Futurologist Mike van Rijswijk: “Look beyond what you’re doing now”

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Cleaning companies need to prepare themselves for the future, says Mike van Rijswijk, futurologist and CEO of The Innovation Playground. His warning: you can’t always keep doing what you’re doing now. Because eventually, you will get flooded away by businesses that did embrace digitalization.

Van Rijswijk has always been fascinated by the future and, more specifically, by the impact of innovations and (technological) developments. “I always try to look for combinations of different innovations. These combinations have a bigger impact than one innovation has on its own. Take for instance a robot and a drone. If you put them together, you’ll get a flying robot. Combining innovations opens a whole new world of possibilities.” He goes on to explain the phenomenon he calls the Raindrop Principle. “A single raindrop does not make a difference. But when two raindrops come together and join forces, they can create movement in the water. It has more power. And if too many raindrops come together, they can eventually even cause a flood.”

Change everything we know

The futurologist translates this to digitalization and technological developments. “One or two innovations on their own won’t really make a difference. But multiple innovations at once, can change everything we know. Take e-commerce giants Amazon and Alibaba as example: they changed the entire retail market. Organizations that didn’t see the need to innovate and weren’t ready for the future, don’t exist anymore. They were, metaphorically speaking, washed away by the flood that Amazon and Alibaba caused. That is exactly why the Dutch department store V&D disappeared from the shopping centers.”

Don’t hold on

But is that a good or a bad thing? Van Rijswijk: “That is something we, as a society, should ask ourselves and discuss. I believe it depends on the situation. If one door closes, another one opens somewhere else. That saying also applies to digitalization. But you need to prepare yourselves for the future, to make sure that it won’t be your door that has to close.” But that, of course, is easier said than done. So how should cleaning companies prepare themselves for what’s to come? “Look beyond what you’re doing now. The cleaning sector is very commercial and therefore businesses often tend to hold on to what they already know, because that is what brings in the cash at the moment.”

Focus on human capital

The futurologist says that holding on is exactly the opposite of what business should do. Rather, it’s important to look for entirely new business models, which focus on the human capital within your company. “The focus should always be on the people”, Van Rijswijk emphasizes. He talks about one of his projects in the healthcare industry. “We wanted to see how we could introduce social robots in hospitals. We saw that it was important to let the healthcare employees play a big role in the implementation of the robots. Because they know exactly which robots would best fit their clients. And they know how the robot should act to make the clients feel at ease. Their knowledge is essential for making social robots in the hospital a success. This also means that the robots will never replace the employees. Rather, they’ll take over some aspects of the work and the position of the healthcare workers will shift. Maybe they’ll become robot operators or software programmers.”

Selling data instead of milk

The farming industry provides us with a different example of what the future of cleaning might look like. Van Rijswijk: “Some farmers are experimenting with fully automated farms. This provides them with a lot of valuable data, which give them insight in how to run their farm in the most efficient way. For instance, they could find that a very specific time of the day is the best moment to milk their cows. Or they see that their animals produce more milk when they eat a certain kind or amount of food. These farmers can sell this data to other farmers. So in that sense, the famers transform into data companies. Selling data, instead of milk.”

Knowledge about cleaning

Van Rijswijk explains what these examples could mean for the cleaning industry. He starts to philosophize what the future might look like. “Social robots will become available to the consumer market in the very near future. These robots can probably also clean your house or your office, for example. But somebody has to ‘teach’ these robots how to clean. Maybe cleaning companies can sell their knowledge about cleaning to the robot manufacturers, so they can use it to program the robots. Or cleaning companies can put their knowledge about cleaning in a software program, which the consumers can buy online to upload it to their own robot. Maybe the consumers can choose between different cleaning modules from different companies. Where one module focuses more on hospitality and interaction, while a different module might focus more on hygiene.” In other words: you sell your knowledge about cleaning, instead of selling the service of cleaning.

Outside your comfort zone

“You have to understand that the world will change”, Van Rijswijk stresses. “It will happen sooner rather than later. You have to be prepared for that, because otherwise you’ll miss the boat and loose your relevance. Find out how you can utilize your human capital in the future. Search for new business models and look for them outside of your own comfort zone. Visit those automated farms. Talk to the hospitals that already deploy robots. Try to find a way to use these technologies to your own advantage and make those connections. Create raindrops. And cherish your human capital. Because even in a digitalized world, humans will always make the difference.”


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