“We need to cope with change and with the pace of it”

Anders Indset on philosophy and digitisation

He’s one of the world’s most eminent management thinkers. Well-known for his unconventional way of thinking, his bold propositions, and a rock star attitude that has earned him the nickname of “Rock’n’Roll Plato”, Anders Indset inspires, entertains and challenges his audience to a new way of looking at the Art of Thinking. In his talks, the Norwegian-born speaker addresses topics such as leadership, technology, change and creation – and will be doing so again at the Natural BI Summit 2019 in Hamburg, as he reveals in this interview.

Mr Indset, a philosopher is widely understood to be someone who strives to obtain new insights into the nature and meaning of life. As a business philosopher, what is it exactly that you are searching for?

In this day and age, philosophy can help us gain a better understanding of complex facts. After all, we’re all searching for plausible explanations. Yet we also need to maintain a healthy degree of scepticism and question pretty much everything served up by the media. As we do so, we can learn a lot from classical philosophy. I have made it my business to unearth the treasures of the past and to project them onto the 21st century – to apply ancient wisdom to modern practice by bringing together the science and technology of tomorrow with the philosophy of yesterday and making it easy to understand for the humans of today.

Among all the treasures of the past that you mentioned, is there any particular one to which managers respond especially well? What is it that ensures the greatest gain in knowledge?

Everybody comes away with something different – after all, everybody’s personality is unique. However, being in Germany, I notice that we’re somewhat apprehensive here when it comes to matters of leadership and shaping transformation. We hide behind structures, roles and our suits and ties. We don’t really have the courage to come out of our shells. Yet it’s important to show our feelings and admit to our mistakes.
Vulnerability is the basis for trust and frankness. We have all now come to understand that we cannot achieve this on our own, but only by joining forces – and joining forces requires trust. Trust is something that can only be built gradually over a long period. People build trust in one another when they realise that their opposite number is interested in them and speaking to them frankly and honestly. We generally refer to this as soft skills, but in fact these are hard skills. What’s more, we need to ask questions. Questions can lead to awkward situations, mistakes and vulnerability – and vulnerability is the birthplace of creation, innovation and progress.

How can insights such as these be put into practice?

It’s something that people need to experience. If I simply read out bullet points on PowerPoint slides, nobody will take anything in. I can explain it in a way that people understand, but they will then need to process it for themselves – in terms of their own experience and sensory impressions. It is only through such experience-based learning that knowledge can emerge on which we can build. Things don’t usually fail for want of intention. Many CEOs and managers – even of DAX companies – have come to understand that the old, hard-core, Adam Smith-style capitalism, which relies on materialism and hierarchy, is no longer fit for purpose. Instead, the difficulty lies in admitting one’s feelings instead of concealing them. Rather than hiding behind glossy brochures and websites, the challenge is to live by the values and visions they proclaim. This is the bridge that we need to build. I always advise people to focus on two values and to live their lives by them every single day, to stand behind them so that everybody knows what they stand for, and to have clear criteria and boundaries. That is often why things fail: all this takes practice. That is where the really hard work lies.

What is uppermost in your mind right now?