Embrace Change The Right Way
We often put a high value on antique items, both in terms of quantity (financial worth) and quality. As such, we celebrate the work of artists such as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijnand, to name one example, as timeless masterpieces with very high value. While antiques are much valued in the arts, it is quite the opposite in management. While Rembrandt’s paintings and etchings are priceless because of their antiquity, the inability to adapt to technological change in management would bring about obsolescence and antiquity.
Way back in 1999, the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) organized a seminar that touched on how converging technologies would change the way in which we live and do things. The take-home message from that seminar was that technology is fast-changing, advancing and converging to the extent that one day, all we need is just a device held in our hand to get things done.
At that particular time when the seminar was held, one has to dial a four-digit number to access the Internet and the best a mobile phone could do was to send simple text messages. It is not surprising therefore to see many participants of that seminar dismissing the take-home message as a far-fetched dream. Fast forward to 2018, and one would find it difficult to imagine how life would be without smart handheld devices that can assist in many tasks more effectively and efficiently.
As a result of technological advancements, the world is becoming more interconnected and therefore, more complex. Data is an invaluable asset. Barriers such as physical distance, geographical borders and time zones are irrelevant. Communication has become real time. All these changes demand individuals and organizations to be able to respond quickly and adapt effectively.
In other words, individuals and organizations must be prepared to change with the times, lest be left behind. This is in line with what Denis Waitley suggested in his book Empires of the Mind: Lessons to Learn and Succeed in a Knowledge-Based World published over two decades ago, that it is necessary for us to equip ourselves “with strategies to lead when the only rule is change.”
The days when people have the luxury of taking their own sweet time to do things are things of the past. We risk being washed away by the technological revolution that has hit the world like a Tsunami if we continue business as usual. It is therefore imperative that at every level of management and society, technological changes should not be resisted but instead, be cautiously embraced with wisdom.
In other words, we have to ensure that technological changes work for us rather than against us. We must be wise in deciding what technological change is beneficial and what is detrimental. Most definitely, changes brought about by new technologies can be seen as destructive. However, if we can make technology work for us, many benefits could be derived from them. Having an indifferent attitude would definitely result in disaster for organizations and societies whose leadership is numb to technological advancements.
It is necessary for the leadership to come out with strategies and enhance skills to enable the creation of opportunities that arise from “destructive technologies”. Waitley correctly pointed out that the new leaders are those who benefit most from these changes, and that most of the changes are created by the new leaders themselves.
We can analogize these new breed of leaders as surfers who would ride the waves of change, harnessing their skills and knowledge to make them go where they want. Instead of repelling change or surrendering blindly to change, they adapt it into their leadership style harmoniously.
Today people are talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR. With regards to 4IR, the founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab outlined three key clusters that will see profound changes namely the physical, the digital, and the biological clusters.
In the physical cluster, technological changes can already be seen in the development of autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, advanced robotics, and the introduction of new materials which are lighter, stronger, recyclable and adaptive. In the digital cluster, we have the Internet of things (IoT) where people are now connected with each other using various technologies and platforms. Rapid advancements in the various fields of “omics” such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics are driving the changes in the biological cluster.
The challenge now is not whether we are ready for the change, as the change is already here. Instead the real challenge is how we should handle the changes brought about by the rapid technological advancements. It is therefore essential for leaders and players be responsive to accommodate the influx of technological changes that come.
In the context of Malaysia, it is equally important for the country to identify niche technological areas that Malaysia can develop and be involved in based on the country’s own strength. Realistically speaking, we would not be able to be involved in the development of all technologies under the sun.
In view of this, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia has rightly identified five broad areas that Malaysia should focus on in the next three decades, namely biotechnology, digital technology, green technology, nanotechnology, and neurotechnology. The ability to learn, master, utilize and further develop these technologies are crucial in ensuring that Malaysia and Malaysians are not left behind in the years to come.
This is an aspect of change management which is a continuous process. Leaders of organizations, societies, all the way up to the nation, should understand that there is an urgent need to learn continuously throughout our lives, which is very much in tandem with the Prophet’s saying that learning is a lifelong process that is “from the cradle to the grave.”
The reality is that, with technological development and innovation, knowledge has become readily available anywhere at any time to anyone. Only those who know how to place themselves well will be able to tap the vast benefits of the technological changes without being blindly drowned in them. As Waitley stressed, “the competitive edge belongs not to those who use computers but to those who know how to inspire more productivity and excellence from each individual.”
It used to be that technology belongs to a certain group of elitists. However, this is no longer the case anymore as technological democratization has allowed for anyone to access whatever technology that is in the public domain. It is simply unimaginable today for any society to live without some element of technology being involved.
For Muslims, it is critical to understand that we are living in a century where almost everyone and everything is connected by technology. This realization requires Muslims to re-evaluate, re-examine and reassess the way we think, do things and respond to the changes brought about by technological advancements.
In the final analysis, adopting and adapting to technological change using wisdom is key to success. Hence, it is important for Muslims not to be left behind by technological advancements in order to be successful in this world, and crucially at the same time, Muslims must hold on to the right worldview of Islamic teaching in ensuring that technological advancements do not change the core values that make one a Muslim in order to reap the success of the next world.
Antique paintings and etchings, like those of Rembrandt’s, may be found hanging in museums for people to admire. However, religious values should not be regarded as outdated antiquities that are only be read in religious texts. Instead, these values are very important in ensuring that we adopt, adapt and utilize the changing and advancing technologies wisely and beneficially without bringing about chaos and disasters which are detrimental to mankind.