The Company Whisperer – Reflections After 10 Years of Self-Employment

In October, it will be ten years since I left big corporate after 15 years and started my own business. Even with all the ups and downs since then, it was the best decision I have made. And while many of my former colleagues now have retirement in sight, I have the feeling it has only just begun for me.

At the same time, my idea of how my new job will be turned out to be completely different from what it ultimately became. Initially I thought I would be a consultant, but it quickly became clear, that it was very different and only recently understood better what it really is. Its not easy to explain, and others, like my nieces and nephews, also wonder what their uncler really is doing. They always see pictures of me on social media from different city, and think that I am on a permanent vacation, but these are the locations of the companies that invite me. For example, this article was written in Paris, and lest you think I live too glamorously, I wrote it while sitting in a laundromat doing my laundry.

Even many entrepreneurs and managers I meet on different occasions look at me puzzled and ask how I would “earn my money?” So what is my exact “job title”?

First of all, my email signature says technology trend researcher and author, because that’s what I do. I focus on interesting technology trends that I see in Silicon Valley, the center of my life for 22 years, and write books about them. Meanwhile, the number of books I have written (excluding the translations) has reached 20. The last book so far is called Kreative Intelligenz, which will be published in the fall of 2023. You don’t really make big money writing books, especially non-fiction books. These are more my calling card, and show that I’ve myself completely immersed in a topic, and then, as a German speaker, bring the Silicon Valley view point to Gemrans and poke the German bubble a bit.

I earn my money mainly by giving talks, workshops and organizing trips for delegations to Silicon Valley. And my job focuses on the following four categories:

  1. being a shaker
  2. helping to sort the mess
  3. being a guide
  4. giving hope

I noticed very quickly that many of the trends – and many of them come from the San Francisco Bay Area and are rapidly spreading to Europe as well – are not always properly appreciated in Europe to a limited extent. This became clear to me initially with topics such as electric cars – think Tesla – and autonomous driving. Both topics are particularly important for Germany (and Austria) because they involve the disruption of an industry that is significant for these countries. And still, six years after the publication of my book The Last New Driver’s License…, not everyone in this and adjacent industries has understood the significance.

That’s why I mix things up and try to describe the technologies as well as the consequences for industry, the economy, society and jobs. And these insights are not always easy to digest, because they can permanently and painfully change the previous self-image of people and companies.

In the case of another highly topical subject, I recognize how overwhelmed many are to classify it correctly and to understand its significance for their own company. I’m talking, of course, about artificial intelligence, which has gone from being a niche topic for nerds to being discussed even at the pub and in late night shows. I can sympathize with the difficulty of understanding AI, because it really feels like we are all “drinking from a fire hose.” We are drowning in AI news, terminology and threat scenarios.

That’s why I help sort through this issue, classify it correctly, and take the fear out of it so companies can focus on the chances and opportunities.

If you have understood the topic, it does not mean that you know where you are going. And for this purpose I help with the joint development of scenarios and considerations, but also with pointing out behavioral patterns and the language style that can help on the way to the future. Currently, this always includes a ride in a driverless robotaxi for the brave ones who visit me in Silicon Valley. After that, the path becomes much clearer.

Perhaps the least clear task of my work so far is that of a motivator. Like a coach or whisperer, I motivate not so much individuals as an entire company. A company on my couch. Occasionally, companies find themselves in phases where they are a bit down and unsure of themselves. They may have gone through waves of layoffs, feeling less than “sexy,” a bit clueless, but still searching. And often a reference to the company’s history, in which it was not the first time that it had to navigate through troubled times, is enough to get their spirits up again.

There is also the opposite: companies that are doing too well and see no need to change or respond to trends. They believe they are in a great position, but have little idea about new trends and sometimes even deliberately ignore them. To them I must whisper a memento mori, as even in ancient Rome, when a victorious general was triumphant, a slave walked behind him with a laurel wreath, and, so as not to let the triumph go to his head, whispered in his ear “Remember that you are going to die.

The question I whisper to these business leaders is,

Will you bring your ancestor’s business into the future, or will you be the one to switch off the lights?

And this task has only become really clear to me after ten years: to whisper the Memento Mori to them, and also to show them the way into the future.

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