Technology: Are We Using It, or Is It Using Us?

Jim Haudan
Chief Executive Office
Root

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” On a plane last week, the second we touched down, I observed most people around me switch on digital devices to check messages and send even more. In four separate executive team alignment discussions, I recently observed each CEO chiding people to put the technology weapons down and rejoin the conversation. And then there’s the TV ad where a girl breaks up with her boyfriend in a restaurant booth by texting him, leaving a voicemail and an email, and changing her Facebook status to “single.”

Like every other invention from the automobile to the micro-chip, technology is not intrinsically good or bad. It’s how we use it. But as it gets more pervasive (and invasive), we need to ask, “What value can it give us, and how do I make sure that it isn’t mindlessly taking over?”

From Mindless to Meaningful
On the other hand, technology lets us do some really cool things. Smart power grids tell us the best time, economically and environmentally, to do laundry. People bank online and visit faraway relatives using Skype. With social networks, we keep in touch with friends. Online resources save time and money and give us power to customize products and services.

In our businesses, we can use technology to enhance critical thinking, explore diverse alternatives, and scan best practices to better drive performance. A simulation can close gaps between choices and consequences so leaders can build strategic judgment skills. Blogs, portals, and other web tools go beyond looking up information, so any of us can learn to solve problems. Visually rich technologies allow us to see what success could look like. Once we better understand what we need to do, and what we need to do differently, these interactive technologies can help us practice and build skills to execute on the organizational vision for the future.

Who’s in Charge?
So it’s up to us to determine when technology will be an invaluable tool or when we let it drive us… farther apart from each other and our aspirations for our teams and companies. Here are three questions to help determine where you fall on the spectrum from Mindless to Mindful.

  • Are you blending technology with human interaction? In Harvard Business Review, psychologist Edward M. Hallowell explained the combination of high tech with high touch in “human moments” that require physical presence and emotional attention. Without reading body language, tone of voice, or expressions, we have to guess about messages. To his point, technology can make our lives better, freer, and more efficient, but we mustn’t forget that people need human contact to maintain mental acuity and emotional well-being.
  • Are you helping people to deepen critical thinking through technology, or encouraging them to avoid it? Technology can clarify the big picture, expand what we could once only see alone, and build context for seeing the systems around us and the causes and effects of our decisions. Most important, technology can help us apply information, not just cite sources.
  • Are you using technology to build common mental models about things we’re trying to create together? Video, multi-media, and visual technologies are invaluable in helping people determine “what success looks like in the future” and how they fit into it! Some of the best documentaries created today tell the past, present, and future stories of issues and organizations. What was once only the domain of Ken Burns is now the realm of stories about where an organization has been and the compelling places it would like to go.