“Power to the people” | Interview met Trendwatcher Farid Tabarki

Op 3 oktober 2014 organiseert de Economische en Bedrijfskundige Faculteitsvereniging (EBF) van de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen voor de 6e keer hun jaarlijkse congres. Dit keer is het thema ‘Face the Future: Pioneer, Adapt or Retain’. Diverse sprekers uit de wetenschap en praktijk geven deze dag inspirerende lezingen op het gebied van technologie, ethiek, onderscheidend vermogen en innovatie. Een van die sprekers is Farid Tabarki, Trendwatcher of the Year 2012 – 2013 en oprichter en directeur van Studio Zeitgeist. In onderstaand interview blikt hij alvast vooruit op thema’s zoals radicale decentralisatie, radicale transparantie, nieuwe manieren van werken en innovaties.

What kind of student were you?

I was a student who very much decided his own study track in terms of following the courses of which I thought they were the most relevant. Composing my study was like grocery shopping: choosing several courses from different faculties. Initially, I studied Political Science, and, in addition, I followed a lot of courses related to Science Dynamics. Moreover, during my student life I participated in many extracurricular activities. In particular, I started with freelancing and I was member of the board of the nationwide students’ union.

Your Curriculum Vitae is really impressive. In your professional life, what are you most proud of?

That is a difficult question as I am proud on many things. I am extremely proud on the political program I made for MTV: MTV Coolpolitics. In 2006, we made a live show with all party leaders, which I got to present. One of the interesting aspects included the party leader explaining what it would mean if people would vote for them in the future of 2025/2030. So, this time it was about the next 20 years instead of looking only four years ahead where politics is usually about. MTV Coolpolitics was an exclusive program though slightly unsuccessful. The relatively shocking conclusion I drew included party leaders do not have a long term vision. I am proud to have been able to expose this shortcoming of politics on live television.

How did you become trendwatcher?

I would call myself a Zeitgeist researcher. However, I received the award for ‘Trendwatcher of the year 2012 – 2013’, so I have accepted the job description of trendwatcher. As freelancer I received my first appointment at Nederland Kennisland, which was recently established. I was one of the first people who has been involved in the foundation. As a consequence, I entered a setting in which I was asked to think about future developments based on available knowledge. Therefore, while working for the foundation, I ended up in a position where I had to face the future, and I have never left this situation. Through all initiatives, freelancing and acquired assignments I engaged more and more in foresight. Eventually, this led to becoming ‘Trendwatcher of the year 2012-2013’.

What did the award of ‘Trendwatcher of the year 2012-2013’ mean to you?

First of all, I was extremely surprised about winning the award. The other nominees were really competent and I did not call myself trendwatcher before I won the award. Despite of being really surprised I was delighted about the decision of a professional jury who chose my analysis and research as being the most relevant at that moment. The award supports you in your own right.

The theme of this year’s conference is Face the Future. How do you foresee your future?

I engage in three different activities: firstly, I capture the Zeitgeist, which includes doing research in cooperation with several organizations and my team in order to keep an eye one a variety of developments. Secondly, I present the Zeitgeist by giving lectures, writing columns in Het Financieele Dagblad, or writing books. Thirdly, I create the Zeitgeist meaning I am involved in initiatives like MTV Coolpolitics, where I participate in creating developments. In the future, I would like to extend this contribution by implementing my own research analyzes more often or co-implement with a team of people who think along with organizations about being prepared for future challenges. The next step is extending my international activities.

Can you explain what is covered by Zeitgeist?

Absolutely everything! As researcher of Zeitgeist I structure developments in order to show dominant forces of the future. These forces can include lots of things. Within these forces several sectors have their own dynamics. I cluster developments and try to emphasize forces, and, in this way, the developments can be translated to other sectors. Therefore, in my opinion Zeitgeist is about translating dominant developments of the future to your audience, making these developments understandable. I can translate the meaning of developments to what it means to employees, managers, the goods or services you provide, etc.

One of our subthemes is related to recent changes on the labor market. You did research into new working and radical decentralization. What is the most important trend regarding this subject that students should keep in mind?

There are several important developments. The first thing is disappearing jobs in the middle of the labor market as a consequence of automation and digitalization. These jobs are taken over by computers. On the positive side, this means new jobs are created due to computers that have to be controlled as well. However, fewer jobs will be created than jobs that will disappear. Furthermore, if you are very creative and able to conceptualize and command processes, you are a perfect fit to the new labor market. Finally, a real important development includes extreme flexibility. Radical decentralization of fixed structures is happening. This means that we are letting go of hierarchical models of organizations and we are approaching a more flexible society. Organizations need to be adaptable to be able to anticipate on new, fast developments. More often we place people in positions where their skills and capacities fit the best.  Instead of a job description with tasks you need to perform the focus is on teamwork. As result, you become an entrepreneur within your own job. I believe two types will be of importance: experts, who are really good at their job, and connectors, who are necessary for linking several domains of expertise that will not find each other. Therefore, being able to see interrelations is, next to outshining in a competence, really important on the new labor market.

Radical transparency is one of the topics you recently debate on. Do you think that overall access to data is a positive development?

Yes, I do. However, it depends on the way you look at radical transparency. One great example includes the qualified self-movement, a movement of people who are chronically ill and use Internet to share their medical record. In this way, people are able to find others who experienced the same and who are recovered thanks to the appropriate treatment. Instead of being designated to knowledge of regional doctors, nowadays, global knowledge can easily be shared. On the other hand, radical transparency means giving up privacy. We need to get used to living in an open society in order to embrace the advantages of radical transparency. Of course, risks and, for example, cultural problems are associated with this trend. Therefore, determining and regulating borders is highly important.

You called the generation of today the pioneer generation living in a time of technology. 15 years ago, we did not hear about iPhones or drones. Do you foresee an important innovation of which we are not aware yet?

In my opinion, one of the most fascinating developments is an Internet development. I believe Facebook-like behavior with a networked society, group of friends and preferences will underlay our Internet behavior. In this way, websites will react on our behavior regarding interests, preferences, browsing behavior, media behavior, etcetera. For example, if I now look for a room in Groningen search results will include hotels where my friends have stayed. Subsequently, I can decide to what extent I value them as assessor. A second layer of Internet will arise. This is an exciting development that you cannot really see yet, but that will be an important aspect or our society and our behavior in the future.

One of your statements is “Power to the people”. Why exactly do you use this statement?

The statement “Power to the people” originates from the sum of radical decentralization and radical transparency. Earlier, we depended on other organizations, for example, when it came to generating energy or building offices. Nowadays, we are able to generate our own energy and decide where to do our job (for example, at home). These examples show what we can do in contrast to what we were able to years ago. In conclusion, radical decentralization and radical transparency came in our power, which indicates “Power to the people”.

Finally, what would you advice our readers in the light or our theme Face the Future?

Today, foreseeing your future is really indistinct as there is a volatile society with a high pace, instead of a structured society. Therefore, my advice would be: discover the competences in which you excel. In this way, you will be able to put your expertise into practice and maintain an anchor in a fast-moving world that will not necessarily be structured. Go back to your roots: the better you know who you are and what you are good at, the bigger the chance to succeed. After years of broad orientation you will find out your competences.

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