Techonomy ’12 – Social *is* the message

On November 11 to 13, I was privileged to attend Techonomy ’12 in Tucson, Arizona, with 10up founder Jake Goldman. Techonomy ’12 in Tuscon featured exciting content and internationally-known business, science, and political leaders focused on the intersection of technology and the global economy. Sponsored by companies like Forbes Magazine, speakers included technology, finance, education, and publishing luminaries like Steve Forbes, EMC CEO Joe Tucci, AI pioneer and author Ray Kurzweiler, and Nielsen president Steve Hasker.

Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick led and moderated the 3 days of talk about the accelerating speed of technological progress, driven by increasing availability of the Internet and mobile devices. And that change is not limited to just technological progress, but to human progress as well: the technology-empowered individual is affecting a major shift in economic and political power on a global scale.

Perhaps some of the most salient content to 10up, with respect to both the services it offers its clients and its business operations structure, focused on the impact of social media on the modern workplace — and on how work gets done. In a presentation on the “Social Enterprise”, Bertil Chappuis, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, explored research comparing the work style and emergent skills of today compared with those of the Industrial Revolution and the “IT Enablement” era of the late 20th Century. Some of the findings revealed:

  • The most important skill for workers in the modern workplace is “Interaction”, whereas “Production” was the key sought-after quality during the Industrial ear and “Transaction” skills were necessary during the IT enablement era.
  • Social media is key to both facilitating this critical interaction and in differentiating people with “interactive” skills from their less communicatively-inclined counterparts.
  • Unstructured work is becoming the norm. Our workday (especially that of the ever-growing telecommuting work force) looks nothing like the highly-structured workday of the factory worker or clerk, and it’s increasingly different from the cubicle-farm approach that some of us have been familiar with in not-to-distant times. Social media is a critical component of enabling unstructured work in a decentralized work environment.
  • Decentralization and lack of structure apply to the flow of information, too. Despite the exponentially increasing availability of data, we are less inclined to rely on reports, research, and authoritative journalism. Instead, we tweet memes, ideas, and gut feelings, sharing them with far-reaching ripples of influence. Social tools foster this instant availability of expertise and conventional wisdom. For better or worse, understanding that this is how data moves about today is critical to being productive in the new work space.
  • Speed and fast access to data are important. The key drivers of business success are are agility and transparency, underscoring the need for strong and highly reactive Project Management and for accessible Knowledge Management systems (powered increasingly by Big Data). Social media tools allow services companies to react to their clients immediately, and mobile and Internet devices allow us to access and share information when we need it.
  • Up to 25% of our work week in the next 5 years will be focused strictly on answering email/IM, searching for information, and internal communication and collaboration all powered by social technologies. The more companies and individual workers embrace social tools to work together, the more the unstructured, distributed, and data-driven environment will become the norm.

The content became even more exciting as discussions shifted to empowerment of individuals on the global level in politics and business. The same advances that allow web companies to work efficiently with employees at great distance from one another are begin leveraged to create individual empowerment in developing countries. Clear examples include the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movements on the political side; and stories of individual successes in industry and commerce in the most distant and poverty-stricken places are sprouting up everywhere.

It’s fitting, therefore, that the one key word of the Techonomy conference is “optimism”. The event reminds us that social media, like all human and business tools, can be used to improve how we live.

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