Last week, I had the pleasure of being in two continents at once: Europe and Asia. No, I am not talking about Istanbul… I am talking about Asia Pacific Week in Berlin! When I learnt about the open conference and made my decision to attend, I was expecting perhaps a small-scale networking event that would be a nice side-reason to visit Berlin… But it turned out to be the main event, literally. Companies from all around Asia and Europe, from start-ups to major corporations, came together for a few days of exchanging knowledge, expertise, and business opportunities.
Starting with the first day, a wealth of knowledge and experience was shared by inspiring personalities such as Joe Kaeser, President and CEO of Siemens AG, a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, Allan Chou, CEO and Founder of RAIDical China which focuses on finding and growing the next Unicorns in Robotics, AI, IoT and Big Data in China, and Lars Voedisch, Managing Director of PRecious communications.
In an interesting panel discussion on future-proofing, the panelists shared the expertise and insights on how businesses and startups can use change as a drive for innovation to stay relevant in the future. Luckily, to help the attendees start on their future-proofing journey, APW hosted a number of experts from several fields to take us through the latest happenings in technologies that are increasingly having a major impact on business: Blockchain, AI, IoT, Advanced Materials, and Cryptocurrencies.
Of all these technologies, I am most excited about AI, as a marketer and as a sci-fi fan! Although there is often chatter in the digital marketing sphere about technological advancements and how they’re going to revolutionize the marketing industry, there are often misunderstandings and a lot of confusion about how exactly to leverage these technologies. Remember the Big Data fuss a few years ago? Well, having access to large sets of data is useless without the ability to accurately draw insights from it… That’s where machine learning, a subset application of AI, comes in. Without going into too many technical details, AI-based machine learning algorithms process Big Data, performing Data Labeling/Segmentation, Data Analytics, and Scenario Simulation, to create a big picture with insights and patterns that are sorted out, categorized, and packaged into a digestible form. Sounds easy, right? Well maybe for a human, but machines have yet to learn how to “explain” things to us in human-form, as they still lack the ability to combine implicit and explicit knowledge, or as Dr. Feiyu Xu, Vice President of Lenovo Group and Head of AI lab of Lenovo Research, said: “common sense”. While there are AI methods that model implicit or explicit knowledge, the next big challenge is to bring these two together in “Explainable AI (XAI)”… An AI that can be trusted and easily understood by humans, not because it can explain itself, but because it is transparent enough with any explanations that are needed being part of its design process.
While omnious sci-fi movies and series (Black Mirror anyone?) come to the minds of most people when they think of such technolgoies, they can pose more opportunities than threats if we learn how to take advantage of them with a strategic plan, rather than just the fear that they’d drive businesses or employees obsolete (or the human race to extinction…). This fear, however, can still be useful data for innovation, according to Raymond Miranda from Laborastory, a story and innovation expert, and global speaker. I had the pleasure of attending Raymond’s StoryMapping Unplugged workshop on the 2nd day, and found the process of using stories to guide startups through innovation, quite… innovative!
On that second day, my attention shifted from technologies to gender, culture and bias… A topic that is dear to me as a female entrepreneur from the Middle East, having also heard from and read about many other women in business, and the struggles they have to go through. I was glad to see Lu Ying, co-founder of Future Urban Living, bringing up the important point of male empowerment in the home world in her keynote “Bridging the gap between gender, industry and culture”. It is in my opinion that if we want to reduce bias towards women in business, we need to stop treating the desire for flexibility, work-life balance and family life as “feminine” traits, and reduce the stigma around men having the same desire. I want to feel that the way I want to do my job is a “human desire”, rather than a female thing. And women shouldn’t feel like their careers are less important or serious to them if they want to take time off to build a family, and feel pressured to compete with men in that regards. If we make it safe and normal for both genders to have a work-life balance, both would benefit and so would the employers.
In that regard, as a behavioral economics (BE) buff, I am quite enthusiastic about the possibilities that BE principles, such as nudging, present in fostering inclusion, and improving gender equality. I brought some points up from those articles with Miroslav Dimitrov, from SAP.iO No Boundaries, the first comprehensive inclusive entrepreneurship initiative for underrepresented entrepreneurs in the business software industry, during his keynote where he pointed out the low rate of female entrepreneurs with startups and even much lower rate of those who acquire funding and investments. I wondered if they’d be using techniques such as blind auditioning to reduce gender bias during start-up pitches for funding, he believes though that the right selection of open-minded judges who care more about the pitch than the pitcher’s gender is key.
One of the biggest takeaways from APW, aside from plenty of business opportunities, is the bridging of the very distinct cultures of Asia and Europe through sharing and understanding. That isn’t surprising considering Europe is mostly a low-context culture, that communicate information in direct, explicit, and precise ways, whereas Asia is a high-context culture, that communicate in ways that are implicit and rely heavily on nonverbal language. Attendees especially shared their experiences with cultural differences in business during the keynote and workshop “Yays and Nays of intercultural communication” by Tien Ma, Director, and Lucas Jahn, Senior Account Manager, at REDHILL international communications firm, who will soon be sharing with us a report of the workshop outcomes, which I in turn will share with you later.
Of course, it is not news that culture plays an important role in business, as cultural differences can pose quite a challenge, especially when doing business across borders. It is a discussion I indulged in with Alexander Jansen, a serial entrepreneur, mentor and professional consultant for startups, who provides leadership training & coaching, especially in agile and innovation environments across Europe and Asia. From our discussion, it was evident that there are difficulties in conducting business between two cultures that operate on a different pace, such as the German pace being quite steady and time-consuming to ensure quality, whereas the Asian pace in countries such as China and Singapore can be fast and ad-hoc to favor innovation.
Naturally, Europe and Asia have many distinct countries and cultures within, that can’t be just bundled under one label. During the third day of APW, Embassy Day, it was clear where interests lied when it came to Asia… Countries like Singapore and China garnered much formal business attention, but I personally was there rooting for one of the countries on my travel wishlist: Nepal. Home to friendly and modest people, it is perhaps most known as a trekking destination for the Himalayas, or for the devastating news of earthquakes in 2015 that left a high death toll and the country in ruins. Still, it is certainly not a formal or serious vibe that we got from the keynote of Mr. Ramesh Khanal, Ambassador of Nepal to Germany, that day, but a message of hope, music, dance and a warm invitation to experience Nepal’s natural beauty and sense of adventure. I’ll be taking up his invitation for sure some day, as I do believe in Nepal’s potential of being the next adventure and budget travel destination in Asia!
There was a lot more happening in APW, and a few more days to cover, but this was a very brief summary of what I was able to gather. Still, if you’d like to know more or need help connecting to any of these speakers/businesspeople, I am more than happy to help. Possibly being the only representative of the Middle East at APW, I felt like I was caught in the middle between East and West with barely anyone knowing much about the MEA region, but I tried to do my best to present the unique Middle Eastern culture and the business value and potential it holds. Hopefully next year, promising and innovative startups from the Middle East can also have a presence at APW! Until then, subscribe to my blog or connect with me on Linkedin, Instagram or Twitter to stay updated.
So, which technology do you think would have the biggest effect on your career/business:
Other? Specify in the comments!