Innovation Is About Keeping Our Options Open
4 visions of innovation with Censhare’s Dieter Reichert
Innovation is on everyone’s lips except that what we see is hardly what we get. For innovation is, primarily, a matter of vision. Technology is nice and it travels fast, but what is it to us who can understand so little about it? It’s as if we, modern day Frankensteins, had invented new creatures and as they come to life, we barely understand what is going on. As the frightful Swiss in awe with his newborn wretch, we run around like headless chickens, trying to embrace these new technological objects of ours or merely trying to survive them. What if the answer were in the hands of the Indians of an obscure tribe in a Mexican desert? I tried to find out while interviewing Dieter Reichert, CEO and founder of Censhare, a worldwide software house set to redesign the way we handle information. And God knows there is a dire need for this.
Dieter came to visit me some time ago. We had decided I would interview him about software and we came to talk about his background and experience. Talking with entrepreneurs is always a fascinating experience. One gets to understand how they innovate, how they lead their business in their daily lives, how they overcome whatever obstacles they encounter. This is a very worthwhile experience, especially when you are are yourself an entrepreneur. Talking to Dieter for a few minutes, I realised that our interview would be on a totally different level. His was not the experience of an average businessman, but a real journey through life, deeply rooted in experiments. Well, all kinds of experiments, so to speak.
Vision of innovation 1: don’t do what’s expected of you
Dieter started in a way that wouldn’t appeal to most Parents, by flunking school at the age of 18. He wasn’t “cut out for that”, he admitted. By “that”, he meant reading books, and learning with a teacher locked up in a schoolroom. He was one for larger spaces, he fled to India. There he learned Yoga, then became a teacher and eventually, got bored, because “not much happens in India” he said. Not one for contemplation, Dieter, but much of a rolling stone.
He left India soon after that to live among Mexican tribespeople. Columbus had mistaken them for Indians and named them after others, Dieter went on to live with them. He liked it a lot. In actual fact, living with them shaped his vision of life and innovation. His vision of time and understanding the cosmos. He thinks he can understand innovation better than us because of this. This is a life-shaping experience, not just any kind of experience.
So here went Dieter, from adventure to venture, from the Mexican Indians to the creation of an events organisation setting up symposiums with the Dalai Lama and other celebs, then to the creation of a drugs rehab centre, all the time working with and for Apple. Meditation being the link between these things, most probably. “Think different” is certainly a motto that Dieter could live with. For he is a very different kind of person.
Vision of innovation 2: one day, computers will be less dumb
I liked his views on IT too. It’s true that computers aren’t that smart. This is an understatement. The more we are sold new versions of AI and self-driving cars, the more we have to reboot our machines, circumvent bugs and even live without the features one used to enjoy (where has the old Phatware ICR – intelligent character recognition – feature in our year 2000 PDAs gone?) They are just miniaturised versions of their bulky elders, even though we have gone quite a long way from the prehistory of IT, I readily admit.
Yet, exactly 26 years ago to the day, I was tip tapping away on a computer just like the one I have now in front of me. It’s true I was one of the happy few to be equipped with a laptop computer, its battery life was not going beyond 1 hour and a half and it was black and white (two years later I pawned it in exchange for a brand new colour Zenith PC). Having said that, it was a PC nonetheless, with an older but reasonably functional version of Office by Microsoft. Not much less powerful than the ones we have now and certainly less bug-ridden.
Vision of innovation 3: computers will be implanted in our brains
Dieter has another vision for 21st century computers. According to him, we won’t have any. We’ll be sort of wired and connected to one another. We will be the computers so to speak, turned into Cyborgs. Depending on your standpoint, you may or may not like the idea. I’m not a great fan I must admit. But it’s a fact that brain to brain communications is already old hat. From a research perspective I mean. As early as 1993 I saw a disabled person, on the BBC, move her mouse with her brains. All she had to do was focus on the screen and the mouse would move, after a while, to where she wanted. It wasn’t fault proof nor user-friendly but we could understand the basics were there.
Vision of innovation 4: we can’t understand innovation
Last but not least is the fact that we cannot understand innovation. It moves too fast for us to get to grips with it, Dieter explains. Strangely enough, he who once travelled the world to share the lives of Mexican Indians is adamant that only the latter are able to comprehend the complex world we have created for ourselves. They, and only they, have this 360° view of the world they live in. That’s a fine paradox but certainly, Dieter has a point here: we invent these contraptions but we can’t understand them. We would need our brains to be updated with a new version of human software, or rather the old software of Indians. Like them, we need to be more in synch with our world. There is much to learn from them, and from Dieter too.