There’s something called a mirror-neuron which they’ve recently discovered, that’s one of the things that contributes to how people relate to each other and how we empathize. It’s the feeling you get, it’s the same part of the brain that lights up — they did these pictures — they did MRIs. They gave people a picture of someone smiling. And then in our own brain, when we see someone smiling, the same part of the brain lights up when we smile. It’s what creates empathy and it’s necessary to create trust. Again this very human bond. This is the reason why the video conference will never replace the business trip. You can’t get a good gut feeling over a video conference.
I’m a big fan of the blogosphere. The bloggers think that the internet is the end all be all of the world. Then explain to me why once a year 20,000 bloggers descend on Las Vegas for a huge big convention? Why didn’t they just do it online? It’s because nothing replaces human contact. It’s the difference between leadership and authority.
Leadership tells us why we’re here in the first place. They remind us why we came here. Authority tell us what to do, or tells us what goal to achieve.
In the 1960’s Stanley Milgram did an experiment that we consider now quite unethical, but the results were remarkable. He invited two people to come to his laboratory. Someone who played the role of a teacher, a volunteer, and someone who played the role of a student who was actually a scientist pretending to be a volunteer. They told the ‘teacher’ to sit in front of a counter that had a button and a dial. And they said that they were going to ask some questions of the student and if the student answers the wrong question, or refuse to answer, the teacher was to press the button and administer an electric shock. And after each shock they were to turn up the dial one notch. And the notch said: mild, medium, slightly painful, slightly more painful, very painful, and eventually it went red and said XXX.
And what happened was there was really only one electric shock administered throughout the whole experiment. And it was a small shock administered to the teacher so they could see what it felt like. And so the experiment would progress and the questions would be asked and the teacher would press the button and the scientist, pretending to be the student, would pretend to get an electric shock.
What ended up happening was that when the student could see and hear — when the teacher could see and hear the student, they would scream, he couldn’t go very far before he quit, he said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m hurting the guy” and he would quit the experiment.
When he could see him but not hear him, he could go further but still not very far before he quit. And the authority figure would stand over him every time he would say, “But I’m hurting the guy”, the authority figure would say, “It’s imperative that the experiment goes on.”
And they would say over and over and over in their head, “The experiment must go on.” They said it out loud “The experiment must go on.”
And it was like Nazi Germany when people said, “I’m just following orders. I’m just following orders.” They had this mantra to justify their behavior of hurting somebody.
And then when they could hear them but not see them, they could go further still, but they still couldn’t go all the way. But when they could neither see nor hear the impact of their decisions, 65% of the teachers were able to kill the guy.
The reason the experiment is unethical is because 65% of these people that came to help, thinking that they were good people, went home at the end of the day with the knowledge that they could kill someone.
Now what’s our mantra of this day and age, I wonder? Is it “shareholder value, shareholder value, shareholder value”? What is our mantra that we’re using to justify the decisions we’re making of people that we cannot see and that we cannot hear. And we don’t know the impact of the decisions we are making.
And you know what the people who had ‘killed the guy’ what their biggest concern was? ‘Is anything going to happen to me? Am I going to get into trouble?’ There was no concern for the person they just potentially killed.
Now think how we do business today. We largely do business on screens. There was a time that if you wanted to know what your employees thought about you, you walked out on the factory floor and you asked them.
Customer service meant actually talking to the people who came into your shop. Now customer service means getting a reply to your email within 24 hours. I actually saw a bank advertising that you could talk to a person. I fly on an airline and I have miles up the wazoo on this one airline and you know what they offered me, when I reached the highest status possible? They offered me a phone number that I could talk to a person.
Since when is a person a luxury? Our very survival depends on our ability to interact with human beings and as growth and scale and size come into play, all of a sudden the humanity of things starts to go away.
There is a time when a desktop meant something horizontal. Now it is something vertical. And a folder used to be a picture, is a picture of something that we used to use. These are fun ideas, funny examples of how technology has co-opted some of our vocabulary. The problem is that it has co-opted some other ideas too.