Network Thinking - Ulrich Weinberg - ebook

Network Thinking ebook

Ulrich Weinberg



You are looking for a metaphor describing the paradigm shift from analog to digital world? Take a look at your bookshelf! The author uses the centuries-old encyclopedia, the famous German "Brockhaus", as a thinking model of the analog 20th century and, on the other hand, uses the network as the thinking model for the digital 21st century. Learn how board members of global corporations are reshaping their organization, teachers are rebuilding their education and how Network Thinking can also be personally useful to you.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi

Liczba stron: 256

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:


This book is dedicated to Lisa Marie.

Ulrich Weinberg

Network Thinking

Beyond Brockhaus Thinking

Network Means Teamwork!

In an increasingly cross-linked world, the prevailing way of thinking is becoming a chock block. Modern digital complexity can no longer be taken in let alone be influenced by the categories of competition, individual performance, hierarchies and a culture of experts. We need a new concept of thought and action.

The world of Network Thinking is characterized by collaboration, by creatively linking the seemingly unrelated, and above all by abandoning hierarchies.

But how and where is Network Thinking put into practice? This book is an extraordinary roadshow introducing the most innovative locations and people all around the globe where Network Thinking already controls our actions.

It gives you amazing insights behind the scenes of large companies that have abandoned the Brockhaus way of thinking, but also of small companies that never practiced it but became successful due to Network Thinking. Their conclusion: The age of the »lone fighter« is gone for good. Our world is characterized by digital networking and hence needs acquired team orientation. Above all, this attitude has also to arrive in our educational landscape.


Tarik to All

The Beginning of the End

01 / Dusty Times How the end of the Brockhaus era changes our bookshelves

02 / No More Cut and Thrust Why German car manufacturers fear a misshapen potato

03 / Knowledge is for Everyone Why the Chinese have an advantage when it comes to Network Thinking

04 / From One Hand to the Next Why teamwork promotes creative confidence

05 / A Matter of Security Why sensitive areas need creative impulses

06 / We Live and Breathe Competence How modern thinking can work even under oak panel ceilings

07 / Living and Working Anywhere How coworking inspires the classic work environment

08 / Game, Imagination and Match Why easiness facilitates the best ideas

09 / Against the Grain Why our mind prefers to work together with others

10 / The Revolution of the Wise Guys Why we learn better in a team

11 / What the Eye Doesn’t See the Heard Doesn’t Grieve Over Why the best ideas always arise in-house

12 / Going to Heaven Why Network Thinking also works at places you would not expect

13 / Everyone, Everywhere Why you should listen to your customers more often

14 / Vision: Networker Why it was never easier to improve the world

15 / With Marshmallow and Sledgehammer Marshmallow on top

Recommended Reading


About the Author


The small thumbelinas search and find knowledge in their machines. Mostly inaccessible, the knowledge was often only available in fragments, pieces or segments. Page by page, educated classifications assigned each discipline to their respective parts, their domain as well as their rooms, their laboratories, their library sections, their budgets, their mouthpieces and their corporate bodies. Knowledge was divided into sects. And reality burst into a thousand pieces.

Michel Serres, Thumbelina: The Culture and Technology of Millennials

Tarik to All

I am seven years old and just started my second year at school. I learn reading, writing and calculation, and that is real fun. As I cannot write everything on my own, my dad helped me to write down this.

My dad has already a bald head, I think he is already more than 50 years old. Sometimes, he does really funny things. For instance with his iPhone that he carries around the whole day long. When I was very little, I was already allowed to play with it sometimes. It was fun to wipe around on the glassplate and to see what happens next. When I was in bed in the evening, I was sometimes allowed to view a bedtime story on the glassplate. My favorite was the one with the farm. You could turn off the light in the cow shed and then watch the cows go to sleep. I thought that was funny, but now that I am much more grown up, I find it boring.

Today, I prefer playing car racing. Because, I find cars really cool. The cars that I let drive look really real. When I move the iPhone like a steering wheel, I can control them. And it makes a real bang and shakes when I crash into something. That’s fun. My dad says, when he was in my age, he built soapboxes out of cardboard and then he and his friends raced against each other in their soapboxes.

But sometimes my father also tells strange things. When I asked him when I would be allowed to drive a real car, he said that I would have to wait for ten years but that he didn’t know if one could still steer a car by then because they would all drive by themselves. Now that would be a bummer!

