When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’— Mr. Rogers.
A journalist from a German business magazine is riding in my car. He is reporting on digital trends and is on an exploratory tour in Silicon Valley. When we encounter a self-driving car on one of the main streets, we both pull out our smartphones to film it. Somehow I eagerly press the wrong button on my iPhone X while I have to watch out for the traffic as a driver and realize afterwards that I didn’t record a video. But my passenger did – with his iPhone 6. The video he kindly sends me later has such a bad resolution that I can’t use it. It is summer 2018.
Change of scene: The backpack
In autumn 2018, I’ll flip through the current issue of t3n, a German magazine for digitalos and technology enthusiasts. One segment asks prominent digital entrepreneurs and pioneers what they pack in their backpacks on business trips. The digital evangelist of a large German corporation lists: Laptop, Powerbank, book and his iPhone 6.
Change of scene: Las Vegas, Nevada.
On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, three dozen IT consultants meet for lectures and an exchange of ideas over dinner. When asked who owns a language assistant, all hands stay down, but from the back one attendee yells: “They are always listening!
Change of scene: Silicon Valley
A delegation with the German Federal Minister of Economics and Energy visits start-ups and companies in Silicon Valley and meets with German employees and founders. At one event, the innovation evangelist from Google, Frederick Pferdt, does a short exercise. The delegation members are asked to close their eyes and perform small arithmetical exercises. “One plus one is two,” says Pferdt. You can’t hear anything. “Two plus two is four!” They are all concentrated and quiet as mice. “Three plus three is five.” The Federal Minister shouts out: “Wrong!” Pferdt continues unimpressed. “Four plus four is eight.” And another “five plus five is 10.” No one’s talking.
All eyes open and Pferdt analyses. “Did you notice that out of five tasks, four were correct, but no one gave any praise? But one was wrong, and the response was immediate and the attention was razor sharp. And this is exactly the difference between Germany and Silicon Valley. Don’t stop with one mistake, think positively, keep trying new things.“
This is just a small selection of the events that I and others have experienced in recent years when meeting innovation managers, digital evangelists, product development managers, board members and tech journalists. Mind you: all of them people whose task and interest should be to bring their own organizations and society into the future.
I have lived in Silicon Valley since 2001 and follow technology trends at close quarters. It was also not easy for me to deal with the future in a way that was characterized by openness and sincere interest. In this respect, I understand the mindset of the delegations and visitors from the German-speaking world whom I am allowed to meet in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For a long time I have struggled to understand why there is such a difference in the innovative strength of the regions, and only a biography on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death gave me a clue.
With this blog, which will accompany my book Future Angst, I would like to analyze the causes of skepticism towards new technologies and approaches, the negative effects on societies, and how we can adopt a more open and objective approach and shape the future more optimistically.