Future-proofing Hospitality

[Keynote presentation given for Kempinski Hotels in Munich]

If the introduction sounds familiar, scroll down to TRANSITION.

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Good afternoon and thank you for being here.
My name is Michell, and I study technology.
To study technology means to make sense of a rapidly changing world.
But first I have to tell you how I ended up doing this for a living.
I was born and grew up in Sweden thirty years ago.

Nerdy kid. Total introvert.

A video-gaming,
four-year old.

If you haven’t been to Sweden, there are two things you should know:
it’s dark most of the year and everyone is wired.

Sweden was among the first countries in the world to roll out nation-wide broadband in the nineties.
Sweden did not invent the internet, but they were among the first to understand how connectivity can help build societies.

So imagine me: a twelve-year old in 1994 with an Intel 486 DX and dial-up internet access beeping on to the web.

Me, and half the kids in my class — all learning PHP and C++ and MySQL instead of being out kissing girls.

If you give kids fast & cheap broadband,
and time to get bored instead of being out playing in the snow,
you start breeding a very unorthodox set of talents.

Kids who grow up on the internet have their brains shaped in a very peculiar manner.
They see the world in a different light.

And that’s how everyone I know ended up in tech.

Not in banking.

Not in football.

I don’t have a single friend who’s a lawyer or a doctor.

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My generation are Kids With Broadband.

Kids who get technology.

Kids who taught themselves everything on Ataris and Commodores.

Taught themselves English playing Monkey Island,
And trained their reflexes playing Castle Wolfenstein.

We all did.

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Kids With Broadband teach ourselves.
We teach each other.

We don’t do business school and career paths.

We don’t listen to hierarchy.

We don’t even aim inside the status quo.

We are the kids who stay up all night disassembling the world so that we can put it back together with new features. [link Tesla Oatmeal]

We tinker and fix things that aren't even broken.

We're the Kids who abandon the world around us because we're busy building a new one.

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We are the kids make industry-toppling and disintermediating hacks.

The Angry Birds and Instagrams.

Kids who become billionaires overnight.

I think We’re different from previous generations, and that we’re just getting started.

There are just a few million of us.

Few organizations understand how to develop technological literacy to advance innovation.

Most organizations still see technology as a peripheral skill, instead of life long learning.

And I am trying to change that.

I’m trying to make people see technology’s big picture.

Because everywhere I look, I see companies repeating the mistakes of their predecessors.
Unknowingly walking the footsteps that led so many others to perish.

So I study technology.

I pay attention to it as a function over time.
And give a head start to those who are willing to listen.

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First, let’s kill the misconception that technology is limited to physical artefacts like Fuelbands, iPhones and Teslas.

It’s not JUST the things that track, beep and lose their signal.

Technology is everything we create.

Technology is how we solve problems as a species.

Vaccines solve smallpox,
Toothbrushes solve caries,
Democracy solves organization of power,
Television solves boredom.

The endeavour of creatively solving societal problems.

The accumulation of everything we have ever built.

Building and utilising technology seems to be at the core of what it means to be human.

It seems to amplify our desires to control nature.

With technology, we quite literally change our reality.

We fix it, we improve it, we tweak it.

So from my perspective, technology is an upwards levelling force.

That makes everyone’s life
a little bit better,
all of the time.

But I think we’re starting to notice that the speed of that change,
is ticking faster and faster.

And the questions we keep asking ourselves,
are getting larger and larger.

So we feel less and less in control as our world shape-shifts.

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Because of technology, billion-dollar companies are scared of teenagers with MacBooks.

Because Napster happened a decade ago, and nobody knows who’s next.

Because Amazon is the new FedEx.

Suddenly you have companies called
and SpaceX
and MakerBot.

Literally building the future out of science fiction movies.

Putting robots in space and being driven around by electric cars.

Suddenly we’re all revolutionaries and pirates.

And I’m thinking: this is the stuff that shapes epochs.

Technology not only enables people to me more successful, it enables new WAYS of being successful.

It empowers a lot of people with unorthodox talents to grow and contribute.

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This transition is well underway and shows no sign of slowing down.

Record labels,
tax accountants and cab drivers have all felt the irreversible effects of technology future-shocking their industry.

And you guys know this is happening.

You're moving from a dozen known competitors, to a million anonymous ones.

Suddenly every bed in every city has become your direct competition.

Suddenly you feel silicon valley breathing down your neck.

Suddenly the kids with broadband are starting to ask themselves how then can radically improve your industry, in ways you said was impossible.

You need careful contemplation and radical innovation as an antidote to this digital disruption.

To help you better understand why innovation is suddenly the hottest issue in town,
I want to tell you about four principles that are worth considering,
if you want to understand the world we live in today.

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The first is to become a technological tourist.

I look around this room and see well-traveled people.

So please, for a moment, picture somebody who has never left their home town.

Imagine somebody who was born, went to school, and worked their entire lives in a city the size of Erding, one train stop away from here.

Somebody who never took vacations abroad, never road tripped, never went anywhere exotic.

Imagine how small the world must look to them.

That's how I see most people when it comes to technology.

People confined to the same brand of operating system their entire life, from fear of having to learn something different.

People uncomfortable with things like genetic testing,
not because they're actually against it,
but because they've seen anything remotely like it.

