5 Striking Commonalities Between Brexit and Digital Disruption

July 10, 2016

I have in the past week followed the fallout from Brexit with interest as we here in the South African economy do definitely feel more than just a few ripples.

Is this a looming apocalypse?

I could not fail to notice that there are many similarities between what happened in Britain and the general views I hear about Digital Disruption.

Let me highlight 5 of these common themes.

I am definitely not going to regurgitate the entire Brexit discussion, but will rather use some news headlines from the past few days to illustrate my points and then draw the parallel.

My personal favourite is without a doubt the last point and I would invite all of you to live by that mantra… and not only on this topic.


1 - Every Expert has a Different Definition and Opinion

It takes quite a bit of patience to sift through from the outright hilarious via the scaremongering to the actual issues at hand, which arguably are very serious and do go deep.

For Brexit another fact adding to the complexity was that the experts of the "Remain" Campaign were squared up against the anti-experts of "Leave". 

People in this country have had enough of experts - Michael Gove

Newsweek: The Experts Make Sense of Brexit

The Washington Post: 9 out of 10 experts agree: Britain doesn’t trust the experts on Brexit

Wherever you turn you are sure to find some opinion piece on Brexit.

Digital Disruption likewise is a phrase that seems to be on everybody’s tongue at the moment and there is no end in sight.

Every Business is a Digital Business - Paul Daugherty, Accenture Technology Vision 2013

Every consulting house that is worth their salt does start to extensively publish and try to provide answers. The problem that I see is that most of them are proprietary and very expensive to implement as in-depth consulting is needed.

To give you just three examples, watch The Digital Imperative by the Boston Consulting Group or read about the Digital Transformation Services by KPMG and Building your Digital DNA by Deloitte Digital.

Whatever is in the public domain is usually either put very simplistically in marketing speak or tends to be complex and confusing. Whilst the answers often sound very logical, I generally after reading, watching or listening to yet another option am sitting there and asking myself how on earth I would go about to start on a journey of digital transformation.

What is a problem in bigger enterprise that can be attacked by throwing quite a bit of money at it, becomes virtually impossible for the SME due to a lack of resources and funding. In fact, we at Xuviate have last year gone on record to say that IT Transformation ‘Squeezes’ Mid-Sized Firms.

Helping SMEs make sense of this conundrum to get more business value from technology by equipping their leaders for the Digital Transformation is the sole reason Xuviate exists. I have in the previous sentence by design used the term “leaders” and not “IT leaders” or "technology leaders" -  many of the SME business leaders don’t realise that they are / have to become IT leaders in the organisation as well. We spent the past six years researching and coming up with solutions and tools specifically for these leaders and are publishing extensively on this topic.

We also recently developed a fun little Digital Disruption Simulator that takes about two minutes to complete and takes you through some of the basic principles that companies need to embrace. I would strongly suggest that you do have a look at it. If you would like to read more in depth do also refer to this accompanying blog called Digital Transformation for Dummies by Mark Geschke that delves a bit deeper into the issue.

2 - Bad News and Gross Exaggerations Sell

The human brain, through evolution, is wired to be more cognisant towards bad news and danger. This was a survival need for our ancestors and the media knows how to play to this.

Both, the “Leave” and the “Remain” campaign extensively used this in their campaigns. Names like “Project Fear” are telling to say the least.

Independent: Brexit: Project Fear had reason on its side, but anti-experts caught public mood

The Guardian: Fear of immigration drove the leave victory – not immigration itself

And often the claims used are clearly misrepresentations of facts, not to say sometime even outright lies.

The Economist: Daily chart: Debunking years of tabloid claims about Europe

GlasgowLive: Three broken Brexit promises the Vote Leave campaign backtracked from following the EU referendum results

The Telegraph: Nigel Farage: £350 million pledge to fund the NHS was 'a mistake'

The market meltdown and the public outcry after the outcome became known have shown just HOW much people do react to bad news

CNN: Brexit crash wiped out a record $3 trillion. Now what?

Soon people will realise that the world has not ended. The situation, whatever it turns out to be, will become the new normal, we will see some sanity return and people will adapt to it.

That said, I am definitely not trying to play down the immense impact that this event has on especially the British citizens. Life will never be the same as it was before and some people will definitely get harder hit than others.

Digital Disruption and Digital Transformation, like Brexit, are topics that are seriously overhyped. Generally, there are two opposing views though:  

The first one is in line with the heading “bad news sells” and is depicted by the illustration above - Digital Disruption is this big wave that is coming and we should be scared. If we believe the general headlines about this topic, more often than not one is told to start to panic and take some knee jerk action to hasten Digital Transformation. This is what we would define as scarcity thinking.

The result is people scurrying and implementing some technology projects in their business – any project as long as we do SOMETHING. And then the next headline screams about the money sunk and the jobs lost due to another failed IT project.

I rather want to introduce the opposing concept of abundance thinking. One of the most well-known proponents of this mode of thinking is Peter Diamandis, serial entrepreneur and author of several bestsellers. In this must-see TED talk from 2012 he introduces us to some of the concepts from his book “Abundance”.

And many other voices – from futurists, scientists and many other researchers, thinkers and entrepreneurs – do highlight the amazing possibilities that the rapid technological advancement gives us.

