Michael Kleina is a trained retail salesman and organization programmer. Since 1995 he has been working as a consultant and is one of the “old hands” in digital business.
You advise companies on their digital strategy. What exactly are you doing?
Yes, I have been travelling in the digital worlds since the beginning of the 90s, since the end of 1995 as a freelance consultant. Since then I have witnessed all the developments on the web. This path was partly determined by developments in the market, but also by partners with whom I worked together. So there was a steady up and down.
After a sabbatical year in 2005, I analyzed my path to this point and determined that as soon as a strategy was built up for the long term, success would follow. So I planned my own digital path based on these experiences.
You talk about a “digital path” of their own that everyone has to find for themselves. What do you mean?
Everybody is differently positioned in their industry, in their company or as an individual entrepreneur and should not try to serve every digital trend, the different channels as well as platforms.
It’s just like real life: After all, we are not invited to every wedding, or even bolder, invite ourselves there. Also, first of all it has to be clarified what you yourself stand for, what you want to represent yourself. In other words, what is your exact positioning, what benefits can I provide and what needs can I satisfy?
After that it is then necessary to check where the partners – I am deliberately not talking about customers any more – are exactly where they are or are looking for their own offer.
You take a fundamentally positive view of digitization. What do you see as the great benefit of digitalisation for us humans?
The great gain is also the great curse. Big data and communication x.0. there is much more transparency in many areas. Very often we meet partners at eye level, because he or she has already been able to inform himself or herself about a problem he or she has on the Internet. The networking across national borders and continents, which is now easily possible, is also a great advantage.
Currently I have several contacts from abroad, whom I did not know before, with whom I regularly exchange information.
Today, online petitions make it possible to draw attention to prevailing grievances of which you may have known little before. Some countries have already been able to see for themselves, for better or for worse, that it is possible to exert such great influence on politics. One has a part in big actions like the one of Torsten Schreiber – Africa GreenTec, who brings solar containers to the third world, in order to use the sun for power generation and to promote water.
In the area of production, intelligent systems are on the verge of becoming interchangeable, so that we could use the manpower of the employees here differently and perhaps even better.
Don’t you see any risks?
For me, the greatest risk is to see only the danger in the digital world and thus to miss the opportunities that digitization opens up. By wanting to administer much more than to risk anything here in Europe, especially here in Germany, we will lose touch. The big players will use their market power and open up more and more areas and niches.
We must learn that failure, “to fall on our faces” in German, is not a bad thing. But we need speed, we need to develop quickly and bring it to market. This will cause us to make mistakes, but these will then serve as the basis for the next stage of development. A look at the children, teenagers and young adults shows the ease of “being young”, where the urge for action and research still burns within oneself.
You have already founded seven companies, made one sale and participated in various conversions. What changes do you see on the market? What challenges do you face as a consultant in the digitalised markets?
The biggest challenge is to communicate sensibly with each other and to be transparent. Many people continue to hide behind Buzz Words at the very moment when it’s actually about selling old wine in new bottles.
Also or especially in the digital world, the human being is the focus of all actions. It is important to exemplify values, cultivate empathic interaction and not always approach the whole thing under the motto “Success justifies the means”.
Today, I only look after a small number of partners (customers), but they are sustainable. I have been working with them for years and fortunately there is no end in sight.
To get to the point, the biggest challenge is the change from G to C: from Chan(g)e to Chan(c)e.
How do you see the future? What trends can entrepreneurs expect in the future?
The main trend will be that we humans will have to reinvent ourselves. We are not in this world just to work. What is now the “40-hour week” may soon be the “25-hour week”.
In the past, invested capital, the shareholder, was the greatest value. Tomorrow, from my point of view, it’s man. I see a clear trend that every company must now find its own identity, coupled with its own philosophy, both digitally and, of course, in analogue. If new digital solutions bring relief here, then one should be open to them.
My impression at the beginning of our interview was that you are basically positive about digitisation. Now the picture seems to become a little more differentiated. Where is our future going? In a good or a bad scenario?
From time to time I am hesitating, sometimes a bit “spooky”, but I see myself as a positive person. I think that we have the chance to leave something positive to our children, from whom we have only borrowed this world. But that we have also arrived at a point in history where we can learn from them as well.
Do you have a personal future utopia?
Yes, I do: “Man will always remain a man” if he manages to use the tools he has at his disposal in a reasonable way.