Recently we had the pleasure of both presenting and attending the Creative Innovation 2011 conference in Melbourne. The theme was ‘Challenges and opportunities in a super connected world’ and expert after expert presented cutting edge ideas from the present as well as glimpses of the future…including do you want to live for ever (Raymond Kurzweil)?
But what are conferences if not to be provocative and present us contrary points of view? Hugh Mackay, leading psychologist and pioneering social researcher did just that, in his session ‘The desires that drive us to connect’.
Hugh Mackay presented the double paradox of a super connected world. The illusion that technology brings us together, but actually keeps us apart. He gave the example of face book friends who met up for coffee and had nothing to say to each other as they already knew everything that was happening in each other’s lives! The other paradox is the more we connect online, the more likely we are to frustrate our deep human desires to connect. So what are our 3 deep human desires?
One of our key desires is to connect with each other. Not through data transfer but through communication that nurtures us, connects us. We need to see and feel the expression on people’s faces, their posture, the tone of their voice, how they are dressed, and their words and we take all this into account when we are trying to interpret meaning from each other. Technology that uses just words, is stripping out the connection and communication that happens through the conduit of personal relationships not through cyberspace. He used the paradoxical fact that we all choose to physically attend the conference, which could have easily been done online, and also was available via face book, twitter etc as illustration of this desire!
As part of this desire we have to understand that the key to effective communication is not brighter, smarter technology but brighter, smarter listening. Yes that old chestnut. The barriers are not technology based but based in our ability to listen. Mackay also presented research that showed there was a direct correlation between increasing workplace boredom and time spent at the screen… we always suspected that! My take on this is even though people grumble about the number of meetings they have to attend, attending meetings no matter how tedious or boring might be tapping into this desire of ours to connect with other people face to face.
Our second deep desire is to connect with the natural world. That is why even in high rises you can spot a struggling pot plant on the 14th floor. Some of us express this through our pets, our gardens, bush walking etc. This explains me seeing this as a self indulgent photo opp for my dog!
Our third desire is to connect with ourselves and unless this happens or has happened the other two won’t work. This brings to mind the old adage ‘Know thyself’, which the esteemed psychologist Carl Rogers described as a life long project. So what are ways in which we can connect with ourselves? Mackay cited meditation, psychotherapy,and creative self expression, art, music, writing. To this list I would like to add laughter, and for me personally both exercise and reading help me connect to myself. So any regular creative activity that both stimulates and stills us.
Hugh Mackay is by no means a Luddite and is not presenting this as a dichotomous view of the world but cautioning us to do both – while we embrace technology not to forget what our three desires as human beings are.
Mackay’s presentation actually filled me with optimism, as some things never change. We are all afraid of getting left behind by a relentless technology tsunami. But now no matter how fast or rapidly technology changes, being able to connect face to face with other people, being able to connect with nature and with our own selves will always be the key. And fulfilling these desires will enable us to thrive and connect with what matters most…of course while still lugging our iPad from conference to conference.
As an entrepreneur I am fascinated (unhealthily?) by what sparks ideas in other entrepreneurs. Most people would be familiar with wotif, an Australian success story. In 1999, Graeme Wood was a consultant when hotels presented him with their problem of last minute room availability. He saw this as an opportunity and founded wotif to make these rooms available at discounted prices…and now we have a global business.
I was presented with this same ingenuity when listening to Simon Griffiths (pictured) an engineer, economist turned entrepreneur.
Simon knew that biggest bug bearer for ‘not for profits’ and ‘charities’ is fund raising. They constantly have to get us to donate money and we on the other hand suffer from what is described as ‘compassion fatigue’. We are sick of constantly being asked for money or already have hand picked a few causes we support, but feel guilty or resentful and really altruism should make us feel better about ourselves and the world!
Simon then thought about this problem differently and came up with the concept of the ‘consumer philanthropist’. Instead of asking people for money, what if we looked at what they already consume and tap into that? So he set up ‘Shebeen’a non-profit bar in Melbourne. It sells exotic beer and wine from the developing world. The profit from each drink sale supports a development project in that drink’s country of origin. A drink for Kenya? Go for it. Today Shebeen supplies its beer to various venues. But then he hit his next hurdle, not everyone drinks beer and not everyone is happy to drink African beer. So what other consumer product could he tap into? He has now come up with his next venture, called ‘Who Gives A Crap’, which produces toilet paper manufactured entirely from recycled materials. 50% of the profits of this toilet paper will be used to build toilets in the developing world. Ingenious and the name always makes audiences roar with laughter.
Simon’s concept could revolutionise the globe – turning everyday consumers into philanthropists – let’s drink to that.