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When technology is not enough, have more picnics

Turns out John Naisbitt, author of High Tech High Touch, had it right. The higher our culture’s computer skills – to share information, join groups and even date online – the more we need to be in touch: to see the whites of each other’s eyes and relate as beings, not bytes. and Howard Dean’s presidential bid have proven that the internet, when paired with “meet-ups” to bring people together, is a powerful force for community building. It is the pairing of “high tech” with “high touch” that gives these groups their amazing breadth and agility.

But it takes planning.

When I met the chief culture officer at Cisco – a company with a broadly distributed workforce that prides itself on its ability for any employee to work from any location with the right tools – I asked, “How do you promote Cisco’s ‘culture’ with a workforce that’s so distributed?”

He deadpanned, “We have more picnics.”
What can Cool Community leaders learn from Cisco? First, “high tech” is good for many things: sharing information; collaborating on static content like research reports and software code; managing projects and databases; keeping in touch; and streamlining systems. But high tech cannot replace the person-to-person mojo generated by being together.

When you’re selecting a Chamber leader, you can study their DISC report, exchange email with them, and interview ad nausea via videoconferencing. But bringing them to your office and dropping them in the membership and events shark pit is infinitely more telling about whether they’ll add value or not.

High tech has its place. We need the right technology doing the right things. Young Professionals organizations, for example, must use technology to build their database and email their newsletters. But in human systems – where trust, teaming, and their subsequent magic are valued — high touch is irreplaceable. As community builders, we must continue to value and host the “picnics.” Social hours and networking time provide what the best computer database can never provide and what our communities so deeply need: “touch” and a sense of belonging.

Feedback from previous columns

Bill Humbert from Iowa responded to my opinion that American talent is looking outside the US for work, and the war for talent is becoming global, with this insight:

“It’s true that American workers are working harder than most of their world compatriots. However, most American workers are paralyzed by only knowing one language. The workers in most other countries know more than their own language. They know their language and English or at least one other (and many times more than one) language. The Educational Union in the United States needs to release their grip and understand that students learn a second language best when they are in Kindergarten or elementary years and not in 8th grade or high school. At that time we try to teach them grammar and not how to speak the language - Stupid and not relevant.”

Rebecca Ryan is founder and partner of Next Generation Consulting. She drinks coffee from a mug that says, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Next Generation Consulting is a thinkubator committed to building Next Generation Companies and Communities. Her columns address the work and life trends of today's young, tech-savvy talent as well as the tools, tricks and tips for those daring hot companies they work with. Please e-mail topics, suggestions and feedback to Rebecca at

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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