Google is still innovating at all

Much has been digitized, but hardly anything has really been transformed

Mr. Kleske, you advise companies on digital transformation and innovation processes. What do you mean by “digitization”?

From our point of view, digitization encompasses much larger contexts than digital technology. The best example is the smartphone: What matters is not primarily the technology, but what it changes, how we communicate, work and are networked on the basis of this new technology. Digitization is fundamentally changing the way our world works, and we are only just beginning to find answers. A lot of people made fun of Angela Merkel's “new territory”, but in fact we are in permanent new territory, in which we first learn to constantly reorient ourselves. We now have to develop approaches for this.

How is this new digital territory changing the entrepreneurial understanding of innovation?

Up to now, innovation has always been a kind of tool for companies: you develop new ideas in order to turn them into new products that open up new sales markets and increase sales. Innovation is something that should actually be increased in quotation marks. Digital networking has radically strengthened this process, so that innovation has become its own predicate. Today it is no longer about developing a better product, but more and more about the question of whether one is perceived as "innovative". This appears to be a prerequisite for being able to still exist and be taken seriously. So innovation is something that you actually have to put in quotation marks - and that puts a lot of pressure on companies.

What consequences does this pressure to innovate have for entrepreneurial activity today?

It means that companies are less and less reflective of the topic of innovation - and also overlook new possibilities for really better products or applications. Innovation is then perceived as something that happens to you, according to the motto “I have to deal with it now, because there is no getting around it”. Due to the perceived compulsion from the outside, one's own ability to act is lost. More and more “innovations” are emerging that rely heavily on technology, but actually aren't. Technology is then an answer with no real question. Here it is important to change the perspective: Especially when it comes to innovation, companies have to learn to make their own decisions again with confidence.

You also speak of “responsive innovation” in this context. What exactly do you mean by that?

The most important piece of advice is: pay attention to the context! What does an innovation have an impact on, what do I perhaps not even think about? Are there perhaps in the future regulations, needs, social issues that have to be included from the start? In practice, this means that you consciously move a little slower, but keep an eye on the environment and include it. That is the core of responsive innovation: Consistently observing the social context, consciously taking off the blinkers and applying a systemic perspective. It's not just about anticipating the car, but also the traffic jam.