has given us the luxury to enjoy a wide range of innovations without having to wait. However, it has also disrupted our traditional way of living, forcing us to chase the ever-changing digital environment in an unprecedentedly fast pace.

Perhaps the most common “disruptions” is in our communication in everyday life – on Facebook.

“Facebook has 1.49 billion monthly active users, which is bigger than China’s population of 1.36 billion at the end of 2014, and it’s growing at 13 percent year-to-year,” he said. “More than 2.5 trillion bytes of data — also known as “big data”— are created every day on the internet. These include videos, images and countless updates on social platforms,” Tai says.

Tai reckons the changes have not just happened in our social lives but also among industries and companies which have to transform to catch the Internet wave.

“For example, the marketing industry has been undergoing a major data-driven transformation. Companies now collect customer data via their online and offline platforms. Using the collected data, they can roll out personalized services just for you.”

“The company Game On has its own mobile apps and about 600 shops. They know they only have three seconds to captivate a customer – from the time he enters the shop to the time he leaves. So they gather all his data with questions such as: ‘What has he purchased recently? Is he a club member?’ so that they can recommend the perfect game for him as he walks in the shop.”

In today’s individual-centric economy, everybody is connected and empowered. Content is delivered your way. You can also send feedback on what you like and don’t like through the social media. Just like Spotify – songs are now delivered to you, for you to access anywhere, anytime. You can also see what songs your friend connected with you on the platform are listening to.

“The key to stay ahead of the game is to reinvent ourselves, and develop the skills that are irreplaceable by robots and advanced technology.” – Tony Tai, IBM China/Hong Kong

Similar disruptions can be seen in many other industries.

“In car manufacturing, 3-D printing is disrupting the way of production. Not only is the process quicker, it also allows everybody to have his own design, in a less expensive cost,” says Tai.

“In healthcare, a cognitive computer called IBM Watson is helping 14 American and Canadian cancer institutes with cancer treatment. By gathering all available scientific papers and clinical trials on particular cancers and potential therapies over the years, the computer can identify drugs targeting cancer-causing mutations in hours or even faster.”

“In journalism, two US companies — Automated Insights and Narrative Science — are using algorithms to gather and synthesize information, and create articles by natural language generators for the Associated Press and Forbes. These sports and finance articles generated by “robo-writers” are indistinguishable from those written by humans,” he adds.

Reinvent Yourself to Stay Ahead

With all these changes brought by advanced technology and innovations, our working lives are also being disrupted and rapidly changing. “In 2000, the average job tenure for the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies used to be 10 years, but today it has been reduced to only five years. For those who are CEOs, if you are not changing fast enough, you’re going to have to find another job,” Tai says.

However, being disrupted isn’t necessarily a recipe for failure, as Tai believes the key to stay ahead of the game is to reinvent ourselves, and develop the skills that are irreplaceable by robots and advanced technology.

He refers to a survey by IBM in collaboration with Economist Intelligence Unit, showing while the speed of technological innovations is moving even faster, there is a shortfall of some skills still required of today’s world.

“The ability to analyze problems and find possible solutions; to collaborate effectively and work in teams; and to communicate effectively in business context; and the willingness to be flexible, agile and adaptable to change.”

On top of these soft skills, there are two fundamental values for young people to succeed in our super-connected world, taken from his experience working in IBM, according to Tai.

“We need to be able to think. Often, we don’t spend time thinking enough, especially in today’s fast-moving world where we’re overwhelmed by all sorts of information. It is important to think and think again, about what is the right thing to do.”

“We need to respect others. Respect is the most important value in our highly connected world driven by the social media. Only when we know how to respect each and every individual can we communicate and collaborate effectively,” Tai says.


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