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American business journalist and thinker Henry Hazlitt once wrote:

“A man with a scant vocabulary will most certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”

Words are wonderful.

They are much more useful in business than they get credit for — particularly in executive sales. But words are not much emphasized or particularly valued in our technology hegemonous world. Sales articles are crammed full of an overwhelming amount of information about psychology, motivation, technology, social media, ROI, SEO, etc., yet seemingly never mention that simple cornerstone of human communication-words. Vocabulary. It’s as if words are unimportant or irrelevant to a modern woman or man. Words are for poets and philosophers, academics and lawyers, journalists and judges. Words are old-fashioned. Words are of the past, supplanted by a world of Twitter abbreviation (OMG, NRN, LOL, TMI, L8R, WTF, etc).

This is utterly wrong. And it is particularly not true about high-end, entrepreneurial business development, which was the specialty of my former executive sales outsourcing firm Corporate Rain International. Word usage and proficiency is important in branding a tonality of equal business stature when selling to real strategic corporate decision makers. CEO’s are more well-educated, thoughtful people, trained in the best schools in the world. Or, if they don’t have that specific educational pedigree, are fierce autodidacts. Either way, they are usually people of probing intellect and subtle ability to express and communicate nuance.

Corporate decision makers like to do business with their peers. They want to deal with people of equal business stature. A comfort level with precise and sophisticated word usage is one way of immediately establishing that tonality.

This does not mean to pepper your business conversations with artificially grandiose phrases, fustian excess or arbitrary verbal whimsy. Precise vocabulary can be used simply. But words bring shadings of specificity and descriptive depth, even a sensual enlivening, to the most prosaic of entrepreneurial conversations. (Also, by using new words, I actually learn them).

Last week one of my friends asked me to please write a posting not requiring use of a dictionary. Nah. It would remove too much color and delight. As Woody Allen puts it, “I call him a sadistic, hippophilic, necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.”

Thanks Woody.

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home-slide-1I smiled when I received the Twitter link How technology is increasingly isolating us from each other and stifling creativity to @TimothyAskew’s article on tech zombification because it brought a number of people together who subsequently sparked off his idea, in part contradicting it.

Let me explain.

A week after this Twitter exchange I furthered the conversation with one of the Twitter participants futurist Chris Riddell over coffee. How did I know Chris?

Well, many moons ago when I was speaking at CeBIT I tweeted for an iPhone charger and a guy called Justin reached out.

MC for the event that year Justin Davies is also CEO of start up company @Prezentt and the next time I was in Perth (on the other side of Australia from where I live) we had lunch. I sent people his way and vice versa and we continued the digital discussion over many years.

Earlier this year when Justin was in Melbourne to collect an award for that same start up we had a red wine over all things digital when he said Chris was a guy I should meet – in a click, we were connected. With a strong, shared interest in the impact of digital on future trends and social innovation, we have since started collaborating.

Why the detail?

Because it reinforces how virtual and real existence converge. How social media networks generate mutually beneficial relationships that operate off and online. That’s how things work now.

This is not to suggest that technology is a panacea or that the value of face-to-face connection has diminished.

There’s dark and light to any technology (fire, hammers), but notwithstanding this, the capacity to encourage innovation and collaboration is huge. One world is an extension of the other rather than a separate realm.

Like Tim I am fascinated by the impact of technology on human behavior and believe we have yet to fully understand its impact.

And I confess too that I have seen and been one of those buried knee deep in smartphone and stumbling from place to place, staccato style, because biologically my brain can’t handle the whole shebang in real time.

Yes, I confess, I am distracted.

That aside I believe online is potentially one of the most powerfully connecting, creative experiences that challenges notions of where that self begins and ends.

Here are some of my experiences.

  1. Being online makes me think.

When I am online, I start to think.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think offline or appreciate the value of reflection.

I also know when I need to hunker down to read research and pull together a thoughtful piece of writing I’ve got to concentrate, question myself, think hard. It takes energy.

But when I discover something on the web I react instantly – look it up, consider its opposite, click on some or other hyperlink that provides more insight and information or even a new direction and of course, share it. And there are always plenty of people who hop in and influence my views.

Online I learn as I search. I learn as I engage. People teach me.

I may be deep down some rabbit hole when a stranger I’ve never heard of or met suggests something I’ve never thought about and bang, I’m off exploring a new path.

