“Garbage at the speed of light”

A few evenings ago I was attending a work function and the guests included several senior members of the extended organization who don’t normally interact with our group. Amongst the various conversations that were going on, a very interesting comment was made to me by one of those senior attendees. He joked (I assume), that “digital stuff is just garbage produced at the speed of light.” He wasn’t referring to the quality of the work, or the depth of the creative. His jest, and for the sake of my sanity I’ll assume it was a jest, was that digital as a potential service offering within healthcare was garbage. I was left non-plussed by this conversation not only for the obvious reason, but because in other situations his general disdain towards the digital medium was palpable. He most certainly was kidding, but that sentiment has been expressed on other occasions.

This got me thinking. Is there a greater undercurrent at work hindering digital adoption, integration, and progression in organizations? Could the old-guard leadership of these massive agencies and operating companies be biased against digital leaders and digital talent? Is there such a thing as a digital prejudice?

It’s true that there is a segment of digital evangelists and thought leaders that believe that technology will solve all of our problems. The Google X guys that I’ve met are particularly obnoxious in this regard. At a conference I heard a couple of them argue that doctors are becoming obsolete and all we need are better algorithms. I can see why this kind of attitude would turn some people off, especially ones that are already skeptical or suspicious of the ways that digital is changing the world around us. Having a creative background, I totally understand the turn off. The extreme tech wonks would have us believe that robots and software will become the answer to all of man’s challenges. To me that world view is too cold and too antiseptic. There’s simply no soul or magic to it.

Digital is a canvas and technology is the paint. The people I really respect in the business get this concept; that digital is a creative medium where magical tools and services can be build that add tremendous value to our lives. Apple gets this. So does Disney. I always believe that we can eventually get to a point where we have Apple/Disney like experiences in healthcare but you’ll never get there without really creative people driving the process. That creation process, the one I assume you as a reader of this blog live and breathe every day, seems completely foreign to someone who spent most of their career in an analogue business world.

The established generation always mistrusts the emerging one. This has been true forever. The most prescient example of this may be when you hear older people talk about how texting/tweeting/social media is “ruining the english language.” Language has always been changing and evolving. The ‘English’ we speak looks and sounds nothing like the ‘English’ spoken 300 years ago. For a more historical perspective consider this. Pedant, a Latin teacher in Rome in 63 AD wrote, “Spoken Latin has picked up a passel of words considered too casual for written Latin, and the grammar people use when speaking has broken down. The masses barely use anything but the nomative [sic] and accusative … It’s gotten to the point that the student of Latin is writing in what was to them an artificial language, and it is an effort for them to recite it decently.”

The guttural language and lousy habits Pedant is railing against became what we now know as modern day French.

In 1858, a parochial teacher in colonial America wrote, “Students today depend on paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” Slates are obviously a different kind of technology than what we have today, but it was a technological change none the less.

The point is that the established generation has always looked upon the younger generation’s behaviors and modes of communication with a certain disdain. I’m making a broad generalization here, but you’ve probably had your own experiences similar to these, albeit in a more modern context.

Which brings me back to thinking about my work function. As I replayed the evening in my head and thought about the people in that room, an inherent contradiction struck me. All of the businesses in these organizations are absolutely dependent on digital growth and transformation for long term survival, and yet some of the leaders at those same organizations may be unwittingly biased against the very changes necessary for that survival.

Our business has a talent problem. Talented people and creative thinkers are fleeing the industry in droves and I finally have a better understanding of why. It’s hard enough getting things into legal and regulatory acceptable frameworks, but if the cultures and organization stacks the deck against that same talent even further, it’s no wonder the grass seems greener somewhere else. Hopefully this will change over time. As my ‘generation’ of leaders continues to advance further and further into more senior levels of our various organizations, the cultures of those institutions will inevitably change. For me, that can’t happen fast enough.

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