Events - 29.10.2018 - 00:00 

SME Day: Success requires bold decisions

These days decisions have to be made increasingly quickly and without complete information. Swiss SME Day 2018 was dedicated to this topic. Seven speakers examined decision-making cultures from a range of perspectives. Digital transformation and artificial intelligence were two important aspects of the discussion.

29 October 2018. "SMEs and decisions – What (really) counts in everyday life" was the title of the Swiss SME Day, which took place in the Olma Hallen in St.Gallen. As the host, Tobi Wolf, member of the research staff at KMU-HSG, kicked off the round of speakers with the presentation of the SME Day study. This is conducted among 500 SME managers ahead of each conference. The conclusion of the survey was that decisions are having to be made more quickly these days and this creates pressure. Intuition and employees have become more important. According to the study, Swiss SMEs are generally satisfied or very satisfied with the decision-making culture in their companies.

Learning from bad decisions

"Making decisions is not always enjoyable, because there is always a danger of making bad decisions," explains Tobi Wolf. They are also associated with risks, as they concern the future and this is usually uncertain. This is why it is important to admit bad decisions and learn from them. "Not making a decision often has more serious consequences than a partially bad decision, because not making a decision involves completely rejecting the opportunity to actively shape the future."

The merging of the physical and the digital world will continue to advance, explained HSG Professor Elgar Fleisch, whose research focus is the Internet of Things. Progress towards intelligent things is however slow, step-by-step. So the Internet of Things is not a revolution, as many thought, but an evolution. Even self-learning machines are still so-called "one-trick ponies", with only a single ability which they have mastered. A chess computer, for example, is not able to help patients clean their teeth.

Without emotions and healthy common sense

Self-learning machines have no emotions or healthy common sense, Elgar Fleisch explained. On the other hand, however, a machine can elicit emotions in people. As an example he showed a robotic dog, which can react to the actions and needs of people. The ethical discussion about what machines may and may not do is urgent and requires the active participation of stakeholders from all disciplines.

In terms of the speed and intensity of digital transformation, Myriam Locher presented a very different picture. "I am irritated by how calm and cautious the discussion about the change still is. I do not think we have much time left. Action is urgently required," she stressed. The Berliner-by-choice, who grew up in Switzerland, is the CEO of Bettermind and deals with Change Management in fast-growing start-ups and agile medium-sized companies.

Myriam Locher was convinced that artificial intelligence can overcome important problems in the world better than people. After all, technological development will progress immensely and at an unprecedented speed. It is absolutely essential to step out of your comfort zone. "The learning process will be intense and sometimes painful, because we have to deal with an issue and we do not yet know where it will lead." She too emphasised the importance of considering the ethical dimension and regulations.

From the Läckerlihuus to the South Pacific

The four other speakers looked at a wide range of aspects of decision making. Läckerlihuus manager Miriam Baumann-Blocher talked about her business practice, which lies between tradition and innovation. Photographer and travel operator Hansjörg Hinrichs transported the audience to the South Pacific and showed what the decision-making culture of the people there looks like. Successful author and HSG graduate Rolf Dobelli talked about his book, "The Art of Clear Thinking". There are no less than 120 errors in reasoning which we trip up on repeatedly in everyday life. Finally, former FIFA referee Markus Merk talked about his experiences with making quick decisions during his international career. The title of his speech was "sich(er) entscheiden" (making good decisions).

SME Day 2018 was once again fully booked with over 1200 attendees. It was offered and conducted by the Swiss Institute for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises at the University of St.Gallen (KMU-HSG) and by the agency alea iacta ag. The Patrons' Committee, the President of which is Urs Fueglistaller, Director of KMU-HSG, includes members of the Swiss trade association, from economiesuisse, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, St.Gallen-Appenzell and the cantonal trade association of St.Gallen. The conference was moderated by Bernard Thurnherr.

Photo: KMU-HSG

Discover our special topics