Digital transformation can mean a lot of things. As today’s business conversations center on the disruption, change and connection of, well, everything, we’re left to define and shape how we interact with this quintessential buzzword. Depending on its context - where it happens, who drives it and what audience it affects - there are thousands of truths, variations and stories that contribute to the convolution of the term.
In reality, each method and stage of digital transformation is unique, rendering any buzzword vague and incomplete. As both creators and actors, we needed to step back from our screens and start dismantling digital transformation rather than talking about it as a global trend. To do this, we went local.
Through a series of pop-up studios, Huge is developing research labs for digital transformation. Taking the form of field trips and ad-hoc curated events, we want to uncover local insights about digital transformation and weave them into global perspectives and preconceptions. Held across various European cities, each pop-up studio will last for one week and have an international Huge team on the ground. We’ll find local angles, patterns (and probably more buzzwords), and report back on them.
While we liked the idea of getting our feet on the ground in cities across Europe, we knew almost nothing about creating a pop-up. What were the best practices? Was there a format to follow? It was clear that we needed to test the idea in order to really understand its potential. With little to go on but many ideas to play with, we gave ourselves a short six-weeks to develop our pilot pop-up in Hamburg, teaching ourselves just as much as our participants.
Looking for clarity, we started with strangers. Those who liked our concept enough to refer us to their friends helped spread the word and gather ideas before we touched down in Hamburg. From the beginning, we put everything on the table and asked for brutal honesty – from invitees, writers, event professionals, colleagues and our competition. What we ended up with was simple, contextual and current: we realized that we should approach each city with a new, unique theme - a curatorial framework, broad enough for multiple approaches and open to both business-driven and human-centered perspectives. Starting in Hamburg, we chose to look into connectedness in times of digital transformation.
In order to capture local insights and, in turn, give them global visibility, we hired a film team to document the spirit of the pop-up studio. From construction sites, in offices, at our pop-up space and on walks through the city, we met digital pioneers in Hamburg and interviewed them on their projects and perspectives on connectedness.
With only three weeks to go, we sent invitations without any detailed agenda, speaker names or headlines for a debriefing event to be held on the final night. We rented a pop-up studio space and scheduled on-site visits and meetings leading up to the opening.
Between our field trips, we tried to make sense of what we saw and learned. Both thrilling and terrifying, we curated our own mini-conference on the fly, or rather on the back seats of the mini van we had rented. Ultimately, the evening didn’t turn out mini at all. When we finally held our debrief, we attracted nearly 100 guests from the business and creative scenes in Hamburg.
Confident that the concept works and with sharpened pop-up skills, we’re heading to Berlin to look into borderlines - the tipping point when unacceptable technologies become desirable innovation, and vice versa. Now, with more experience, in addition to our final night debrief, we'll also host a dinner event and a curated walking tour.
As we move onto Berlin, here’s a taste of what Hamburg taught us about connectedness.
Things & Spaces.
We came across two rather opposing ways to build our future connected cities and homes. First, you can prototype a smart home and then try to roll out a perfectly connected platform at scale. At the forefront of this strategy is Lars Hinrichs. Formerly the founder of Xing, Lars is now building Apartimentum, a preconfigured learning environment in Hamburg.
As an entrepreneur, he sees the residential development as a product that can eventually extend far beyond just one street in Hamburg. As someone invested in the future of Hamburg, Lars works with multiple brands to create new products – from a smart door to a connected shower – fitting everything into one space.
On the other side of the spectrum are Harald Neidhart, Stefan Woelwer and a couple of Woelwer’s university students. By injecting intelligence into already existing infrastructure, Stefan, a professor at HAWK University, worked with a group of students to invent Streetpong.
By turning crosswalk waiting times into an interactive encounter with pedestrians on the other side of the street, the group took a playful approach to urban interaction. Despite being small in scale, there are also good reasons to believe in this more agile approach to creating a smart environment.
Due to its long planning and building cycles, planners and the public will continue finding themselves hacking infrastructure before they can outgrow and replace it. Who actually knows what the iPhone 16 will look like, how it will function and what implications it will have on our built infrastructure? Knowing this, Harald, curator of MLove, and is working towards transforming shipping containers in Hamburg into labs for developing smarter experiences using dumb infrastructure.
Brands & Channels.
Creating truly connected multichannel brand experiences is challenging – especially in a retail context where omnichannel experiences that transcend physical stores are the norm. But as we found when we visited Blume 2000, a leading German flower retailer, having stores and a digital presence under the same brand doesn’t mean you necessarily need to consider yourself a player in the omnichannel game.
While talking with Blume 2000’s CEO Florian Sieg, we learned that the retailer had separated offline and online businesses to achieve “channel excellence.” While the digital experience served largely as a gifting platform – mainly male users – the physical stores operate as a spontaneous pick-up location – mainly female users – appealing to different individuals and scenarios, ultimately rendering both the digital and physical aspects of the business largely autonomous.
Though a split between a longstanding physical store – Blume 2000 is over forty years old – and relatively new digital presence isn’t unusual, and the company is carefully testing how touchpoints can be connected, Blume 2000 serves as a good reminder that digital transformation transcends beyond the trendy. Really, different channels and features are nothing more than a set of options to solve someone’s problem in the best and most valuable way. For Blume 2000, this so far has been focusing their investments not on omnichannel but channel excellence, allowing for the growth of two entities connected by one brand.
People & Data.
Innovation is built on connecting people. Digital transformation is also built on data. But when it comes to connected people and data, you’re entering dangerous territory in Germany.
As one of the most privacy-sensitive countries in the world, understanding digital transformation in Germany can be muddy. Few understand this more than Protonet, a Hamburg-based startup that builds personal cloud servers. The product is built for a time when small and medium-sized companies would move away from Google Drive or Dropbox to take back ownership of their data.
When we met founder Ali Jelveh, he also introduced us to Free Your Data, a newly-launched campaign meant to raise awareness and influence policy making. Though you may not agree with Protonet’s vision on decentralizing infrastructure, their push to get us more consciously interacting with data is an important driver to digital transformation.
Also rethinking how we interact with data is Diana Knodel. Her organization Appcamps is on a mission to teach children, particularly girls, how to code. Appcamps has developed school curriculums and self-teaching materials that teachers can use without any deeper training or expertise. With simple applications like a one-click fortune teller app, students build their first digital products (and show them off to their friends).
During our week, we also came in contact with a specific Hanseatic culture in Hamburg, often taking the form of keeping things to yourself rather than proactively sharing them at an early-stage, seemingly a counter-productive method for innovation. But many people we met – like Freya Oehle, co-founder of the startup Spottster, or Wolfgang Wopperer Beholz, founder of Betahaus, a well-known coworking space, or Markus Durstewitz, Head of Innovation Methods and tools at Airbus and the man responsible for connecting the individuals and ideas of over 60,000 engineers – showed us that such a tradition can also be the breeding ground for true innovators, actively caring to connect people and breaking longstanding cultural barriers.
Meet us in Berlin.