Get rid of pessimism about technology

Marion Debruyne

Dean of the Vlerick Business School

Because of the negative view of technology, we don’t see the benefits.

Every summer, De Tijd offers opinion writers the opportunity to let go of their inner grumbling smurf. 364 days a year I try to stick to the saying that it is better to keep quiet if you have nothing constructive to say. But if one day I get space to air what can go in the trash, this will be my hit parade.

Technical pessimism tops the list. Nowhere is this more evident than in the discussion of the new way of working. For nearly two years, we underwent a massive real-life experiment. Thanks to Zoom and Teams, what we didn’t think was possible was surprisingly successful, even though the technology was available. As we wondered how to tackle social problems around mobility, ecology and reconciling work and family, part of the solution stared us in the face.

But still, we are in just as long traffic jams as before. The list of business leaders I hear sighing that we would work better than before is long. Elon Musk went so far as to suggest that those who didn’t like it should look elsewhere than Tesla. Where I hear people complain that hybrid work is not ideal after all, I almost never hear the praises about the gains in time, money, environmental emissions and personal balance.



We see the disadvantages of technology over the advantages, which means we miss opportunities to make the most of those advantages.

It defies logic, but it’s not surprising. The Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman showed forty years ago that we do not act logically and value what we lose more than what we have to gain. We see the disadvantages of technology over the advantages, which means we miss opportunities to make the most of those advantages.

Number two on my list of things to get rid of: the business case for diversity, the argument that we need to focus on more women, migrants and minorities in leadership positions because it would be good for business results. I’ve been uncomfortable with that for a long time because the research that shows that business case is pretty appalling, especially because of the lack of a large enough sample.



I am uncomfortable with the argument that we should target more women, migrants and minorities in leadership positions because it would be good for business results.

In addition, researchers from Yale University and the London Business School recently showed that instrumentalizing the diversity agenda has perverse effects. The minorities you’re trying to attract won’t like the job if your interest seems motivated solely by a utilitarian approach to diversity. They then get the feeling that they are only there to represent a certain group and fill a quota, which makes them seem interchangeable with anyone from the same minority group.

So the more you preach that diversity is good for the bottom line—which apparently 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies do—the harder it is to achieve that diversity. Then don’t do it, because you will get the opposite effect. Maybe we should just say that we strive for diversity because all talents are needed and deserve the same opportunities.

To finish my three biggest pet peeves: grumbling is also allowed. We have a surplus of people who all know better on the sidelines, and a shortage of people who dare to step into the arena. So entrepreneurs, politicians, volunteers or anyone who takes the initiative: chapeau!



We have a surplus of people who all know better on the sidelines, and a shortage of people who dare to step into the arena.

One of my most loyal employees told me a few weeks ago that he was making a career change after 25 years. I think that’s a shame, but at the same time I admire her. In order not to be part of the problem, but part of the solution, she becomes the head of a high school in a multicultural society, which many describe as problematic. Beyond such engagement, every tweet and opinion post is silenced.

So that was a relief. You won’t hear me whine for the next 364 days.

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