Opinion: Leading through meaning combats digital disconnection

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Opinion: Leading through meaning combats digital disconnection
Colin Dominish

The oft cited “pace of change” we are all living through in this age of digital disruption can be exhausting. New technological innovations seem to be pushed upon us daily via our ever-growing range of connected devices. We are assault daily by an endless stream of soundbites; ‘faster teraflops’, ‘boundless cloud’, ‘cyber survival’, and ‘can I get a better meta(verse)’.

Translating technology into purpose and meaning is often left to the message receiver, with little done to assist in unpacking the noise into something which we can personally value. And yet the technology currently exists to solve many of the pervasive issues that mark our time in history.

We possess the tools to transform and disrupt in ways that can rapidly combat some of the greatest challenges we face.

But how can we strengthen the link between technology and meaning and express the value of change in ways that lead to greater cultural acceptance?

Historically we have conveyed meaning and purpose through the lens of a well-told story. Today's narrative arcs are familiar; good versus evil, overcoming adversity, redemption, and love versus hate feature strongly as key themes in many a good movie, novel or campfire yarn.
It is easy to imagine how our own personal and professional story arcs align with some of these themes.

A global pandemic, the ensuing economic fallout, or the spectre of climate change all provide the perfect backdrop for linking new technological advances to direct, palpable purpose. Doing so provides an audience with the “why” in a way that resonates with their own circumstance.

How do you measure the value of technology against such a purpose?

The World Economic Forum has excelled at expressing what matters most to our society by communicating about new initiatives (technological or otherwise) that provide meaningful outcomes.

Their website is full of such tales. And yet at the time of writing this article, only one item is shown on the front page of their website which links technology to purpose: We are closing the gap between technology and policy.

Under the banner of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the article highlights that “Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap”. Right on point!

The stories that shape the need for the policy of the day are lagging the inventions that are redefining our path for the future. A good example is a time taken to set policy in reaction to Uber as they disrupted an entire industry globally. Thankfully in Australia, we are seeing some important steps to address the gap.

NSW is about to appoint a Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology within the new Department of Enterprise and Investment. They will augment the work being conducted by the current (recently appointed) Minister for Digital within the Department of Customer Service, who has taken on a personal mission to demonstrate the value of technology via his innumerable LinkedIn posts on digital disruption.

There is also a new assignee to the current National Data Commissioner position, who will officially take up the role if the Data Availability and Transparency (DAT) Bill is passed. Roles of this nature provide the perfect target audience for technologists to share their stories on how their innovations are reshaping the world and to enable policies that supports their adoption.

Goal setting

The United Nations have captured a defining list of metrics to clearly capture progress in achieving key purposes. The Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals provide a perfect way in which to show measurable advancements in attaining purposeful outcomes. There is not much by the way of stories about technology on their website though.

However, thankfully, COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) provided an opportunity for some of the best technological advances in the world for buildings to be showcased via the Built Environment Virtual Pavilion. The powerful way in which the stories about these innovations are captured via video, picture galleries, and vignettes convey a strong sense of hope for addressing the issue of around 40 per cent of global carbon emissions coming from our buildings.

A quick tour around the pavilion is enough to appreciate how the Sustainability Development Goals such as Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure, and Sustainable Cities and Communities are being directly addressed in a digital manner. For instance, the recurring mention of digital twin technologies to enable various use cases in the pavilion serves as a fantastic indication of what to expect next as technology begins to directly combat climate change.

If you have a great piece of technology that can change the world, there is an amazing opportunity to lead through meaning by showing how it will assist in tackling our biggest challenges. Expressing them in this way can address the biggest hurdle to technological adoption  cultural acceptance.

About the author: Colin Dominish is the head of Podium Services at Lendlease.

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