When I was five, my father bought a new iPhone for himself. It was a little bigger than his old one, and I got the old one. My mum didn’t think that was a good idea. Because my mum loves books more than anything else and she says that kids should grow up with books and not with glassplates. I also like books, we have many, many of them at home, they don’t even fit all in the shelves. But honestly, I find the glassplate much more exciting. But I am only allowed to play with it at weekends together with Dad or Mum. Dad has also an iPad. On Saturday morning when I am still in bed, we watch films on it, about bears or policemen, planes or volcanoes. And then I am allowed to play another car game. What I like most is playing with a real small toy car. I put it on the glassplate and then I can steer it through the streets and have adventures and collect hub caps. When I have enough hub caps, I can buy something for my car for them, like a rocket thrower or colored exhaust smoke.

In the evening, when I am in bed and look at my treasure collection on my bedside table, I sometimes try to imagine what the children will play with when I am as old as my dad is now. Will they still play car race on a glassplate? Maybe then they will all have these cars that drive for themselves and are allowed to drive around with them.

Tarik, 7 years

The Beginning of the End

I write the first lines of this book on a three-hour flight from Beijing to Tokyo in summer 2013. On my lap, I have a small electronic glassplate whose keyboard can no longer be felt but only seen. What I entered into this iPad are still volatile thoughts, only partially shaped to complete sentences.

Two days later on my flight back to Europe, I developed the structure of this book, the central theme and several important passages. This also happened on my iPad. My thoughts about the »end of the Brockhaus Thinking« have kept me awake. For more than eight hours, I busied myself with questions and thoughts about this subject, without taking a break but with great joy and concentration. By coining the term »Brockhaus Thinking,« I had finally managed to put in a nutshell what I encounter in universities, companies, government agencies and organizations on a daily basis. For the time, I had defined what is about to change fundamentally with our thinking and acting, and for the sake of better communication, I had also visualized it in a drawing.

We all feel that something is about to end; something important that we all are familiar with and that determined the framework of our thinking and acting for a long time. But gradually, this structure and its sorting, systemizing function becomes an obstacle that does more to hinder the flow of communication and acting than to support it effectively. Obviously, this important thing no longer works and nears its end. We have an inkling of what will come after that, but it is just an idea that has not yet been described. We feel that there is change. Something big that we developed bids farewell — or is bid farewell — and will be replaced by another big thing that still has to be shaped.

The feeling that something nears its end and the confusing fact that we cannot exactly state what happens afterwards and how the new »something« will look like leads many people to do something simply based on the suspicion that the life of today and yesterday cannot easily be translated to the life of tomorrow. What made us strong and successful today can be small and unimportant tomorrow. For instance, German cars are still seen as the bee’s knees of car technology. However, we cannot preclude that an autonomous car developed by one of the big technology companies like Apple or Google will soon be more successful than any previous model. The very fact that classic car manufacturers intensively observe the plan of IT companies shows how near the change is. The essential characteristic of this change is a skill that will support and advance it: Network Thinking.

We will no longer think in terms of drawers and categories. In future, out thinking and acting will take place in open networks. The German Brockhaus encyclopedia represents linear thinking and a sorting order from A to Z, but tomorrow we will no longer categorize knowledge and information as precisely as possible. Instead, we will take our thinking out of the fixed locations and put it into permanent motion. What place could be more suitable to become aware of this change than a plane? It is the way of thinking that is about to change.

Anyone who still thinks in hierarchies, disciplines and lexical categories in the age of digitalization, will soon miss the boat. Hence, I dedicate this book to Network Thinking, which will arguably replace the Brockhaus Thinking once and for all. All around the world, people begin to think in network structures. There are many examples worth presenting: a German car manufacturer, a pharmaceutics giant, a software developer, the Diakonie charity, or a school in Berlin. All these and many other organizations are about to completely change their core business and their work structure. They do this not only out of conviction but also because it is economically sound. The essential point is that Network Thinking is not just a fancy embellishment or a new PR buzz for effete companies; not at all! Network Thinking is the new way of thinking that we need to understand and to control our world of tomorrow.

01 / Dusty Times How the end of the Brockhaus era changes our bookshelves

When was the last time that you took a volume of your encyclopedia out of the bookshelf in order to look something up? You know, the long row of equally colored books, which have a fixed and traditional place in many bookshelves. How about a little experiment? Go to your bookshelf, stand in front of the encyclopedia, close your eyes and touch the top edges of the books (assuming that you can reach them comfortably). Do you feel the dust? Probably, most of you will just have wiped away a more or less thick layer of dust. Do not be too hard to yourself because you have not cleaned up properly. Dusting books is not a favorite pastime. Better take out one of the A to Z books and look for the year when this edition had been printed. How old is the book?

