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SNAPSHOT2021 Jul 23, 2021

Herman Konings: "The future is phygital"

Aurelie Favresse

The pandemic reminded us of what is really important in life. So, what will the new normal look like post-crisis? And what about our relationship with technology? COVID-19 has turbo-charged a number of civilising processes. The future is phygital.

Scarcity drives the economy. The scarcer something is, the more valuable it is. And we sure found this out the hard way during the pandemic, when social contact became our most precious commodity. The crisis reminded us of what is really important in life. So, what will the new normal look like post-crisis? And what about our relationship with technology? ‘COVID-19 has turbo-charged a number of civilising processes. The future is phygital,’ predicts change psychologist Herman Konings.

Herman Konings, who? Herman studied neuropsychophysiology in Leuven and has been a passionate scientist and trend analyst ever since. Set up his company Pocket Marketing in 1992. Observes the world. Shares insights from technology buffs and trend watchers on LinkedIn daily. Now and then, he writes a wise book. Like Gap the mind, recently published in June at Lannoo Publishers. It will get a special place in his office, on a somewhat spartan bookshelf. ‘A bookcase purely for books I’ve never read,’ Herman says. Seven books, one author: Herman himself.

The upside of coronavirus
‘What’s happening right now is a civilising process. Anything that works well, survives. Anything that can be replaced with something better takes us to a higher level of civilisation. Progress is made by building upon insights. Technology is a prime example of a civilising process, as are security, health and globalisation. COVID-19 has turbo-charged our civilising processes. Similar to wars and natural disasters.’

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The ugly side of big tech
‘The pandemic has given the consumer a rude awakening,’ Herman states. ‘It clearly shows that things have become unbalanced. That good government and prosperity must go hand in hand with creating value for society. As a company, you are challenged on your purpose: what is your contribution to society? Do you care about the environment and the climate? Do you have respect for the working conditions of your employees, for their health and safety, for the privacy of your existing and prospective customers?’

‘Ten years ago, tech journalists were raving about Google Glass. Today, we see the built-in camera as a threat to privacy. We are wary of marketers with a cavalier attitude to customer data platforms. We question products and companies because of inhumane working conditions in the mining of raw materials. A supermarket robot stocking your fridge while you are out? No, thanks. Big tech also has an ugly side. Coronavirus has really brought home that truth.’

Hedonists against ascetics
So, what does this much-hyped new normal look like? ‘First, you have to ask a different question,’ according to Herman. ‘Who determines this new normal? The pandemic pits hedonists against ascetics. The Gaussian curve – a bell curve used in statistics – shows that we label 68% of people as “normal”. And consider 16% distinctly hedonistic and 16% distinctly ascetic. It’s this middle group of 68%, a mix of sensible bons vivants and moderate minimalists, that determines the next normal. In other words, the result will be a mix of conservative and innovative elements.’

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Generational mix
‘This mix will also reflect the mindset of different generations. Younger generations are cooperative and collaborative. Access is more important than ownership. A perfect illustration of this world view is the shared car. By not owning things, you’re not owned by things, Volvo proclaimed at the launch of the XC40. Something to think about. In Sweden and the Netherlands, you can’t buy this car; you take out a full-service car subscription. The young feed on bits and bytes; that said, the real digital natives are barely about 10 today. Generation Alpha swipes before it can grab. Ten years from now, they will be your colleagues.’

‘Baby boomers were born before 1965 and are generally competitive in nature. To them, the car is often a status symbol. Many struggle with digital technology, although COVID-19 has accelerated things here too. Baby boomers are now fully discovering the added value of technology because it helps them maintain social contacts and stay healthy.’

Experience as the common thread
Do the generations have anything in common? ‘Absolutely,’ Herman affirms, ‘their thirst for real-life experiences, for one thing. Vinyl records, marker pens and moleskin journals are incredibly popular with post-millennials. Millennials run food trucks and coffee bars. The high street makes shopping a real voyage of discovery, full of surprises. There is a great word for this: serendipity. Finding things without purposely looking for them. E-commerce is currently booming like never before. And yet, physical shopping will catch up strongly as soon as we can all hit the shops again. The ultimate pleasure is real pleasure.’

‘We are moving towards a hybrid reality. With physical and digital channels blending into each other. The future is phygital. Amazon is a perfect example of this. In the US, Jeff Bezos has opened more than 20 bookshops since 2015 – not for baby boomers, but for the younger generations. With promotions on blackboards and recycled paper. Technology adds the finishing touch to the experience. From cashless payment to augmented reality, with an app that directs you to the shelf where the book you are looking for is located.’

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Phygital: digital supports analogue
‘In the phygital world, digital technology supports and improves the analogue experience. Through artificial intelligence, for example. This can be used to optimise your customer relationships or personalise your service provision, among other things. Chatbots enable you to understand customer problems more quickly and provide more targeted answers.’

‘People love systems that simplify transactions and interactions. Technology needs to be intuitive. The 0-1-2-3 rule is a golden guideline: 0 manuals, 1 access button (on/off), 2 options, 3 seconds to get an answer to your question. Technology simplifies complexity as well as the annoying aspects of the analogue world. Like the wait for a signature at the notary’s office. The time-consuming list of questions on your tax return. The stressful hours behind the wheel.’

Reset button
‘My empty bookcase is actually also something of a statement,’ Herman concludes. ‘It represents the importance of unlearning. COVID-19 encourages us to press the reset button. To question old doctrines and make room for a new kind of understanding. So, you have to dare to unlearn everything you have learnt up to now. Not by turning your back on the forward-looking perspective of science. But by being critical of everything you see, read or hear. A vital attitude in the pursuit of valuable technological innovation.’

Herman Konings' book is called 'Gap the mind' and is now on sale in bookstores. More informationvia the website of Lannoo.

This article was first published in Gumption Snapshot Magazine. Order your own free copy!

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