Friday, 9 November 2007

Raise your virtual hand if you know the answer...

This is the brave new world of the integrated global e-economy. Widespread access to the web will solve all our business and learning needs. The fact of the matter is that key decision-makers including, of course, the readers of this article, were educated in a traditional manner and their interpersonal and management skills have come from human experience, not from any virtual world.

The message is that we need to remember the human amongst the glare of technology in this increasingly virtual world. We need to find the right balance between the silicon chip and human behaviour.

At the start and end of every communication and transaction - from a handshake or smile to an email or contract - is a person. That person is a unique creation of their culture and environment and far more sophisticated than any machine or software. That person is our client or partner or manager and we need to make at least as much effort to understand that human being as any technology with which we communicate.

Like it or not, we are in an increasingly borderless world and new cultures and new ways of thinking are coming our way. Today you might work for a national company and tomorrow find yourself part of a multinational group. Your clients and colleagues might be next door today and half way round the world tomorrow. To effectively work with these people from different backgrounds we all need to learn about the cultural psyche that drives these people. What are you going to do to survive?

The answer is to learn, and learn well.

The next logical questions therefore concern where and how to learn? Will new electronic learning replace traditional methods? Does the Internet really offer a better solution than plain old-fashioned hands-on experience? Is the internet some kind of new magic solution that means we can forget that human relations are both essential and hard work?

Let's look at a few answers to these questions.

With its vast content of electronic data, the web seems set to replace face-to-face education and training, we are told. Time will tell, but in the meantime the demand for old-fashioned non-virtual education services, offered by specialist training centres and universities the world over, continues to grow rapidly.

Also, it is hard to deny that using technology to learn is exciting compared with the idea of squeaking chalk on a blackboard and the repetitive chanting of simple mathematical formulae or simply doing some hard work in personal learning and development.

The idea of video conferencing with the latest high speed connection and digital imaging seems much more modern than travelling and sitting down with your business partners.

The internet has allowed humans to get access to data and to enter into discussions and interact without the need to actually meet anyone or make friendships and relationships. I would again draw a cautionary note from the past about such attempts to ignore the hard work needed to build and understand human relations.

What history, wisdom and common sense tell us is that we need a blended learning solution and the potentially vast data from the internet must be supplemented with human interaction. Success with applying factual data about a foreign market comes from a deep understanding of local culture and providing for its needs and wants.

Just the data alone will not make any of us successful. Without interpretation and guidance the mere words alone are not enough. We can all download a recipe from the internet but does that make us master chefs? The human input into the interpretation of some written words and an assembly of ingredients is the difference between haute cuisine and a dog's dinner.

When we think back to earlier years we can all remember an individual such as a teacher, relative, colleague or friend who changed our understanding and shaped our lives as a result. Anyone had this experience from a web page or a CD ROM recently? I doubt it.

We are all the product of a blend of experiences and ideas. The person who has an imbalance in the blend is easy to see. Knowing these basic human realities, who can doubt the need for a human in the key input of education?

Can we risk relying on just a virtual education? Do we want a virtual hug or a virtual family or a virtual customer? No, we all want a real one and that comes from real experience and real learning in a real world with real people.

Real people? Maybe even real foreign people? That sounds like real hard work and expensive to learn. After all, other people are so unlike us. I am sure many of us find the habits of those people in the next street different enough from us and goodness only knows about those from another town or even another country.

Maybe we can all try to save money and effort and hide behind our screens and text messages like sulky teenagers with no social and intercultural skills. Well, there is only one thing more expensive than being trained and prepared, and that is being untrained and unprepared.
Most individuals' experience of business is that people want to do the best they can and have the best they can get.

We know that in the foundation of any success in business there are three key things we need to work at and these are 1) relationships, 2) relationships and 3) relationships. I wonder how we will manage these by the internet?

So should we give up on IT as just a gimmick or fashion accessory? By no means.
We need to find a blend of the new and old and take the best of these to succeed in a global marketplace.

If you can understand all the ideas in this article you owe thanks to many human beings. If you can adopt and implement the suggestions in the article then you can understand and teach and lead other human beings.

That's a real skill and nothing on the web comes close.

Master the technology alone and ignore the person and their culture and you will fail.


Kyle & Svet Keeton said...

That was a good article!!!!!!!!

Sorry that I have not been by recently. Glad I did.

I am going to Malaysia this January. Why to meet a fellow blogger that has become a friend. Just saying hi over the internet is not enough in the real world. So I am going to Malaysia to have a cup of coffee.
My wife will have tea. :)


MattMacL said...

Glad you liked it! Hope you enjoy the coffee!

I hope Malaysians understand that Russians never JUST have a cup of tea! As Malaysia is a country I don't know at all, I don't know their attitude to tea and coffee and whether there are specials rituals involved, but cake should be available at some stage, I'm sure!