Dietmar Dahmen is a creative consultant, futurologist and innovation expert, specialising in marketing and in digital trends and solutions. He’s also Chief Innovation Officer with the multinational online agency ecx.io.
What’s more, he’s one of the speakers in the Innovations And Thought Leaders track at the Adobe Summit EMEA 2015. His session is called How To Get The Money AND The Girl, but when CMO.com caught up with him to discuss what he’ll be talking about, he had a different analogy in mind.
Dahmen: One of the core theses I’m going to talk about is that people have to re-understand what data really is. We all have a notion of what data is, but that’s a prejudice. It comes from an old time. We have to get rid of the old thinking and establish a totally new way of looking at data.
Data’s been with us for a long time, and machines evolve really quickly. So we can now talk about the evolution of data. In an article I wrote for CMO.com a little while ago, I said data is code at its base, and DNA means life is also code at its base. If you look at life, what happened in the Cambrian Revolution, four or five hundred million years ago, is that bacteria created an atmosphere rich in oxygen.
When oxygen was introduced, life exploded. Because you could breathe oxygen in and then CO2 out, and then plants breathe the CO2 in and oxygen out. Every life that did not breathe oxygen, every big, smart life form, died. And every life form that could breathe oxygen lived and prospered.
Today this oxygen is called computing. Cloud computing is the atmosphere where our digital devices can breathe data in and breathe data out. And breathing in and out gives you power, like breathing oxygen gives you power, and if your company can’t breathe data, like if you can’t breathe oxygen, you will eventually die.
If you breathe really well you will get bigger and bigger. Also, there’s a multitude of startups, like there’s also a multitude of life. There’s a niche lifeform for everything; there’s a niche startup for everything.
The other thing that data does is communication. One device communicates with another device. It used to be that we looked at biology and we looked at single individuals, like a single ant. Now there’s a new field of biology called sociobiology, which looks at groups of animals. A group of ants is obviously tons stronger than a single ant. A group of people can build a pyramid tons stronger than a single person. And a group of data, if you can connect and communicate data, it’s tons stronger than a silo solution.
The reason is that it doesn’t add up linearly. Like one plus one equals two in a regular case, but if you have a group, all of a sudden you can be ten times stronger. So that means we have to look at data in terms of socio-data: who do you interconnect with, how do you change your environment. How much more power can I get if I combine certain things with other things?
So socio-data is getting very big, breathable data is getting very big. And that is a very different way to look at data. And if you do that, and if you understand that, then all of a sudden you can start to play with the idea. You can start to look at where development will go, what you can do in addition to certain things.
And the effect of innovations can be really unexpected, but they are always really logical after you know about them.
CMO.com: Can you give me an example?
Dahmen: Choice Hotels were the first people to allow you to open your hotel room with an NSC device, like your phone or a wearable device, rather than with a key. The ads were about “Now the room knows who you are” and how you can have it at your own temperature and you can continue watching Netflix where you’d stopped and stuff like that, so everybody thought about the room. But what is happening now is that there’s no more lines at the registration. Because you get the room key on your phone, all you do is you walk into the hotel, immediately go to your room, open the room, and all is done. Nobody thought about that.
What you has to understand is that everything you do will change your environment completely; data is breathable; and data needs to communicate. Those are the core messages.
If it changes your environment completely, you have tons of new opportunities to make business and to optimise your business, and to optimise traffic, income, everything. Because you all of a sudden create a new environment that you control, that you create. This is a very, very powerful situation to be in.
CMO.com: That’s very challenging for people. You might understand these ideas, but especially if you work in a big organisations, what can you do to start effecting that change?
Dahmen: We as a species like to copy other members of our species. So we have mirror neurons, and the mirror neurons make us want to copy what we see other people doing. That’s why if you want to learn the piano, you look at the fingers of your piano teacher and copy what they are doing. If you are a manager? You copy best practice. You copy what other businesses are doing. But that will never make you a leader. If you want to be a leader, you have to step out of copying things and you have to start taking initiatives. And you have to look for better ways, for new ways and better ways to do either new jobs or to do the existing jobs. So you have to basically take the initiative. You actually have to do things. You have to go somewhere, you have to be an explorer. And that is what a leader is. Leadership is all about exploration, going where no one has gone before, and that takes courage to do that.
So people have to decide if they just want to copy best practice and be managers. But then, many people can do that, and eventually machines can probably do that better. The reason to still have a job and have a mission, you have to work on that. You have to get out and do the stuff, and it’s probably not going to be comfortable, but then you can be a leader.