Real Solutions for Real Problems

Danny Mekić (27) is a jurist, an internet expert and a businessman. He founded the strategic consultancy firm NewTeam and was declared ‘most successful young entrepreneur’ in 2009. He’s a man of many talents who is in love both with startups and with the establishment. Mekić tells us his contrarian views on the digital world. For example: our usage of smart devices changes the way we think. Will we even be able to think autonomously in the future? What are the consequences of exponentially developing technologies for society?

Mekić was already taking an interest in the internet when he was twelve. Since then he’s founded several companies, such as the website, which sends Valentine’s Day texts, a programming firm and hosting provider. He likes to start from scratch, improve a product or service and put together something good within a few weeks. After some time, Mekić ended up getting more and more invitations from major established companies to join their strategising sessions and awaydays, to sit at their board room tables, and to help with taking on IT issues, digitalisation, building apps and everything else that comes with the new world. His LinkedIn profile page looks more like that of someone in their forties, with all the activities he’s been busying himself with in the past few years.

New style consultancy
Something he noticed during the awaydays he attended was that major companies are recruiting external consultants to solve their problems. Before the economic crisis, they used to want advice for growth strategies, like how to make more profit and become a bigger company. But with the crisis, that turned into advice for solving problems, in order to shrink less quickly and mitigate loss of profit. Mekić thought it was odd that consultancy firms first employ people and then look for a problem for them. He thought that approach isn’t based on the needs of the client, and he thought: that could be done differently. He combined the forces of capable people – freelancers, or entrepreneurs who did consultancy on the side – who were constantly being approached for their knowledge, experience and insights into the areas of IT, the internet and innovation, and so in 2011 he founded his consultancy firm, NewTeam. Companies in the areas of banking and telecom, recruitment agencies, ministries, hospitals, universities and privatised governmental institutions, all of them are among NewTeam’s client base. They’re all struggling with the question: how can we reinvent ourselves so we’ll do better tomorrow than we do today? Mekić: “These companies are too unwieldy and complex, and can’t keep up with the rapidly changing world around them, or they don’t want to. Innovation usually means sacrificing revenue now, in order to be able to capture a larger share of the market in the long run. For many, the temptation to choose short term profits is too strong. Those companies choose to die slowly, rather than become healthier every day.”

Devolution from using Facebook
When asked what are the trending topics in the IT world, Mekić turns the question inside out: “IT creates trends in other fields, such as psychology among others. For example: are we still in charge of our own thoughts, now that we use smartphones, smart watches, smart screens et cetera so much? Smart devices reduce our own autonomous thoughts relative to the thoughts we have and the decisions we make based on algorithms. A lot of apps and the like have a lock-in function; using secret algorithms, they try to claim as much of your time as they can. The time you spend looking at your screen, they try to exploit optimally by filling your thoughts with branding.” This has consequences for society in the long run. “It makes us less creative, we have more and more of the same thoughts other people have, we like the same music and we more often have the same opinions.” Mekić uses Facebook as an example. “People with different opinions are kept out of your timeline by Facebook; only the people who are most like you will end up among your priorities.” Twitter still allows you to follow people with contrary opinions, but now Twitter wants to do the same thing as Facebook.

You’ll become more and more like you already are. That’s devolution!

The goal of this type of company is no longer just to get as many users as possible, but also to keep the users glued to their screens as much as possible. “In order to accomplish that, they have to show ‘relevant’ content, and that means no controversial subjects, only subjects you’ll react to predictably; you’ll spend more time looking at those.” Mekić doesn’t buy articles on Blendle if they bore or annoy him. But he realises that if he doesn’t read those articles, he’ll be less comprehensively informed. So he makes himself read annoying pieces anyway — with newspaper subscriptions. “Otherwise, you’ll only reinforce the person you currently are. You’ll become more and more like you already are. That’s devolution!” He hopes there will be a new market that’ll be all about blocking stimuli, so you can form your own thoughts again. “I don’t know of any apps yet that make me get less notifications in a day, not more.”