Bottom Line: We Live in the Most Exciting Time Ever. - Peter Diamandis

We as Xuviate do very much subscribe to abundance thinking, but we are aware that it takes more than just waxing lyrical about the opportunities. One needs to take them by the horns.

3 - Sticking Your Head in the Sand Is Not a Smart Option

Faced by imminent danger, the human is pre-programmed with a fight-or-flight reflex. But if the danger is not as immediate, people tend to try and look away and not deal with the issue in the hope that it will just blow over. This is a way for not having to confront the stress that comes with dealing with the issue.

Fun fact to debunk another myth: Contrary to the saying, ostriches don't bury their heads in the sand—they wouldn't be able to breathe!

Had the vote gone the other way, trying to ignore it might maybe have worked for Brexit, but history did not allow that option. I also strongly believe that it was exactly this inaction, coupled with the previously discussed focus on exaggerations by both sides that was a big contributor in this outcome. Many people voted out of support to or protest against one of the skewed arguments, rather than having a look at the underlying facts and the matter they were actually voting about.

Quartz: Brits couldn’t care less about all those “expert” opinions on the Brexit

If one believes the media reports at face value (and here I am doing the same that I just advocated not to do), then many a British citizen started to Google the meaning of Brexit, and even what the EU is all about, AFTER the Brexit vote.

CNET: 'What is the EU?' trends on Google in the UK as the country votes for Brexit

As mentioned above, there was a good chance that Brexit would not have happened. The same cannot be said of Digital Disruption. The path for this has actually been set many decades ago. Probably no hypothesis is more well known for this than Moore’s Law. Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, observed that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit, and with it the computing power, doubles approximately every two years. In 1999 Kurzweil with his Law of Accelerating Returns argued for extending Moore's Law to describe exponential growth of diverse forms of technological progress.

As you can see this is graphed on a logarithmic scale (and even then the curve is exponential) – thus the name “accelerating return”. Extending this graph predicts the “Singularity” (the time when a computer can reach the computing power of a single human brain) by about 2025. Extending this further computing power of all human brains in one device would be reached a mere 25 years later – well within the lifetime of many of us.

4 - The Outcome Is Not Pre-Defined

The opinion polls, the punters and the general market did read the messages totally wrong and to the last minute placed their bets on “Remain”.

Even now after Britain voted for Brexit, it will take quite a while to recognise what this actually means.

It starts with the option that Britain will never enact Article 50, via 1001 different shades of separation, down to total isolation of Britain in future.

Whichever one becomes true, some areas of life will change significantly whilst in others one might not really see a difference. The fact of the matter is that we can never go back to before the vote, even in the highly unlikely case of another vote.

Harvard Gazette: After Brexit, a changed future

Digital Disruption is bound to radically change our future. Yet, whilst the rate of change is relentlessly on the increase, the exact outcome and what we use it for is not defined yet. It depends on us if we stare in panic and let it happen to us or whether we embrace it wholeheartedly and help to build a future of abundance.

The article Digital Europe: Realizing the continent’s potential by McKinsey focuses on Europe, but the article also alludes to the global situation. What strikes me most is that no country has as yet reached even a fifth of their Digital Potential.

Different industries will be disrupted at different times and by different measures. The banking industry for example has already irrevocably changed, whilst Utilities and Mining are still relatively unscathed.

One thing is for sure – every industry WILL be disrupted sooner or later. Deloitte Australia put it succinctly in the following video: “Ultimately Digital Disruption will affect every corner of business and society. The question is the length of the fuse and how big the bang will be.”

Will your industry be like the telecommunications industry that will emerge stronger or will you be the travel agents who have their entire existence questioned?

For those leaders who are ready to take on this challenge we at Xuviate have started to offer Business Technology Management (BTM) Mastermind Groups.

5 - The Individual Counts

A few hours after the votes were counted, first news reports emerged of people, who did vote “leave”, but did not really believe that their vote would count.

Daily Mail: The Bregretters! How some voters who backed Leave vote now claim they want to STAY in the EU . . . 'I didn't think my vote would count'

This is what every election campaign across the world tries to tell us: Your vote does count!

For anything looming as big as Digital Disruption, this is a hugely liberating thought: You are not at the mercy of this tsunami, but you can make a difference!

Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Steve Jobs

If enough of us pull our head out of the sand and get involved, then we will definitely be able to shape the future. Just take many of the start-ups like Uber, WhatsApp and Facebook who were usually founded by one or at most a handful of enthusiasts who did not believe that they did not count.

But you do not even have to go as big as this. You do not have to change an entire industry. How about starting at your own place of work? Is your employer likely to survive the digital disruption? And will you not only be able to weather the storm, but to surf the coming wave?

The sooner any person and any business starts to engage with this topic, the more likely they are to not only survive but thrive!

The input from every single one of us does count to break the cycle of negative news and further the path of abundance for all of us.

I would love to hear your opinion! Leave a comment below or contact us directly.

Picture Credit: London Under Water Background - Alexander Koshelkov

About the author

Business Agility Coach | Abundance Thinker | Helping Mid-Market Companies Evolve by Using the Kanban Methodology
- As trained Industrial Engineer with close on 25 years' experience as IT Professional and Business Executive in the mid-market IT industry, Mathias Tölken loves to share his experiences and expertise with others.

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