I may know them for that minute or find myself on the tube line to meet them in London a year down the track. It doesn’t matter. Even if the interaction doesn’t change my view, it makes me reconsider what I think more consciously.

Connection. Creation.

It’s not without costs. It is possible that I am outsourcing my short-term memory to Google, but given the limited capacity of my brain I wonder if it frees up space to think better? I don’t know.

It is possible that my attention span is diminishing. It is. As to how this impacts the quality of my thinking, how do I work that out?

  1. Being online connects me offline & online.

Online facilitates connection online but leads to deeper and richer offline connection.

I recently spent time in San Francisco and London to promote my book The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business and caught up with people I had formed virtual relationships with over the past few years as well as newer ones.

This history meant that when we met for the first time in the flesh, we were not at zero. The pre-established sense of mutuality made face-to-face contact more meaningful.

Although virtual and real life connection are equally important in their own way and on a continuum they are not the same.

Eating a Gorgonzola burger with A World Gone Social authors Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt and Social Business Manager for IBM Jim Clausen or catching the ferry to Tiburon to hang out with author Kare Anderson and mental toughness coach LaRae Quy gave incredible dimension – but Twitter facilitated that opportunity in the first place.

  1. Being online makes me part of a global brain

I often say that no matter how smart any one of us is we are never as smart as the lot of us. While that goes for behaving stupidly too, the information available to us at a click is astounding.

Right now I can go online and learn Greek, Math, how to program a computer from prestigious universities anywhere in the world and for free. When in history have we been able to do this?

I think of Twitter, for example, as a global brain because it’s a vast network of links and people that take you form A to Z in an instant.

Such global connectivity is a form of abundance.

Tim’s generous invitation to respond to his article falls into this space. It’s less about what’s ‘right’ than inviting views that contribute to our collective knowledge on how we handle what’s coming up.

I believe Tim highlights important issues around distraction, which is necessary but can also be counterproductive to human life. Some distraction can elevate mood and counter-intuitively, assist decision-making.

But issues of distraction and addiction aren’t new.

“The world is too much with us late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our hours, little we see in nature that is ours,” Wordsworth wrote in the 18th Century.

It does not make our current predicament less important but we need to remember that before there was a web to surf people killed time in other ways. Gossip, for example, has been with us from the start.

There are significant emerging issues resulting from technology –

  • Sometimes we assume if we can’t find information online it doesn’t exist. Unless we’re dedicated scholars, the hunt stops here.
  • Search is not yet sophisticated enough to discern quality from poor information and algorithms can be gamed. Sites like Google Scholar and Scopus can help and for those with an academic bent try these suggestions on Quora.
  • Screens command attention in ways earlier addictions appeared not to do. Whether or not this turns out to be true, we shall see. Will it be good, bad or indifferent? Who knows?
  • Are our brains being rewired Carr asked? Is this bad or just adaptive?

We simply don’t have the answers. We probably don’t even have the right questions.

There’s a wonderful collection of essays on Is the Internet changing the way you think on Edge.org that is well worth a read for anyone who is interesting in this issue.

The influence of technology, good and bad, is part of who we are right now. The self isn’t fixed, it’s constantly made and remade. Information we can’t access influences our behavior and technology is a big part of that.

Even when I’m walking with my smartphone off or taking offline downtime, which I regularly factor into my life, I am still connecting with people I’ve met through and outside of social networks, discussing ideas I’ve encountered online and thinking about the sorts of issues that Tim raises and we are discussing here.  Or sometimes, I’m just distracted.

Dionne Kasian-Lew is CEO of Social Executive®, professional speaker and author of The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business. Dionne contributes to Forbes, Smart Company, Salesforce, Firebrand and Uncluttered White Spaces. Kred rates her top 1% for global community influence. Connect with her @dionnelew. Connect with her at The Social Executive or BeYourWholeSelf or on Twitter @dionnelew.

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unnamedAs a frequent business traveler, I have noticed an unhappy change of late: I’m meeting fewer people than I used to. And I don’t like it.

It is not that I am a hopelessly garrulous yakker by nature. Quite the opposite. I’m a bit of an introvert–a lover of reading and personal cogitation. But I’m finding my recent business travel an increasingly isolating experience. Too much so.

