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Innovating for Human Impact: The Future of Tech

By Stephanie Ericson

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella on a panel about innovation

Every fall, Fast Company convenes innovators, entrepreneurs, industry leaders and communicators from across the world for the annual Fast Company Innovation Festival – five days of conversations with doers and change-makers who are shaping the future.

The theme of this year’s festival was A Connected World to “highlight the technological advancements that are accelerating the connections among people, places and things while also shining a spotlight on the importance of forging strong human and cultural connections.”

At Zeno, we have clients in nearly every sector across the globe and continually see the impact of technology. 2017 marked the crossover when the tech industry infiltrated the entire world. Data revealed that 61% of software engineers worked outside of the traditional tech. Technology and the promise of new innovations are everywhere, in all business categories. How can clients, organizations and internal stakeholders harness technology’s potential for future success without losing the human connection?

1. Create impact. “The day you stop making useful things, you’re irrelevant,” according to Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. It sounds like a no brainer, but it is crucial for brands to create value for their customers. To do this, organizations need to put customers at the center of everything they do, observing and talking to the end-user, allowing for purposeful evolution and innovation, and solving problems to create deeper emotional bonds with their customers. Understand the problems you are solving for today and anticipate the problems of the future to create human impact. No matter what your company is, you must have a human-centric overlay at the core.

2. Operate with purpose. 63% of people want to buy from companies whose values match their own. This means that brands not only need to have a value set and purpose, but also must communicate it and live it, making it part of their mission and embedding it into every thread of the business. This will create consistency in what you’re thinking, saying and doing. In order to do this, most companies need to take the time to set their intentions around the purpose and create metrics to measure success against.

3. Collaborate for better results. It is no secret that diverse perspectives lead to big ideas. The more diverse perspectives that go into an idea, the better it will be. The good news is, everybody has the capacity to be creative and brainstorm big ideas– it is not a genetic trait you are born with. Encourage teams to brainstorm with the following guidelines: suspend judgement, observe and ask better questions. Every bad idea deserves 10 seconds of life. Hold judgement on even the worst ideas and see where they go. Observe and listen so you can ask smart questions. Questions cause movement, so asking better questions will result in better solutions. To drive diverse thinking for its clients, New York based advertising agency, Barbarian, brings in outside thinkers called “strangers in residence.” These outside thinkers, such as artists and tech creatives bring new perspectives by sharing the way they think about the world.  

4. Empower employees to embrace innovation. Technology is elevating human potential, improving human possibilities and creating efficiencies so humans can move on to solving the next challenge. The notion of embracing technology can be scary for many, so it is important to remember that while the capabilities of technology can be humbling, it also reassures humans of what we are good at: discovery, creativity and solving problems. Microsoft’s Nadella encourages a culture of “learn it alls, not know it alls” to nurture a creative and curious mindset throughout his entire organization. When Nieman Marcus, a 112-year-old retailer, was implementing new innovations to enhance the customer experience, they assigned change champions – people who believed in the new innovation – and created change agendas so everyone knew there was a clear goal associated with initiating new technologies. Utilize team members who have an appetite for learning and trying new things to help drive the innovation.  

Technology is moving at a rapid pace and is increasingly engrained in all facets of culture. It is important to remember to create human impact, operate with purpose, collaborate and embrace new innovations to preserve the human connection in everything your organization does.