People who haven't traveled aren't against the outside world,
but they fear what they don't understand.

You can change this by becoming a technological tourist.

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To become a tourist, you deliberately change your existing behaviour
to better understand the context in which you live.

You tour by realising technology might be manipulating you --
but that you can manipulate it right back.

You tour by switching off your smartphone for an entire month, just to see what it feels like.

Because without a glowing rectangle in your hand,
you might have to interact with people,
instead of anxiously checking email,
while you wait for your restaurant bill.

You tour by testing every hotel and hosting service in the App Store and in the innovation gallery.
Because to see the future you first need to understand the present.

You tour by deliberately making yourself slightly uncomfortable.

Because if you want to meaningfully understand what technology is doing to us,
you have to deliberately resist default behaviour
and consciously unbalance yourself.

Technological tourism is the cheapest, safest way of doing it.

Which leads me to the second point:

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That we humans have a nasty habit of ignoring the things that bother us.

Imagine you are a hunter on the Kenyan savanna.

You can see every movement on the horizon for kilometres in each direction.

After a few years of doing this,
you start understanding the horizon.

You know how quickly a tiny grey dot becomes a towering stampede of elephants.

Or how fast a camouflaged lion can come in your direction.

After a few generations of doing this,
evolution starts picking up the best-evolved horizon observers.

The hunters that miscalculate are eaten or starve.

But hunters who know how to read the horizon survive,
and their genes propagate,
and a delicate equilibrium is born.

You are not on the savanna, but eh principle applies.
So you think you can interpret the near future based on historical data.

But exponentials are changing that.

Everywhere you look, shifts and trends are moving in your direction.

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For example,
Have you heard of Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia?

In 2007 they turned their living room into a bed and breakfast.
They rented out air mattress and made breakfast for paying houseguests.

Have you heard this story?
Anyone in the audience?

In 2009 they expanded from renting out airbeds and breakfast,
to renting entire homes,
tree houses,
igloos and
private islands.

They grew from a few hundred clients in 2008
to a million in 2011
to four million in 2013

Think you've heard this story?

From a nothing to four million clients in five years.
Because they invested in software instead of property.
And built a reputation system instead of a loyalty program.

That's how companies grow exponentially instead of linearly.

Companies today obey a different set of rules than yesterday.

Building on networked technologies instead of outmoded business models,
the next breed of competitor can and will outpace you.

Five summers ago, two guys in a garage had an idea, and today an army of flat-sharing platforms are nibbling at your business model for the first time in centuries.

To give some perspective:
It took telephones forty years to reach 40% adoption in the US.

Smartphones took ten.

The dots on the horizon are moving quicker and quicker.

So I think this is a shift worth paying attention to.

On to my final tip.

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Technology is part of everything around us.
It's in the fundamental weave of our reality.

Did you know that over the last fifty thousand years, our bodies have physically changed because of this?

Our stomachs have literally evolved away from processing raw food,
like that of every other primate.

Since we humans invented fire, we can no longer extract enough nutrients from raw meat.

And because we invented the written language, the neurons in our brains have mutated and developed the symbolic thinking needed for creativity and innovation.

Language and fire are technologies.

We have biologically changed ourselves because of how we use technology.

So when I'm here on stage endlessly talking about technology over and over again,
it's important you understand that this problem isn't temporary,
but permanent and growing.

So please don't freak out.
Don't panic.

Because the trend of technological change has been evolving for centuries now.
Sure, we keep losing our jobs to machines,
And some of us end up making less money for a while,
but as a species, the curve is optimistically pointing upwards.

Most social indicators are moving in the right direction for humanity.
So overall, we're actually doing really well.

In fact, I think technology is the single largest driving force as to why that is even happening.

So my fourth and final tip is: remain optimistic throughout the change that is about to happen.

If you resist technology, you lose.
If you ignore technology, you lose.
If you deny technology, you lose.

There's no point in blindly fighting against something that is improving everyone's life.

Understand it,
respect it,
and remain optimistic that the changes that are happening to our economies and your business are for our best, in the long run.

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Technology evolves because of us.

We have complete agency over this process.
We need to reframe our relationship with technology.

It’s not about what technology is doing to us,
It’s about how are feeding the beast.

This is just the beginning.

Everything is accelerating.

Everything will keep speeding up regardless of how uncomfortable that makes you.

Today is the slowest day you will ever live through.

Tomorrow will be faster.

This problem isn’t going away.

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So what about the kids with broadband?

What about the hackers and makers,
and the builders and the breakers?

The pirates and revolutionaries?

They’re sitting in a garage with very low overhead,
asking themselves the difficult questions.

How they build a hotel without staff.
Or to build a monopoly without revenue.
Or to build a thriving organization without a leader.

Kids with broadband fix every problem they find.
Without asking ask for permission.

My final tip to you:
listen to them.

Yesterday you had almost a thousand inquisitive minds standing at your gates,
dreaming of a career in a thriving organisation.

They have a singular desire:
to see themselves in a long and healthy relationship with Kempinski.

To do that, you need to survive the coming storm.

Listen to them.
Keep learning from them.
Ask them for insight instead of CVs.
Ask how they would act in your position.

Be thankful they have no experience,
learn from how they see the world,
and lose your fear of falling forward.

Thank you.

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