This summer, I sat through an amazing event held by a large company that invited their whole organization to immerse themselves in the new world of digital innovation. The company had rented an amazing facility and turned it into a futuristic fun house filled with quotes, pictures and videos, all carrying the theme of 'digital transformation'. The event was highly impressive and you could actually feel the aura of excitement and change. The company was operating in an industry that was facing disruption from some upstart companies similar to how Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the taxi and hotel industries. The purpose of their event was primarily to inspire their employees to engage in more innovative ways of working, and to demonstrate to their staff that the company is committed to driving innovation.
During the morning session, the keynote speaker dazzled the audience with photos and videos showcasing amazing people, ideas and innovations such as driverless Google cars. The talk was impressive as was the entire day, and the company really went all out to show their excitement for the future, offering examples of how and why they needed to change.
My role at this event was to facilitate a session where employees would take the theme of innovation and determine how it could be applied it to their work. I led four one-hour sessions with nearly 200 people in each group, so it was hard to go deep on any one topic or to engage everyone in the discussion. In each session, I asked the group to suggest an area of interest for us to explore together and, to my surprise, the hot button for each group was exactly the same.
What surfaced in each session was a collective feeling among the employees of being overwhelmed that the digital revolution was creating a world that seemed more impersonal to them. Among the insights they shared were that the digital revolution was accelerating an obsession with phones, tablets and apps and that time spent on these devices and tools was taking away from authentic interactions with each other. It was fascinating to observe group after group profess first, their excitement about all the new technology, followed by their observation that they and others were spending perhaps more time with a device or an app than really engaging with other people to solve problems or build relationships.
And herein lies what I believe is one of the biggest challenges for organizations today. How do we apply and leverage new tools and tech in a way that drives deeper connections and relationships, while avoiding the seduction of spending time with a device when it could be better spent collaborating in person with a colleague? If you don't believe me, I want you to think about the last meeting you were at in which nobody even glanced at their phone or laptop. Next time you go to a cafe or restaurant, observe how many tables have two or more people with at least one person engrossed in their device instead of being engrossed in a conversation.
As much as I am excited about so many new gadgets and tools at home and in the workplace, I think we have a lot to learn about how and when to optimally apply this new tech in ways that add more richness to our lives, companies and relationships. While I don't have all the answers to this challenge, I do believe that acknowledging the problem is an important first step.