Now try to remember when you have used your encyclopedia the last time. I myself was quite shocked when I did this test! My paperback edition of the famous German Brockhaus encyclopedia is from the year 1984. The layer of dust was enormously thick, and I could not remember when I used the encyclopedia the last time. Yet since childhood, I had loved to browse through reference books, to let myself guide from one volume to the next and to discover something new every time. In this way, I worked through the two-volume encyclopedia of my parents. During my studies, I daily leafed through my now more than 30 year old Brockhaus and other reference works. Of course, terms like »globalization«, »digitalization« and »Internet« are not to be found in my edition, and the »computer« entry only yields the following short explanation: »Computing or data processing unit, consisting of input and output devices and central processing unit.«

What worth do these 20 volumes with 130,000 entries, 6,000 illustrations and 120 color pages have in the age of Google and Wikipedia? Nowadays, I can access billions of websites just by wiping a small glass plate with my fingers to get information which is updated every second, and I can use the same glass plate to phone someone with experience in order to make sure and to dispel any remaining doubts and questions. However, is the information behind this small glass plate as reliable as the information I got from my Brockhaus?

»Wikipedia is not a Threat«

I still remember a radio interview with the Brockhaus CEO about the development of encyclopedias a few years after the start of Wikipedia in 2001. He was sure that Wikipedia would never come up to his established and reliable product. After all, Wikipedia only contained amateurishly collected knowledge and thus could never compete with the quality and respectability of the information carefully edited by Brockhaus. He even concluded by stating that Wikipedia is not a threat to a quality product like Brockhaus. »Quality« is what humans always looked for and would still look for in the future, and this quality is guaranteed by his editorial board, his extensive team of experts and the expert knowledge gathered in more than two centuries.

Knowledge defined as an eternal and constant quantity? Only seven years after the start of Wikipedia, knowledge is no longer measured in foot and no longer qualified by invariance.

Only a few years later, the world had already changed. Brockhaus and other publishing houses experienced a massive decline in sales figures. Many of them were facing bankruptcy. »The times when you put an excellent 5-foot encyclopedia into your bookshelf to pick out what you want to know seem to be over,« said Klaus Holoch, speaker of the Brockhaus publishing house in 2008. This was already the beginning of the end. Only seven years after the start of Wikipedia, knowledge was no longer measured in foot.

In March 2017, the print edition of the 32-volume Encyclopedia Britannica was discontinued. The complete knowledge of the Britannica is now only accessible online. In June 2013, one year after the British decided not to supply yard ware any more, the Bertelsmann trust (which had bought the Brockhaus publishing house) declared the end of the Brockhaus print edition for 2014. 206 years after Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus (1772–1823) published his Conversationslexikon mit vorzüglicher Rücksicht auf die gegenwärtigenZeiten (»Encyclopedia with special consideration of current times«) and thus set the standard for German reference works, the age of this encyclopedia ended after it had grown to 30 volumes and a weight of 70 kg in its 21st edition.

A look at my everyday work shows that I do no longer need these encyclopedia tomes. Not only that they are not continuously updated, they also lost a lot of their attractiveness. Today, everyone can search in the Internet at any time and at any place. We can access information about every topic in every language in real time, and we can rely on a network of dedicated people who continuously update the information voluntarily and free of charge. Of course there are moments when I long for the days when I could enjoy the feeling that every essential piece of human knowledge was contained in no more than 20 volumes on my shelf. But these moments are rare and belong to the same feeling of nostalgia that still prevents me to yield the shelf space for the Brockhaus to other stuff.

When I asked students at the HPI School of Design Thinking during my introductory lecture in 2013, when they had last used a printed encyclopedia, I only met confused eyes. They did not have something like that at home any more, was the unanimous answer.

For the time being, I will not discard my Brockhaus. One reason is that it reminds of the paradigm that we now abandon slowly but surely.

The Brockhaus Paradigm

But what is this Brockhaus paradigm? In my opinion, it is a wonderful metaphor for the way in which we tried to understand, organize, structure and communicate our reality for centuries. We sort, we subdivide, we separate things into smaller sections for better understanding, we structure, and we create grids and drawers and put our reality in there.

For another experiment, go back to your bookshelf and stand in front of your encyclopedia. Try to visualize the set-up and structure of your company or organization. Imagine the logo of your organization hovering above the encyclopedia. Can you see the different departments and organizational units placed in a row like the volumes of the encyclopedia? Or think back to your old school where you may have spent maybe more than ten years of your life, and try to imagine its name hovering above the encyclopedia.

