Technology and us: Why should technology support our personal development?
A conversation with Human Leaders
There are nearly a billion search results for the keyword 'productivity app', and around 250,000 searches on this topic every month. And yet, we still seem to struggle to be productive: research shows that human productivity growth has been trending downwards for nearly two decades.
Is it a coincidence that our productivity growth has declined just as our engagement with technology has increased?
To kick off the new year, we sat down with Sally Clarke from Human Leaders to discuss the impact of technology on our lives, and how we might build technology that supports and accelerates our personal development.
What is personal development, and how is it different to productivity?
Productivity is an aspect of, and perhaps even a side effect of, personal growth and development. In other words, productivity is a consequence of working on self improvement. We wrote about what personal growth means to us in our previous post, Unlock Your Potential: How Coaching Psychology Can Help You Reach Your Goals.
Overly focussing on productivity gains without looking at the big picture is similar to treating superficial symptoms, without solving the root cause. Which is why our focus is on bringing together the best of modern technology with the best tools from coaching psychology.
With that context, let's dissect our conversation with Sally. To view the discussion as it happened, you can watch here: Medoo & Human Leaders: Building technology for personal growth (not Productivity).
Are the terms ‘human’ and ‘technology’ contradictory?
Sometimes it feels that way, doesn't it! Our relationship with technology is paradoxical: we are simultaneously fascinated by and fearful of technology.
Technology is a tool, an extension of human behaviour. Tech is a means to augment, not replace human skills and creativity. We invented tools to help us do things. A rock is a tool, wheel is a tool, fast forward: computer is a tool. The more a piece of technology is in service of a task, the more human it is.
But, this doesn't mean that everything is always great. Tools that don't truly support the task they're meant for, aren’t all that helpful on balance. Other tools may so cumbersome, they become a task in their own right or can even be damaging. As we create more powerful and more complex technologies, we need to be ever more conscious of the impact that these tools can have at scale.
We believe it is possible to build tools using complex technology to augment our abilities and take us to new heights of achievement. We prefer to think of tech tools as powerful partners in helping us flourish.
In a world where technology seems to take so much from us: our time, our data, our attention, how do we build technology that supports human connections and growth?
As a business and a product, we think it's important to have aligned goals with our customers. Technology we build should focus on the tasks our customers want to perform, and respect their needs. If people get enough value out of that, then business goals can be achieved.
This can of course be tricky, because we need to navigate the dynamics of a business as a seller vs the customer as the buyer. But difficult doesn't mean impossible: every tradeoff needs to be considered carefully, and decisions aligned with our values.
As a tech community, we need to be a lot more thoughtful about the products we build, and think more deeply about the impact the products have; not only for individuals, but at scale. We need to consider how products can be abused, and actively invest in ensuring that abuse can be prevented or curtailed.
Data shows that loneliness is a growing issue among young people. How might tech be used to counter this trend?
Technology so far is no replacement for human connection.
Humans need to feel connected to others around them and have a sense of community. There is so much research that shows the importance of this sense of connection for mental and physical health. We don’t think it is possible to completely satisfy this fundamental need with just technology: not yet anyway.
Tools like social networks, which started off with good intentions have transformed into social media, and are now intentionally designed to be addictive and polarising. This has been a huge disappointment to us, personally: we've worked in tech all our lives, and to see it cause this kind of harm saddens us.
We want to bring together the best of both worlds: things that humans are good at (e.g., intuitive empathy, creating a sense of love and belonging) with the things that tech is good at (e.g., automating repetitive tasks, crunching large amounts of data).
John Nasbitt, in his book, 'Megatrends' said, “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.”
Do you agree? If so, how do you think you could contribute to creating this future?
This resonates with us so strongly because it’s closely related to what we are hoping to create with Medoo. We hope that in this century the vast majority of people will have satisfied the foundational layers of needs in Maslow’s hierarchy, and will be focussed on the higher levels of self actualization and beyond.
We know that practitioners such as coaches, people leaders & managers, therapists, are doing incredible work already. There is a great amount of exploration we can do inside of ourselves, and we think that Medoo can support and even accelerate that process through the help of tech. Who knows what lies beyond our current frontier of inner understanding?
What does Human Leadership mean to you? And why does it matter to you?
Broadly speaking, people are losing faith in leadership: political, managerial and business leaders. With a new generation Gen Z entering workforce in larger numbers, there is a stronger expectation of a personalised approach to leadership.
At the same time, as a society, we are ever more conscious of our mental health. We are starting to grasp the fact that our mental health is affected by many factors, both at home and at work. The lines between our work life and home life have been blurred through our covid journeys.
All of this to us means that we need our leaders to put the 'human' first when it comes to leadership. If leaders are able to show people a vision and use peoples’ intrinsic motivations to get there, then we get a multiplying positive effect. This means that you are not extracting value out of your team, but creating a space where they can flourish, as well as be productive and provide value.