Joachim Pawlik Interview

Why does our society seem so powerless at the moment – and what can we all do about it? Is it the many crises? Are the challenges posed by climate change and artificial intelligence too overwhelming for us to overcome? In this interview, Joachim Pawlik, the founder of Pawlik Consultants, discusses strategies for effectively shaping the future.

It’s great to be sitting together again! This is already our fourth collaborative magazine – and the fourth major topic that we are tackling together. After “Loud & Quiet,” “Hamburg with Feeling” (or the new empathy, as you called it) and “Me or Us,” now “Proactive – Shaping the Future”.

How does powerful proactivity mesh with “quiet” and “feeling”? Isn‘t that rather a contradiction to the previous focal points?
Joachim Pawlik: I don’t think so. You can also be powerful quietly and with feeling. The theme “Proactive” is about the energy we need to shape our lives. Despite all the challenges and crises, getting up in the morning with the desire to tackle the future.

Getting up is an important phrase: I got up this morning and felt really sluggish. When I would prefer to stay in bed – how can I still powerfully shape the future?
I don‘t know your lifestyle or whether you slept enough last night. But in general, we are observing something – and that was also the reason why we are dealing with this topic: We see that people are increasingly exhausted. This may be some of the residual effects of the Corona pandemic. Everyone made a tremendous effort to cope with this exceptional situation. Then, just as we were halfway through, we were all overtaken by the next crisis – the horrific Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent threat to our security. This was quickly followed by economic challenges … We talked to all of our customers, colleagues and employees last year, and almost all of them asked us: How are we supposed to manage all this now, too? After Corona, most people wished for a return to “normal life”. But there was no such thing …

What ensued was a life filled with even more crises. The war in Ukraine was compounded by complex threats like the climate crisis and the advent of advanced artificial intel- what impact do they have on people?
I would like to differentiate between two types of crisis. The Corona pandemic put a strain on all of us, without question. But we always had the feeling that we could somehow overcome the crisis and perhaps even emerge from it with more strength in the end. Many of us have have even felt a sense of achievement: We have managed this crisis! The climate crisis and AI, on the other hand, leave most of us feeling rather helpless. What will our world look like in three to five years? There are forecasts for this. But what exactly do they mean for our lives? What influence will all this have on us? Climate change and AI both challenge our future at a fundamental level.

Isn‘t it also the multitude of crises that saps so much strength?
Absolutely! This also has something to do with the networking of our world and digital reporting. No matter where in the world something happens today: We hear about it. If a freighter is stranded in the Suez Canal, we find out immediately and also hear that it is transporting important parts for a German plant. Today, we are confronted with an extremely large number of problems that, in the past, we were hardly aware of. The pictures and news are available everywhere immediately.

Isn‘t the reluctance to give all one‘s energy also a generational issue? We are increasingly seeing among young people that the next career step is not necessarily the measure of all things, but instead quality of life, meaning and the famous work-life balance are more crucial
This is often said about the so-called Generation X. If I‘m completely honest, I also see enough people in the younger generation who have a great desire to work and are highly committed. I notice this in my sons. They tell me quite clearly: I don’t necessarily want to live like you. In our generation, it was all about “higher, faster, further”. About success. The younger generation is perhaps more concerned with sustainability and, of course, quality of life. But they also want to make something of their lives.

What do you personally draw strength from? Not only as an entrepreneur, but also as a former competitive athlete?
As an athlete, I always drew strength from the next game at the weekend, from the competition that was coming up, and also from a kind of daily measurability of what I was doing. If I reached my goal in the evening, I was satisfied. If not, I asked myself: What do you learn from this so that you can do better tomorrow? In everything we do, it is essential that we achieve a visible result. This is also one of the approaches we take to the topic of “Proactive”.
One thing is how you draw strength yourself. But the big challenge for you as a boss is also: How do you pass on strength?
I make sure that every employee can make their personal contribution to the big picture, that they recognize it themselves and that their contribution is recognized. This is done through clear job descriptions, delegation of responsibility and, above all, very frequent, detailed and differentiated feedback. Strength comes from psychological security; it is immensely important to know that you are recognized and involved.

You can also observe this in yourself.
Yes, I think that is one of the core facets of corporate success. This is why the goal pursued by many companies is problematic. They all aim to save the world.