The individual years or grades actually make up a perfect row. Now try to imagine your schedule. It is no problem to insert the dozen or so topics, which were reeled off in 45-minute segments, into this familiar structure. The whole school structure fits perfectly into the row arrangement that you see in front of you. Now change to the university where you have spent another four or five years of your life (or where you are right now). Do you see the individual faculties of which you chose one? Imagine the name of your university in big letters above the books, and you can finely separate the different topics from architecture, biology, chemistry, design and ethnology to law, medicine and process engineering and up to zoology.

We subtly refined the art of separating and subdividing. With this technique, we ennobled even the smallest corners of our knowledge and our facilities. But today, this skill becomes an obstacle.

Now try to image the last time you had some business to do with a public authority, e.g. when renewing your passport in the citizen center. Imagine the word »citizen center« written above the encyclopedia, and you will already see the 20 different departments which deal with different tasks concerning the citizens’ interests. Maybe you remember how hard it was to find the department that was responsible for you. Maybe you met a friendly guy who gave you the right tip to find the correct office.

And now one last visualization! In your mind, write the word »government« in big letters on the background of your country’s flag above the encyclopedia. You will see the different departments as clearly separated units with their own subdivisions appear in front of your mind’s eye.

Saying Good-Bye to a Paradigm

In case you now no longer know what and how you should think, it is best to go to the kitchen and to make some coffee, or even better, tea. Come back to your seat in front of the bookshelf and relax. Enjoy the smell of the tea. Take another sip, feel the warmth of the beverage and look again at the backs of your encyclopedia. Just have a look! After a while, take out one of the volumes. Leaf through it and smell the pages — but be careful not to breathe in the dust!

This can be an important moment of your life that you will remember. Join me in consciously saying good-bye to our familiar paradigm, which I would like to dub the Brockhaus paradigm. This way of thinking is going to end. Sooner or later, it will be replaced by a completely new way of thinking, of which we still have just a vague idea.

What you now see in front of you — the books sorted from A to Z — has lost its meaning in a globally networked, ever-changing world. The way of thinking that is manifest in the form of books is no longer able to meet the demands of a digitally networked world. The reason for our feeling uncomfortable in this networked world is the fact that we navigate this world by means of paradigms that are old and much too rigid.

We no longer have to wait for the next print edition of our encyclopedia to access specific new information, which might become obsolete shortly after the release of the edition, anyway. For years, we already rely on news gathered via information networks from all over the world and on Google and Wikipedia to keep ourselves informed. Why should the increasingly denser and faster networking only change our information behavior? In the industrialized nations, nearly all processes of life and work are now networked by means of digital information technology. This does not only affect the information flow but also rapidly changes our companies, organizations, educational and political institutions.

Have another sip of tea and take one of the volumes of the encyclopedia. Sit down in a comfortable chair and relish the moment in complete relaxation. Breathe deeply and enjoy! Enjoy that you have the chance to witness this huge transformation process, which will again change the history of mankind. Experience consciously the change from the Brockhaus Thinking to Network Thinking.

Like Gutenberg, but Different

Take another deep breath and have another sip of tea, because there is one further piece of news that I cannot spare you: The transformation process is irreversible. We will irrevocably leave the old paradigm as the Brockhaus will leave our bookshelf sooner or later. The vanishing of the Brockhaus may be the best sign for the fact that the digital revolution is of equal social importance as the introduction of printing since Gutenberg.

But how does the new networked thinking look like? We have already witnessed the change from Brockhaus to Wikipedia and Google in the last years. How does the new networked thinking show itself in companies, in society, in politics and in families? How can we even think in a networked way when our whole educational system is still following the Brockhaus paradigm? In the following chapters, I will take you on a journey through the executive suites, school staffrooms, laboratories, government departments, hospitals, social services and universities to observe some examples for the new way of thinking and new practices and to contemplate how we can actively participate in this transformation process.

The change in our way of thinking will be irreversible.

At this point, I had to interrupt my writing, pack my backpack and travel to downtown Berlin, where I had an appointment with the CEO of Audi. A few days ago, I had already told my son, a real car enthusiast, that I could not join him at home on Sunday as usual. I asked him to build his dream car from Lego so that I could take it with me to the appointment. He handed me the result as a present for the »Governor of Audi«, as he called him. According to his explanations, this was the fourth version, as the first three had deemed him a little too outlandish. I put the Lego model into my backpack and set off.