BYOData with your own private cloud
Another major IT trend Mekić notices is the extensive integration of offline and online. The integration of an internet connection into devices used to be too expensive and complex, but now, with the ‘Internet of Things’, that’s about to change. Every screen, speaker and power socket can get its own internet connection. That means in the future it won’t be necessary any more to bring technology along; Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) becomes BYOData. Currently, datasets are static; you access it at the place where you log in. BYOData will change that. “For example, if you go on a holiday to Australia, you might need medical treatment there. In that case it’d be useful for a doctor to be able to access your medical records. I can imagine everyone having their own private cloud with all their personal data; medical records, login data, bank account information, et cetera. Where security is concerned, it’s no riskier than your email inbox, which is now often used as a central place to store information, and for which it’s trivially easy to reset your password. Besides, it would bother me less if just one individual’s data would end up out in the open, than if the same thing happened to everyone on Facebook. Of course you could also individually build several levels of authentication into a private cloud like that, and supplement it with permission from a set group of peers; your brother, your sister, your mother.”

There will be a shift from connecting to central databases, to bringing along your own data set.

So there will be a shift from connecting to central databases, to bringing along your own data set. This could be useful for shopping too. “You’d hand in your data set at a department store and their computer system would select clothes in the right sizes, from the right brands and in the right colours, and deliver them to you in your own showroom while you have a cup of coffee. You wouldn’t even need to tell them who you are, after all companies don’t need your name.”
Mekić thinks startups and established companies think too much in terms of apps or high tech developments. “Think instead in terms of simple solutions to concrete problems in the physical world.” A good example would be a flying drone equipped with reanimation equipment and a remote camera. “That would make it possible to give aid in the blink of an eye, and a reanimation device is easy enough to operate, remotely supported and supervised by a doctor.”

We’re using knowledge and experience with mobile telephony, apps and other technology to solve pseudoproblems.

Real problems
IT isn’t the solution to everything. In fact, it’s often a solution where there is no problem. Startups and established companies often create products and apps we have no need for. “There are over a million apps in the App Store, but 90 percent of them only take up users’ time and money and don’t make them a better person for having them. So we’re using knowledge and experience with mobile telephony, apps and other technology to solve pseudoproblems. In 2008 I discovered that if the world’s population keeps growing at its current rate and if consumption continues to develop the way it does now, then by 2050 we’ll need three more Earths in order to feed everyone equally. I wanted to find a solution for that.” Mekić believes that if all agricultural farmers in the world would work as effectively as Dutch farmers do, then this problem could be solved. For that reason, he’s developing an international platform for agricultural entrepreneurs. Farmers from around the world can find and help each other there. “I wanted to solve a real human problem with people being the solution. So in ‘People, Planet, Profit’, this would be about People.”

We need to change the way we think, and not always turn to IT for the solution.

Less IT
The overemphasis on IT is causing a shortage of IT professionals. Mekić has a simple solution for this problem: “Use less IT and more people.” He gives an example: “Mopeds aren’t allowed in the tunnel underneath the State Museum in Amsterdam. Right now, the municipality is planning to set up an IT system with cameras for this, which will cost € 229 once, plus another estimated € 150,000 a year. Instead of doing that, they could also put five people to work who can just give moped drivers a ticket. These employees could then also help tourists and enact some social control. It might not give you 100 percent coverage of the moped problem, but it solves more other problems; an improved sense of safety out on the streets and less unemployment. He continues: “Moreover every technological solution requires more IT staff, so the shortage of IT professionals is only made worse by IT.” Continuing on this topic, he also wants to say that the discussion about robots replacing people is overly pessimistic. “We need to change the way we think, and not always turn to IT for the solution. Think first about what you want to achieve with IT. IT is the final step of the Enlightenment. The start of the Enlightenment was the the notion that you can express yourself in any way you want. Now we’ve reached a point where, using IT, you can do what you can’t; you may not be a pilot, but using a flight simulator you can still land a plane.” Hence, Mekić thinks this is where it ought to stop. “We need to be careful to avoid becoming an extension of IT ourselves, rather than the other way around. Because otherwise, who would be living in which world, and who would be in charge of that world?”

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