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The digital revolution

How entrepreneurs not only adapted to change but thrived in it

Gulf News

Most important for internet users isn’t just how easily they browse but what the internet would enable them to do online, a wise man told the audience at the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai a few years ago.

“In other words, the experience one gets online will determine how often one returns to the World Wide Web,” he said. “That’s why Google had to add Google Map, Google Earth, Gmail and so on to seduce the user to return to the site again and again.”

Although I do not recall the name of the speaker, I do remember the quotes — which I am reasonably good at.

Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t around here in Dubai then to listen to the speech. But a few years later he launched Facebook — the mother of all social networks that raised the bar in social media.

Nearly a billion people — or a seventh of mankind — are users of Facebook, a company developed by a college dropout, out of nowhere to take the whole world by storm, including its botched initial public offering. “Change is often seen as a threat, but to an entrepreneur it’s oxygen,” writes Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, in his introduction to Velocity — a conversation between “digital gurus” Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander on businesses going digital or the worldwide digital revolution.

The authors theorise their experiences through what they call the “Seven Laws of Velocity” and explain the factors behind the fast-changing world of business — what works and what doesn’t. Velocity is the ongoing digital revolution that is changing our lives — from home entertainment to communication devices — including mobile handsets to laptops to tablets to the iPads.

Life, for many of us, is becoming confined to either a 7- or 11-inch screen run either on Android or Mac OS — the emerging battleground for all global brands that seek to record the highest number of “clicks” and score against one another in competition for consumer attention.

Ajaz Ahmed started a digital agency, AKQA, in London in 1995 at the age of 21 while Stefan Olander was vice-president of Digital Sports at Nike. Ahmad was smart enough to draw the attention of Olander and Branson, both of whom admit to having benefited from Ahmed’s digital recipe for success in business.

The book is based on a structured dialogue aimed at making readers understand the significance of the digital revolution while passing on thoughts and experiences on some of those benefits,

“We had the good fortune to live the digital revolution from the inside, discovering what works and what doesn’t,” Ahmed and Olander write in their introduction. “As a result, our work has always obliged us to see the new as an opportunity, never a threat. That’s the philosophy, the gift given to us, we want to pass on to you.”

The economic balance of power is shifting to emerging markets. Fearless innovators are reconfiguring the commercial landscape and endangering long established ways of working.

A lot has changed in the world of business and economy during the last 30-40 years. Not only are fixed phone lines and faxes becoming obsolete, a look back at the music or recording industry in the last three decades shows that it has moved on from long-play records to magnetic tapes, the Walkman, compact discs and the digital music world — the MP3s and iPods.

“When the established ways of doing things are in turmoil, new energy has the best chance to step in and succeed by doing things better than they’ve always been done before,” Branson says.

But why does Velocity matter? Two billion of the world’s seven billion people are already online. E-commerce sales have already crossed $8 trillion (Dh29.4 trillion) a year — higher than the GDP of most rich countries.

“Today change is happening at a pace and scale with no historical precedent,” the authors argue.

The book talks about business management in a way that would attract even an average reader who has little interest in boring business. The authors share some interesting thoughts that are bound to seduce any reader. One of them reads: Innovation, by its nature, is an experiment with unknown outcomes — or it is easier “done” than “said” — that reflects on organisations’ obsession with consistent delivery.

The conversation takes the reader through the evolution of many global corporations and their fates, such as the rise of, compared to the bankruptcy-filing Borders while both were selling books, the creativity of Apple, the marketing success of Nike and the evolution of digital advertising and social media.

It runs some golden quotes of entrepreneurs: Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, says, “We don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services.”’s Jeff Bezos says, “Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product or service.”

However, the conversation returns to Nike again and again, along with AKQA — that could raise eyebrows on whether the authors were trying to promote their companies and businesses indirectly.

The book is, nevertheless, a good read for anyone who cares about his life, advertisement, social media, consumer behaviour and, last but not least, thought-provoking material.