Martin Wezowski works as Chief Designer & Futurist for SAP’s Technology & Innovation strategy. He is on a mission to map, build and inspire a future we want to live in. Exberliner tech editor Jewell Sparks recently caught up with Wezowski to get his take on these unprecedented times, and what the future might hold.
It’s been a really interesting time in the world and the workplace. How has your role changed as a result of the pandemic?
I think my role specifically has not and will not change. My role is to write long-term strategies, or visions, for SAP. I look far, far ahead, and when I do well I produce narratives. If Jürgen Müller, the boss, sees a vision that he likes and says that we should do it, then I did a good job. We then make it into a strategy and execute it, always looking 10 to 15 years ahead. This is what we all should do. So, these are tough times, but this is what we all should do now. So no, I don’t think my job will change, but I think everyone else’s job will most likely change.
Following the crisis, leaders have realized that people can be equally effective while working from their own personal environment. Do you think this will enable companies to diversify their workforces?
I am not sure anything’s changed. However, it has shown us all how great it actually is to come together, and that there are pluses and minuses of distance work. You get sessions with people from diverse backgrounds, because your traditional office space and whoever happens to be in there is not the norm any more. That is great. But there is a drop in this beautifully human, spontaneous and random screw-up kind of interaction, that is an important catalyst for innovation, evolution and emergence. That happens only when four, six or eight eyes meet in a room. I guess we all miss that spark and creativity.
Were you prepared for Covid-19 from a work style perspective?
When Covid-19 hit, I was trained to think, okay, how do we deal with this? When people get out on the football field it is too late to coach. You need to react instantly and have muscle memory and intuition. You need to set values beforehand. My values are long term. They’re about relationship building. These things have been on my mind a very long time. Now, I have to harvest that, and hopefully I have these values set in my mind, so that when shit hits the fan I wake up with the right mindset.
What are the questions that people and business leaders should start thinking about now that things are slowly getting back to normal?
The big question is, are we prepared to care for each other? Will your bank loan you the money to save your business? Are you going to stay in the same family, or is it time to pack your bags and enter the next dimension?
Before Covid-19, everyone was talking about man vs machine. Now it seems like the world is focused on man vs the disease. What are your thoughts?
If anything it should be Hu-Man vs Machine. But honestly, why oppose them? There is no man vs machine, that’s all made up. There is something that I call the Hu-machine, Hu-machine learning. SAP is looking far ahead. We crafted a sentence. “We hope that there will be an empathic symbiosis between machine intelligence and human ingenuity.” There is nothing versus anything there. Machines need to understand who you and I are. Secondly, we need to feel some empathy for their understanding or misunderstanding of us. So we need mutual understanding. I can augment a machine with my humanity and the machine can augment me with its mechanical logic. We need each other. We didn’t go to the moon because we were pessimistic. We went there because it was crazily optimistic and almost naive and hopeful. That is why we went. Anywhere you go begins with your hopes and passions.
What role do relationships play when building sustainable business?
The questions companies should ask themselves are: What relationships do we have with our customers? What are our values? Will they themselves add value and earn us money in the end? What are the values we share amongst ourselves, our companies and our environment? These are the things that we should pay attention to and will hopefully lead to a bright future. If you think that the future may not be bright, then go play a Bond-villain. Why would anyone want to think that way?
I hear you talk a lot about transformative innovation. What’s so special about this kind of innovation?
Transformative innovation is called the third horizon of innovation. The fuel needed to go to the third horizon is imagination. Imagination is business. Where is your department of imagination? It’s something you should really ask. Imagination fuels hope, optimism, everything we touched upon. It fuels the relationships you will have in the future. Why will you be relevant in 10 years? Your answers drive the analysis that you build in and that is going to transform your company. How and when is something you don’t know, because it is just an idea. When you know the general direction, this is called vision. Vision comes before strategy.
What role does diversity play when it comes to creating narratives for business and/or creative strategies? Everyone needs a strategic direction, right?
By surrounding yourself with people who are diverse, you end up generating dialogues which help cultivate narratives for people to choose from. Most people cannot say how they arrived where they are. They just live in the present because they are execution-biased. We have been taught since the beginning of market capitalism that you should go to market and execute. That is called efficiency. The funny thing is, you can end up running in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, most incentive models have been built upon very limited dialogues and narratives. Leaders should always ask the question, “Are we building and evaluating upon doing the right things?” That meeting must take place. The outcome from that meeting must be your vision. Those narratives help you generate your safe, confident and strategic point of view. At this point you can validate and scale and all of that.
How would you have prepared for a pandemic if you were in charge?
If I was in charge of managing the spread of the pandemic I would have nurtured knowledge, trust, understanding, empathy, science, solidarity, social awareness and long-term thinking. These social parameters would have saved tremendous costs and lives in the long run. Let the scientists tell the leaders exactly what needs to be done. You really do not want to defund the saviors of your life and society, three years before shit hits the fan. Some countries did, and therefore more people died I would have prepared by calling on many scientists. I would have given them money. It wouldn’t matter what they needed, just give it to them. If and when the shit hits the fan, they become the ones in charge and the ones who lead the rescue forces. So preparedness, looking into the future, futurology can be the difference between life and death.
How do you think the world has changed since the pandemic? Do you think we will be better prepared next time?
When everyone starts venturing out we will forget what happened. People will still hug and kiss each other. We will still travel, go to the movies and climb on top of each other. We are just apes, the best apes out there. We are homo sapiens! Not much will change, people will not remember.
It seems you aren’t entirely optimistic that society will remember the effects of the pandemic. But what are you hopeful for?
I hope that humans will generate longer attention spans. The real pandemic is short-term thinking. Short-term thinking is the cancer. This type of thinking is killing businesses and even us. Trust the math, trust the science, and trust the people who actually know what they are doing. Try to check things out, otherwise you are screwed. Think long term. Have a purpose, have a vision before you have a strategy. Set your values, the rest will follow. When people experience something, they form opinions on it. Experiences bring new relationships. Start looking at these relationships, evaluate and build upon them. These relationships tell you who you really are! Let’s try and understand ourselves and our environments better.
What advice do you have for citizens, communities and companies about preparing for future unknowns?
We all need to start exploring and thinking about the unknown. When did you invest the thing into the thing before the strategy. You are doing things, right? Exploit what you know. This is one thing that the pandemic should have taught us. That’s your exploration. Let’s explore the unknown, the things that have not happened to us yet. Describe the relationships you want to have and build towards them. Think about your relevance as a person, as a society, as a company. How will you be relevant ten years from now? Why will you be relevant ten years from now? If you can’t envision this, then most likely you will not be relevant or add value. It’s important to explore and embrace the unknown.