This column originally appeared in the Jan. 6, 2017 edition of PR Week.
Simon Sinek and Tom Friedman, independent of one another, recently shared perspectives on the role today of technology in our workplace and society. Taken together, they suggest that mobile devices are leading us to neglect the very same human connections that we need more than ever to succeed.
Sinek, as you may know, gave one of the most watched TED talks ever, under the heading, “The Power of Why.” Tom Friedman is the award-winning reporter-columnist for The New York Times.
Here’s what they had to say.
Sinek’s focus (via an interview seen here on YouTube) is in the context of how millennials use technology. I think his focus on millennials is too narrow; his commentary applies to most of us.
Sinek’s focus is on our obsession with how we use mobile devices. He explains that receiving a text, for example, literally feels good to us and that science has proven it triggers dopamine. That’s the very same “feel good” chemical the body releases as a result of our smoking, drinking or gambling. His point: texting is addictive.
This addiction drives many of us to seize every moment of “downtime” as an opportunity for “uptime,” by sending and receiving texts and emails. Before meetings, during meetings, at meals, in the car, etc. – times when we’re actually sitting with colleagues, friends or family!
But, he argues, these tech-based social relationships we nurture are superficial and fleeting. And while we’re feeding this addiction, we’re ruining the ability to create and nurture genuinely deep, meaningful relationships – often with the people right next to us.
Tom Friedman’s January 4th column starts out by citing how software is now writing poetry, sports stories and business news, and how IBM’s Watson is even co-writing pop music hits.
His main point is that technology is “not just outworking us but starting to outthink us in more and more realms.” So, as asked by Friedman’s friend Dov Seidman of the company LRN, “What does it mean to be a human in the age of intelligent machines?”
Friedman and Seidman suggest the answer lies in the emotional centers of our brains – what we have traditionally called “heart.” The heart is where we find love, compassion, empathy and emotion. Humans, they argue, uniquely can build deep relationships of trust.
And so, their thinking goes, humans will need to create more value “with hearts and between hearts.” As Friedman wrapped up his perspective: “Leaders, businesses and communities will still leverage technology to gain advantage, but those that put human connection at the center of everything they do — and how they do it — will be the enduring winners.”
I would further suggest that this thinking has deep resonance with the Page Society’s recent white paper on the role of the future chief communications officer. The paper makes a strong case that CCOs must break corporate silos and emerge as leaders of and participants in cross-functional collaboration.
So, put Sinek’s and Friedman’s points of view next to one another and what do you find? A paradox, I would suggest, and one we need to urgently consider. What does it mean if our competitive advantage at work depends on the very personal connections and relationships we are not building?
The very thing that will be our most important asset is now being neglected by most of us. And the implications for satisfaction and happiness go well beyond the workplace.
What do we do about this? I welcome your thoughts.