I used to have the jolliest of chats with total strangers on planes, trains, and boats. It broadened me, it amused me, it opened me to the new. Of late, not so much. Less and less do I find these unexpected illuminating contacts with folks different from myself–whether it be a country barber, a beauty queen, or another business owner.

Why is this? I’ll tell you why. It’s bloody technology, goddammit.

I’m afraid technology is turning us into dull-eyed, unpresent I-Zombies. We are losing the gift for connection to our fellow human beings, as well as stunting our brain processes that summon nonrational revelations and “aha”s.

This was brought home to me earlier this year when I was in Dallas on business and found myself a bit lost and late to my next appointment. I was walking through the downtown arts plaza and I looked for some friendly, authoritative face to approach for aid. But as I looked around I found every person I saw shuffling along fully immersed in their personal private technology Idahos, oblivious to any person or thing around them.

I didn’t want to rudely interrupt, but I was annoyed because I needed some directions! This made me think about how much present richness and human feeling we sacrifice for an ersatz virtual reality. (I increasingly feel the same way walking down Broadway in New York when half the folks bump into you while texting, rather than taking in the infinitely unique international culture and urban magnificence constantly on display in my never-boring city.)

6a00d83451c29169e20112796ebe9f28a4Note Douglas Rushkoff‘s book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. (The title is a riff on Alvin Toffler‘s Future Shock from the ’70s.) We’re becoming addicted to what Rushkoff calls a “dopamine squirt,” the ego boost we get from Twitter, Facebook, emails, and texts. This leads to a compulsive immersion in the superficiality of keeping current and cool on social media. According to Rushkoff, this is stress-inducing and, more importantly, creativity-killing. I certainly agree that we are becoming committed to a sort of always-on, live-streamed reality show which is taking us into creatively shallow, spiritually thin cultural waters.

Or consider Nicholas Carr‘s book The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, which posits the rewiring of our brains by way of technology and social media. (Carr first became alarmed when he found himself increasingly unable to concentrate when he sat down to read a book, because of his longing for and growing addiction to the peripatetic excitement of his pinging computer.) Carr writes: “Any kind of thought process that requires focus on one thing is what is being disrupted, and, unfortunately, another thing brain science tells us is that the process of paying attention, paying deep attention, activates a lot of our deepest thought processes. Our long-term memory, the building of conceptual knowledge, critical thinking, all of those things hinge on our ability to pay attention.”

In other words, our “eureka” moments may be being sacrificed for a mess of pottage–that mess of pottage being our present experience of superficial sledding on an omnipresent sea of technological connectedness.

So I miss my now-infrequent accidental connects with my fellow man when I travel. (Not to mention the fact I’ve gotten two major pieces of business through these chance encounters over the years.)

144476685_87a0c6a898_zJaron Lanier, computer scientist and classical musician, who originally popularized the term “virtual reality,” wrote a book in 2010 called You Are Not A Gadget, in which he offered this prescient warning:

“Information is alienated experience. Stored Information might cause experience to be revealed if it is prodded in the right way. A file on a hard disk does indeed contain information of the kind that objectively exists….But if the bits can potentially mean something to someone, they can only do so if they are experienced. When that happens a commonality of culture is enacted between the storer and the retriever of the bits. Experience is the only process that can de-alienate information.”

I don’t think I can sum things up much better than that. So, the next time you travel, try keeping some of your time away from the allures of your iPad and iPhone. There might be some lost soul out there looking for directions. Like me.

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Anthony Weiner is interesting. And not just because of his jejune technological hijinks. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Heck, I personally come from a background of addiction and extended immaturity, and have done many more egregious and embarrassing things than Mr. Weiner. Many. Though I don’t particularly like Anthony Weiner, I do think there is a deal too much schadenfreude and gleeful piling on per his recent salacious tweeting.

However, Weiner’s case got me thinking again about technology. Weiner’s puerile acting out over the Internet could not have happened even four years ago. I think it is especially important for us entrepreneurs to be aware of the possibility of unintended consequences inherent in the marvelous efficiencies of technology and social media. My own virtual company, Corporate Rain International, could not exist without this multifaria of technological magics, and yet…

Technology has created a multitasking enablement that is almost God-like in its efficacy. But could these God-like powers be breeding an ethically unmoored, shallow thinking, morally unclear, hubristic new species of politician or business leader?

