Maintaining the Human Connection in a Technology-Driven World


Last week’s Techonomy 2013 conference in Tucson, Arizona centered on the future health and prosperity of our world through the intersection of technology, the economy and society. Kicking off the event, Techonomy founder and CEO David Kirkpatrick expressed the view that leaders today must think more like technologists. The health of companies, governments and institutions depends on the degree to which we understand and embrace the changes brought about by technology. And there are also deep responsibilities that come with this; taking care to understand how to balance the technological revolution so that innovation doesn’t come at a heavy social price, such as innovating people out of jobs or creating isolated societies.

As this major shift is taking place across governments, businesses, institutions and society at large, communicators also need to think more like technologists, and technologists need to think more like communicators. Innovation and technology touch upon everything we do today, and according to Cisco, by 2020 it is estimated that 50 billion things will be connected to the Internet of Everything. In this world, clear communication that connects and engages people on a human level is going to become more and more important. Here are three takeaways from Technonomy 2013 that are useful to consider as leaders, as technologists and as communicators.

  • Use the power of personal storytelling: Aetna President & CEO Mark Bertolini captivated the Techonomy audience when he told a personal story that had helped him shape the future direction of his company. He described how he had spent over a year managing his 16-year-old son’s daily hospital care after he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer, and experienced first- hand the unconnected nature of the healthcare system. His son is the only person to have ever survived this cancer. He used his personal experience to improve the quality and cost of healthcare through technological innovation. Mark’s remarks demonstrated for me the power of storytelling. Using real-life personal examples that exemplify brands, societal issues or great successes, drive a personal connection with the audience. Not only is it engaging and interesting, but it also provides authenticity.
  • Engage employees to build communities: In an increasingly connected world, it’s important to create and nurture communities both within and outside the organization. Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh described how the company asked their 1,500 employees for ideas for their dream campus when they moved to a new headquarters outside Las Vegas. Surprisingly, the number one request from employees was for doggy day care, so this idea evolved into the much bigger idea of creating an entire community around the campus that blended in and fused with the city in downtown Vegas. Soliciting employees for ideas and engaging them in a common purpose can build a tremendous feeling of goodwill which in turn results in a more motivated workforce. More and more corporations are catching on to the power of an engaged workforce, as this translates into positive outcomes for an organization, including higher profitability and productivity.
  • Review and reset your crisis management process: According to Craig Mundie, Senior Advisor to the CEO of Microsoft, we should all be super-worried about cyber-crime and what he calls weapons of mass disruption. Not that these threats are so different from those in the physical world, but they are amplified. Current issues and crisis communications systems may need a refresh to ensure organizations are aligned and well-prepared to get ahead of impending issues. This means re-thinking what could possibly go wrong, activating systems that can help predict potential threats, preparing teams using computer-based, real-time simulations and ensuring swift, strategic responses to prevent issues from escalating and provide rebalance. The pressure of a rapidly changing environment combined with the speed and proliferation of new channels makes an issues reset worthwhile.

Leaders, technologists and communicators can learn from each other and by working, together we can help ensure a hyper-connected world also advances human connections.

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