Lego bricks are not only one of the favorite toys of my son but also a recurrent theme of my life. With the pieces of a given set, you can build the intended model of a ship or a police station, but you can also feel free to build something entirely different. The bricks are simple and can be accurately fitted together in any conceivable form. Lego accompanied me through my childhood and again during the previous years in the School of Design Thinking. The bricks are very well suited so illustrate complex issues in short time and to communicate them vividly. Additionally, the little bricks activate the creative-intuitive part of our thinking apparatus and thus trigger new thinking processes. At the Hasso Plattner Institute, we call this process »thinking with your hands.«

Lego assists our imagination: we can think further with the help of our hands.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, also built the first models of their server farm from Lego bricks. By now, Lego has become an important prototyping tool for managers. In 1996, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, grandson of the Lego founder, already had the idea to devise Lego bricks not only a toy for children. He thought that they might be equally suited for strategic planning. Thus in 2002, Lego Serious Play was born, a system that is still in use as strategic planning tool in management training.

From the waning Brockhaus era, we have inherited a way of thinking and a corresponding way of acting that does no longer match our ever more complex world. Complexity eludes the linear mode of accessing the world, both in theory and in practice. Networking, dehierarchization, developing and conceptualizing as a team effort, releasing and sharing of knowledge, or in short the radical transformation of our cultural practice is no longer just optional. It is the challenge and the task for the near future.

02 / No More Cut and Thrust Why German car manufacturers fear a misshapen potato

I put my son’s Lego car onto the table. On the opposite side stands Rupert Stadler, CEO of Audi AG, one of the most important car managers in Germany. Under his direction, 70,000 employees produce 1.3 million cars, which are sold all around the world, and develop concepts for future mobility. Between us is a moderator to ask guiding questions. We are in the Humboldt Box in Berlin, and it is the November 9th, 2014. Berlin commemorates the fall of the Wall 25 years ago. The »light border«, an installation consisting of 8,000 glowing white balloons, follows the line of the former Wall through the city. In a clever dramaturgy, the balloons will later be released into the sky. It is a cold an clear day.

On this Sunday morning, Rupert Stadler and I have an appointment to talk about the future and about the relevant factors for mobility and work. We are nearly of the same age and have both grown up in rural areas. With the Humboldt Box, Audi had chosen a very special location for our meeting. The building is located in the center of Berlin at the edge of a giant building site where the Berlin City Palace with the Humboldt Forum is reconstructed. It serves as an information platform. While Berlin rebuilds its old baroque palace, we talk about the future.

The setting is not only determined by the historical palace and the historical date, but also by the Humboldt brothers, Alexander and Wilhelm, and the university that bears their name and serves for more than 200 years as the educational home for ten thousands of students. Alexander von Humboldt was a pioneer of interdisciplinarity. He researched astronomy and zoology, bananas and volcanoes. He wanted to understand things without the ambition to become an expert on every subject. In my conversation with Stadler I point out the importance of this openness and this multidisciplinary way of thinking. Stadler adds, »Yes, many people struggle with thinking beyond the borders of their area of expertise.« Most people are trained as specialists. »However, in future it will be essential to look beyond the end of one’s nose and to become networked,« Stadler says. Everything said is of symbolic value.

It is important to overcome the set borders in our thinking and to get the disciplines, departments, specialists and experts out of their isolation.

The Wall collapsed 25 years ago. The structure that separated the inhabitants of one city and a whole country for 28 years vanished in 1989. Today, we celebrate this day. At the same time, the car manager and I talked about breaking down the borders of disciplines and to get rid of the rigid departmental thinking. We do this also in respect of another 25-year jubilee, namely the start of the World Wide Web in 1989, which made the Internet finally useful for more people than those in closed military and scientific groups. Thanks to the work by Tim Berners-Lee the technological infrastructure that already existed since the end of the 1960s finally got a user interface that was comprehensible and useful for everybody. This was the real start of the technical revolution that we are talking about.

It Will not Continue in This Way Forever

The fact that big German car manufacturers like Audi are interested in new ways of thinking does not only become evident in their interest in electro motors and self-driving cars, but also in their realization that purely technological development, providing first-class design and thinking in product lines is no longer sufficient. They realize more and more that the forming factors for further development come from the outside, i.e. from changed preferences and behaviors of humans, from technological advances in other areas, especially the software industry, and from global megatrends.

Hence, car manufacturers begin to face up to a world that is changing ever faster. In this respect, Audi has launched the Audi Urban Future Award some years ago. This is a very special international competition as it does not seem to fit a car manufacturing company. The title neither contains the words »car« nor »mobility.« You might as well think that it is a competition in architecture or city planning. However, this competition asks questions that become more and more important for car manufacturers. How do urban (and in particular, metropolitan) environments change by the rapid change of human behaviors and values in a globally networked world? This competition does not ask individuals to provide solutions, but consciously addresses groups of different organizations and companies as well as teams of futurologists, urbanistics experts, architects and sociologists.