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Why does digital disruption take so long? by Jens-Uwe Meyer

This is a contribution by ISPIM member Jens-Uwe Meyer was published at Check out ISPIM's Special Interest Group on Digital Disruption & Transformations.


When do cars drive autonomously? Already tomorrow? Or in ten years from now? When do we say farewell to cash? How long will traditional retail continue to exist? And when will we no longer have to collect paper receipts and take them to the tax consultant as a paper file?

These are questions that keep being discussed in the context of disruptive innovation ( and digital disruption ( over and over again.

Those who follow the debates on digitalization closely will discover that the same questions were discussed five years ago. And ten years ago. And again and again it was the same message: The technology is there, soon everything will change radically! Really?

Volkswagen board member Thomas Sedran admits in an interview with the German manager magazine (link to : The introduction of autonomous robot taxis will take much longer than expected. In the interview he said an interesting sentence: "Some visionaries, especially in Silicon Valley, have euphorically discovered how quickly 95 percent of this technology can be handled." Well, if the technology is manageable, why does it take so long?

Hadn't futurologists predicted ten years ago that digitalization ( would happen much faster than, for example, the industrial revolution? That's right. And that's exactly the problem.

Digitalization is changing our lives much more radical than industrialization did

Industrialization drastically changed society. But mainly in the sense that people moved to the cities and turned from farmers to workers. This can hardly be compared to the profound impact of digitalization. During industrialization, people did basically the same before and after: they marketed their ability to perform physical work. Before by cultivating an acre, afterwards by working in the factory.

Digitalization, however, requires a fundamental change! More than that, a complete relearning. And that's not even enough. Relearning would mean that employees receive training lessons. After taking courses for a week they suddenly would become digitalization experts. No, the change we are facing is even more dramatic: it requires a completely new way of thinking, which the "old" generation often fails to achieve.

The way we think about the economy, how companies are organized and managed, how products and services are marketed and customer relationships are formed - all this is changing so radically that in many companies it takes a new management generation to be able to transform.

- Therefore you will still receive a taxi receipt printed out from a thermal printer in 2025, put it on a photocopier (otherwise it won't be readable within a few days), attach the faded original to the copy then scan both and send it to the tax office.

- That's why in five years from now you'll still find companies where you have the feeling that you were suddenly taken back to the 90s.

- And that's why companies will still have people doing complicated work in five years' time, even though algorithms could complete it in a fraction of the time.

Digitalization can be compared with German reunification starting in 1989. The Berlin Wall (as a technical symbol of German division) was torn down within a very short time. Dismantling the border installations was easy. The wall in people's minds is partly still present today.

As easy as it may be to implement digitalization technologically, the revolution we are currently experiencing is so far-reaching that innovators and conservators are fighting a fierce battle. That's why VW Board Member Thomas Sedran is right when he says: Slow down your expectations, everything won't come that quickly. But that doesn't mean the effects will be gentle. The consequences for traditional business models will be much more radical than we can possibly imagine today. The digitalization of our economy and our society has only just begun.


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