Linda Stone writes about this in the Harvard Business Review. (2007, February) She describes what she calls “continuous partial attention,” which she defines as a constant state of “scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events and activities in an effort to miss nothing.” Both William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry and Nicholas Carr in The Shallows have written thoughtfully on this phenomenon. (See blogs of 7/20/10 and 7/27/10.)

It’s hard to pay deep attention while tiptoeing through the tulips of constant emailing, blogging, friending, tweeting and linking in. As the leader of my small firm, I have to concentrate to maintain meaning and tonality for my company culture, not to mention for my own life. I need non-efficient, non-multitasking space to reflect, maunder and dream. Otherwise my life becomes a roundelay of shallow skimming; a heedless, uncentered, probably narcissistic, self-referential solipsism. Perhaps this is what happened to Anthony Weiner. Maybe technology can affect character.

Christine Rosen comments compellingly about a U.S. culture increasingly defined by a social media that presents a constant demand to collect fans and adoration. (The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society, Number 20, Spring 2008) She quotes Lord Chesterfield, who wrote to his son in the 1740s: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.” For Lord Chesterfield such steady focus was a sign of intelligence and moral rectitude. “This steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”

Or, as William James said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will.”

Thank you, William.

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There was an extraordinary article in the NY Times in early December (December 6, 2010-David Segal). The article reports the arrest of Vitaly Borker, who perpetrated sales fraud through his Brooklyn-based web site DecorMyEyes.com. He did this by manipulating Google technology and subsequently intimidating and threatening his customers.

Mr. Borker’s fraud involved sales of fake designer eyeglasses with the express intent of generating negative Internet publicity. Mr. Borker purposely set about enhancing his Google profile by escalating the many complaints he received through threats and through cyberbullying of his Internet clients. This in turn generated more Internet complaints and bad publicity. Thus, counterintuitively, he boosted his sales of DecorMyEyes because Google’s algorithm was unable to distinguish between praise and complaints. The large number of negative postings translated into buzz which pushed DecorMyEyes high in search results and boosted sales. Amazing. Immoral and reprehensible, but quite brilliant actually.

Being a certified Luddite and technology dinosaur, I am of course drawn to the negative implications of accidental technological consequences. (Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the efficiencies and wonderment of cutting-edge technology. My virtual executive sales firm, Corporate Rain International, could not exist without high-level technology much beyond my ken.) However, there is a danger in placing too much faith in the new magicalism of technology.

Sales remains basically a human function. People hire who they personally like and trust. There can be a dangerous seduction for the salesman in becoming too wedded to his PowerPoint, his GoToMeeting, and his Salesforce. These technologies and many of their cousins and brothers, can add a template coldness, a common-denominator oversimplification to the sales process. Brilliant technology can also breed an emotional distance and creative rigidity in the salesman. Much of a salesman’s work, by necessity, involves rejection.  This rejection can feel very personally painful. It takes energy and courage to forthrightly deal with keeping yourself open to the sometimes harrowing, but healthy and honest, personal sales process.

There are at least two treacherous seductions of technology that come quickly to my mind. One is simply just getting too enamored of the groovy. It feels cool to be using the latest app, whether it provides a real sales efficiency or not. But the other real danger is that technology can breed both spiritual and work-a-day laziness. For example, last week I took a sales meeting about a new sales technology. The salesman wanted to share the technical brilliance of his product with an extended PowerPoint. But, when I asked him to simply first tell me in practical terms the outcome per my specific issues, he got a bit defensive and uncomfortable, like the proverbial deer in the headlights. He knew how his product worked but couldn’t or wouldn’t help me cross the customized bridge I needed to judge his product’s practical efficacy for me.

Likewise, I consider Mr. Borker’s scheme, as reported in the NY Times, to be a crime ultimately grounded in laziness, albeit with a very clever understanding of manipulating the Internet. Successful sales remains essentially a human interaction that can be and is enhanced by technology, but technology is a tool and will always remain a tool for the real work of good salesmanship, not its essence.

Charles M. Allen said, “If the human race wants to go to hell in a hand basket, technology can help it get there by jet. It won’t change the desire or the direction, but it can greatly speed the passage.”

Or, as my friend Tom Chenault, CEO of Chenault Systems in Dallas, Texas says,  “Sometimes good technology just makes the same old mess go around faster and faster.”

Thanks, Charles. Thanks, Tom.

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