Get on Board, Geeks! Digitalization Thrives on Participation

Sound familiar? Instead of taking action, people complain. What is commonly considered the spirit of the old economy is also rampant in the startup scene. There, however, it has got less to do with company projects and more to do with perspectives about Germany and comprehensive societal issues.

During the keynote for tools tech fair in Berlin, June 2016

Just this morning a geek (=IT nerd with a girlfriend) friend of mine asked me why Germany doesn’t have a truly modern federal digital agency, something equivalent to the new US Digital Service. In this new organization, President Obama assembles the best coders in the country rather than your standard civil servants. All the talent is packed up and held to task. Because the battle for prosperity, as well as war and peace, are now fought in the digital world. It only seems natural that Germany would launch something similar.

However, many digital project ideas don’t make it beyond the idea stage in Germany. Of course a private citizen can’t start an IT agency. But the problem doesn’t end here. In fact, that’s where it begins. Thinking about the digital with regards to our country often ends with simple complaints, far before a project can even see the light of day. There is little resistance and no need to tediously establish a majority. But that’s not how normal life works in a democracy. And that’s also not how digital transformation will occur. If we really want to accomplish Made in Germany 2.0, we need to assemble all the guilds.

Digitalization has been sweeping through our country for almost two decades. Nevertheless, digital minds too often steer clear of the debates and projects revolving around Germany 2.0. The social arena appears too arduous, highbrow and averse to advancement. But this is no way to behave if you want to stop complaining and start effecting change. How does the saying go: a good start requires enthusiasm, but success requires discipline. It is exactly this willingness to sacrifice that is often lacking. Whether or not this country will catch up digitally depends first and foremost on the digital elite. They have to realize that they are old enough and economically independent enough to assume responsibility of their own accord. Anyone who wants to achieve something and make a change should not sit around waiting for an invitation.

Even better are the few glorious exceptions. That includes Florian Nöll, Head of the German Startups Association. He sees himself as an “interpreter between innovative startups and politicians”. And no matter whom you ask: Florian is doing an important, good job. And there’s another thing he’s doing exactly right: he’s not complaining. Instead he is ready to take real responsibility. He’s running for the Berlin CDU parliamentary elections on 18 September 2016 . A startup guy turned parliamentarian. And as a Berliner you’ve got to add: good thing!

Then there’s uber-nerd Lars Hinrichs, founder of XING and now the most successful tech investor. You can find Lars on the political stage. He has opinions on political issues and monitors the development of Deutsche Telekom as a member of the supervisory board. Even more formidable is his involvement as a visionary builder. In contrast to all the other startup millionaires I know, he doesn’t just invest his money. He is also using his own hands to actively design future living. With his major project Apartimentum in Hamburg, he is working on the future of living along with German property developers and engineers. Instead of complaining that Germany is being constructed the way it was 20 years ago and that building authorities should be rocketed to the moon, he has created a platform that encourages the German creative spirit. And with huge success. Apparently few German builders have created more technical innovations in one project than Lars. This not only helps him, but also his project partners who can market and install new products. And at the end of the day, these small and large initiatives help Germany.

What does that show us? Digitalization won’t work if one person adjusts a giant lever. Instead we need to rely on binary thinking day in and day out: doing, not doing. And we should all do more. Especially digital minds like Florian and Lars. And together we can prove that Germans can also rule the Internet!