harmonising the human & technological...
by Bill Cropper, Director - The Change Forum
Extracts from KeyNote Presentation to the Brisbane Leadership Lounge, June 2012
No-one disputes ICT or techno-connectivity, with its dazzling devices, has radically revolutionised the way we live and work. The benefits are self-evident, in terms of speed, personal productivity, convenience, efficiency, versatility, flexibility and sheer ingenuity. It’s also redefined how we experience work, even the nature of work itself, with far-reaching ramifications for how we relate, balance work and personal life, health, well-being and is perhaps even re-wiring neural networks that determine how we connect and socialise brain-wise.
Techno-connectivity has eliminated, automated, or robotised many jobs. It facilitates us to work faster, smarter, longer, harder and at-home. It has boosted personal productivity, enabling us to manage bigger workloads with fewer people.
Techno-connectivity’s primacy is apparent. But is it a benevolent rule? Is techno over-connectivity in danger of killing off human connectivity?
Human connectivity is a basic, primal urge we all feel to belong, be accepted, supported, in-synch with those around us. We’re born to connect. It’s hard-wired into every single synapse.
Empathy makes human connectivity possible. It’s what our limbic system does. It scans the human terrain like an emotional radar, detecting ‘blips’ that help us tune in to others. There are numerous signals our radar picks up: from facial gestures, tone, to actual chemical emissions. Spindle cells and mirror neurons for instance are designed to read others at a chemical level.
You can see connective moments in action: people incline toward each other, nod more vigorously, tension leaves their bodies. They may mirror posture, expressions, voice-tone. There’s an aura of relaxed attentiveness. It’s a dance: a limbic tango.
Edward Hallowell, from Harvard Medical School, says connective moments are “human moments”.
Chemicals released during connective moments restore, calm and heal. Stress hormones like cortisol decline. We emit oxytocin promoting trust and bonding; dopamine, an attention enhancer and serotonin that reduces fear and worry.
That people are more likely to do better work and work better together when they feel connected is really a ‘no-brainer’. Lack of human connectivity costs. It makes us more prone to catching toxic emotions that undermine work cultures, cripple teams and affect mental and physical health.
Amidst the daily bustle and busyness, were often not present enough to notice human moments. Self-absorption and distraction dull our radar and dissipate human connection. Techno-connectivity provides many distractions that play interference with human connectivity.
Hallowell says a real human moment “has two prerequisites: people’s physical presence and their emotional and intellectual attention.” Yet these ingredients are conspicuously absent from social media like Facebook that claims to deliver the human connectivity we clamour for. In terms of what our brain needs for a connective moment, the actual chemistry is sadly lacking.
Techno-connectivity keeps us e-connected and linked-in like never before. But physical face-to-face conversation is the irreplaceable medium for human connectivity at work and elsewhere. There is no substitute for this kind of face-time.
Techno-devices enable us to take the ‘meet’ out of meetings. Email allows us to send our thoughts to someone in the next work station or down the hall we once used to have to get up and go see. Over-reliance on email, video-links, virtuality and various other versions of techno-connectivity, no matter how vivid, may not only deprive us of real human connectivity, but also shrink our social skills and impair basic brain-wiring that enables us to connect with each other at a human level...
Extreme Jobs – a perilous paradigm
Ironically, techno-connectivity can enhance work- life balance, shorten work-days, save us time to savour personal life more, but indications are it’s doing the opposite for many. It looks like being at work may be the new work-life balance...
Socially Intelligent Work Design
A determining factor is how we harmonise human and techno-connectivity. Socially Intelligent Work Design is about designing work and jobs in a way that balances techno-connectivity business needs with the social and emotional needs of people to make the experience of work not just productive but also meaningful, fulfilling and connective.