Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The arrogance of technology

Last night, I went to a social event for tech people working in/for the non-profit sector. I haven't attended many industry or social events and since attending Mesh in Toronto, I had resolved to be make a concerted effort to attend mixers and conferences. Last night was a significant discouragement.

The guest speaker's remarks included a sweeping generalization of the non-profit sector's ability to embrace technology ("they're years behind"), and had many memorable lines including "the charity sector isn't known for attracting really smart people." In fact, I'm toning down the arrogance and ineptness of some of her remarks but in general, her overall attitude is one of the main problems that challenge productive communication between the non-profit and IT industries.

When I started work at Apple, we were right in the middle of "Sillywood", the supposed merger of Silicon Valley and Hollywood. The "game studio" model was freshly financed (anyone remember Rocket Science?) and game developers were recruiting hollywood talent... I was at Apple trying to sell online music when most people still didn't know what the web was and there was a whole lot of talk going on.

Why I succeeded where others at Apple and other companies failed was because of my attitude. I was genuinely excited about sharing what I knew with people in the entertainment business and my enthusiasm and passion inspired them to share what they were passionate about. And I was there as much to share my passion as I was to learn about theirs. By us both speaking from our passions, we then sought to figure out where the most obvious intersection was. This kind of interaction brought about some great ideas that were embraced by both my peers in Sillicon Valley and my partner's peers in Los Angeles and New York. Mostly because the ideas were born from true collaboration as opposed to forcing the other side to accept the other's proposition.

While I was encountering a lot of positive response from my interactions, other colleagues of mine and peers in similar positions in Sillicon Valley were met with stiff resistance. The reason? Because they were taking the "father knows best" approach: "You (Hollywood) need us, we're the thought leaders that are going to transform your antiquated, inefficient business into a beacon of innovation." Regardless of their intent, this was the message heard by the entertainment industry.

What was so disheartening about last night was this same arrogance, this same love of the solution without a fundamental understanding of the problem. I don't know much, but one thing I'm sure of is that it's never a good idea to call your customers stupid.

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