But that is not the worst thing. Isn‘t the meaning of one‘s own actions fundamental?
Sense is good. But if we are honest, very few companies actually save the world. Therefore, individuals feel they cannot contribute anything significant to the grand objective with their work. They don‘t see themselves as part of the ‚world-saving‘ team. Consequently, the opposite of what is intended with instilling a sense of purpose occurs: The unifying forces within the company begin to diminish. The employees go home and say, this is not my company, because I do not contribute to its greater purpose. The purpose is entirely compromised when one internal conflict after another erupts within the company, focusing on promotions, salary increases, and acquiring more influence. Studies have found that employee satisfaction in companies that profess to do good – producing medical products, clean energy, or clean water, for example – is not necessarily higher than that of employees in the defense industry. The purpose is not insignificant, but the recognition of one‘s activity, knowing that one is making a contribution, is more important for one‘s strength.

We have just been talking about the major crises, the crises where we see no end or no real ability to control them. How do you see the topic of artificial intelligence in this respect?
Artificial intelligence will change the world in a fundamental way. And it will do so in all areas. Unfortunately, AI is therefore a major contributor to the current disorientation.

That doesn‘t sound very encouraging …
Perhaps. On the other hand, AI, like every major change of the past centuries offers enormous opportunities for our development. Our group of companies includes Pinktum, a Hamburg based E-Learning provider. The way we can utilize artificial intelligence to customize learning for individual needs represents a huge advancement. New learning techniques empower individuals to adapt more rapidly, navigate crises more effectively, and leverage change for their own benefit and that of their company. The sheer multitude of positive aspects makes it difficult for me to tolerate complaints or succumb to a sense of powerlessness. A development has begun, and we can no longer stop it. So we have to deal with how to use it positively and meaningfully for mankind. In my opinion, in the face of such change, we must fundamentally address what our role is in the working world of the future.

What is the so-called USP of humans in contrast to AI? Where will we be tomorrow when technology is developing so rapidly?
That‘s a good question. So far, throughout history, more monotonous jobs have been replaced by technology. With the onset of industrialization, machines did the jobs of ordinary workers, then robots did the tasks of skilled workers and finally, in the course of digitization, computers took over the repetitive office work. Now artificial intelligence is setting out to replace creative humans. That is absolutely terrifying for creative people … Understandable! However, there is one aspect that AI will not be able to replicate: understanding individuality, especially within the context of a value-based community or team. Humans possess the unique ability to foster a sense of belonging and team spirit through empathetic interactions, even in brief conversations. These skills should be nurtured and utilized for our benefit. This approach renders the outdated notion of competing with colleagues for career advancement within a company obsolete. Instead, fostering a sense of community to collectively uphold our values is essential. True strength emerges from this unity. That would mean AI supports us – and humans are the link that brings everyone and everything together in the end? This is how it could happen. Building a community is fundamental. A remarkable example of this principle is the story of Roseto, a village in Pennsylvania, USA, inhabited by a community of Italian immigrants. This community attracted the attention of medical experts because its members lived significantly longer than others. Despite not adhering to healthy eating habits, indulging in alcohol, engaging in other unhealthy activities, and lacking physical exercise, they still outlived the average American. The question arose, ‚Why?‘ The conclusion drawn by scientists pointed to the strength of their community. In Roseto, people celebrated each other‘s successes, supported the elderly and weak, and eschewed vanity in achievements. The community, not individual accomplishments, was paramount. The values, which we also cherish, were genuinely practiced there.
Wow! That truly seems like a remarkable embodiment of the American dream. But can this principle be applied elsewhere?
That‘s exactly what I believe! I am more and more convinced that the community is growing in importance. In the community I cope with every crisis more easily – because I don‘t have to solve it alone. It‘s so easy to say, but how does it fit in with our working world and the reality of life today? We actually have to deal with the fact that we have to learn new competencies for the working world of tomorrow. What is our uniqueness as human beings? As I said before, empathy and community are enormously meaningful.

In the end, everything you‘re describing is not just about entrepreneurship and leadership – basically, we‘re talking about a major societal issue.
Absolutely! This goes far beyond leadership in companies. This is a major social challenge that we must tackle together.

I see. Do you have any idea in which direction this could go?
Let me offer an example: I conducted a series of interviews with members of the volunteer fire department. Naturally, this role serves an immensely important purpose. However, my aim was to comprehend the origin and persistence of the deep commitment displayed by these individuals, despite the challenges and risks associated with the job. I believe that many businesses could glean valuable insights from the operations of volunteer fire departments. In the conversations I became clear: It doesn‘t matter what function someone has in the task of helping people. Here, everyone knows that their task has significance. No matter how small. It is part of the process so that everything works the way it is supposed to.

Joachim Pawlik is Chairman of the Management Board at Pawlik Consultants GmbH and CEO at PINKTUM. The company was founded in 1996 by Joachim Pawlik in Hamburg. Today, more than 500 consultants work for Pawlik Consultants at 16 locations worldwide.

photo: AMBB Photography



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