Professor Robert A. Burgelman, director of the Stanford Executive Program at the university’s Graduate School of Business.
The latest Readiness for the Future of Production Report, published annually by the World Economic Forum, contained some rather alarming news for Greece. The country ranks rock bottom among 100 states around the world in the future orientation of its government, and remains the only Western European economy to be classified as “emerging” in terms of readiness to take part in Industry 4.0.
World-renowned technology strategist Professor Robert A. Burgelman, who is director of the Stanford Executive Program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, thinks Greece needs to look smart and catch up with the global pace. The professor, who has been teaching at the Palo Alto campus since 1981, spoke last week at an event in the heart of Athens organized by the Stanford Club of Greece, and shared his vision on how the fourth industrial revolution is impacting our country and its place in the world.
The fourth industrial revolution was preceded by three others that have taught us a lot about disruption. In your opinion, what makes this one unique in terms of challenges and opportunities?
A plethora of things but, in short, I believe the most important difference with the previous “revolutions” is the possibility that artificial intelligence will lead to the emergence of non-human-embodied capabilities and of a radically new knowledge generation. Additionally, these capabilities may be owned by relatively few wealthy individual, organizational and societal entities.
This poses the fundamental strategy question of our times: How will individuals, organizations and societies that do not take part in the ownership of these human-disembodied knowledge-generation capabilities maintain control of their destiny? This is precisely why, in my presentation in Athens, I somewhat facetiously asked whether a new Karl Marx will eventually emerge to write about the societal implications of “das korperlos Wissenschaft Kapital” (the “solid science” capital).
The exponential pace of growth and technology has been said to widen the gap, both within societies as well as the global arena. What can a country like Greece – that continues to lag behind – do to catch up?
We definitely need a strategic recognition of the rapidly evolving situation on the part of Greece’s multi-level leadership – on a personal, corporal and societal level. Alertness must be raised promptly, and Greece’s strategy should be about reducing dependencies and increasing its influence in any situation. I think responsible and established media can be really helpful here, by consistently maintaining a focus on the developments and by serving an integrative function across the different levels of leadership.
Greek companies continuously complain that the workforce lacks the skills most necessary in the fourth industrial revolution. With a stagnant and static educational system in Greece, what are some alternative ways to enrich the skills of Greek labor?
I understand how widespread the problem you are describing is, but there must be Greek companies that already do relatively well in this regard. Again I want to emphasize the role of the media: They should highlight their examples, but most importantly they should try to derive “lessons” from these experiences that can be helpful to companies that are behind. The second part is the more difficult one and often overlooked. Just publishing “success stories” is not enough to drive change.
In a country where the state often disincentivizes entrepreneurship and innovation, what is the best way to foster a Greek entrepreneurship ecosystem?
Try to identify countries that are already ahead of Greece in this respect. It depends, ultimately, on society’s will to liberate the productive forces of its entrepreneurial citizens (my “green” strategy process applied at the societal level), while protecting the still healthy basic Greek industries and orderly exiting from the ones that are in secular decline (my “blue” strategy process applied at the societal level). The media can play an important role in this transformation process through consistent focus on the evolving situation.