The importance of human relationships in the modern world

I spend a large chunk of my daily life attached to technology. I wake up courtesy of the alarm on my phone and as I turn it off I am greeted by the notifications that have reached me overnight. Fantastic, one of my friends on Instagram has posted for the first time in a while. Swipe that notification away. Oh, good, two of my favourite shoe stores have given me a special 15% discount on their fall selection. Delete, delete. I put my phone down and have a fleeting recollection of my clash with a ferocious lion in my dream last night. I try to delve into my memory to find the remnants of my battle, but all I find are two cheap pairs of shoes. Before the day has even begun technology has penetrated its way into my conscious thought. I would imagine that many of you find a similar beginning to the day, perhaps with less lions, but likely with the same bombardment of trivial information.

That’s the cost of living in the modern world. Even if you try to cut down on screen time, most of you will find that your job requires you to spend many hours looking at a screen. Your appointments, communications, and the general organisation of your daily life are likely delegated to you by a small rectangular beacon of information. Technology makes life convenient and efficient. China, through Alibaba innovations, is the poster boy for the integration of technology into everyday life. Alibaba promotions show the ‘ideal’ daily life in which an individual uses their phone for every aspect of their day – getting from place to place with Didi Chuxing, reading news from Youku Tudou, shopping on one of their numerous online marketplaces, and so on. The growth of virtual reality makes this even more invasive. Online stores are being designed to replicate the interior of real stores, giving the feeling of walking around browsing products. Whether this level of assimilation reaches the Western world is yet to be seen, but unless there is significant pushback it appears that the impact of technology on everyday life will continue to grow.

This growing reliance on technology makes real human relationships even more important. Perhaps much of your interaction with a client or work associate happens through text or calls, with a rare face to face meeting along the way. A positive interaction with a client can lead to increased trust and bonding, thus taking the relationship to a new level. A client will often prefer working with an individual with whom they have good rapport, even if that person is less technically adept than the competition. Learning skills to make the most of face to face interactions is therefore paramount in the work climate of today.

Firstly, you should go into business meetings feeling relaxed and confident. In the lead up to a meeting try to remove any expectations that you may have set upon yourself. View every client interaction as an opportunity for success, but placing too much weight on that opportunity can cause anxiety. Nervousness can cause you to speak too quickly, fidget, lose concentration, sweat profusely, and leave an overall impression with the client that you are disorganised or even untrustworthy. You will personally have to test what works to quell your nerves. You could develop a pre-meeting routine that gets you in a confident mindset, or have a few pre-planned questions to fall back on in case you get caught up on your words.

Once in the meeting, begin with a firm handshake, an abundance of eye contact, and an upright body position. Whilst conversing consciously make an effort to slow down your speech to articulate yourself clearly. Mimic the client’s body language and mannerisms to create a subconscious bond. While this may feel wooden at first, these techniques should all become natural with some practice. However, if it continues to feel unnatural, drop it. The most important aspect of your interaction is that you truly listen. You don’t want to miss a subtle change in tone or choice of wording because you were too busy trying to cross your legs at the same time as the client.

Once you have overcome any issues of nervousness and mastered a few key techniques to boost your confidence, interactions should feel more genuine. That is the key to striking a positive business relationship. Yes, a firm handshake and upright body position may subtly influence a client’s opinion of you, but the true success of your meeting will come from human connection. Don’t try to refocus the meeting on business issues if the topic wanders, feel free to talk about fishing or dogs for twenty minutes if that’s where the conversation leads. The true purpose of the meeting should be to feel like you’ve developed a stronger relationship with the individual across the table.

Now that technology has permeated our everyday life, these client interactions have become fewer and farther between. As a result, to be successful in maintaining business relationships, you must nail down the impression you make in these meetings. Ultimately, the impression you give will not come from your body language, level of eye contact, or firmness of handshake, but from the bond you make with another human being.

Dean Franklet is a third year economics and finance student at the University of Canterbury where he is President of the largest commerce society on campus. Spending his life in Texas and then New Zealand with a few other stops along, he gives a unique global viewpoint to portray in his writing.

Image: Pexels

Man vs Chimp

Man vs Chimp

(Source: Flickr)

Humans and chimpanzeees (our closest genetic relatives) are both social animals that have the ability to form groups and communicate between themselves.

Why is it then that humans have populated the globe (7 billion and counting) while chimp numbers continue to fall (currently standing at around 250 thousand or less)?

A key difference between us and our close genetic cousins is our ability to use, control and reflect upon language.

Research has shown that chimps can learn, use and teach other chimps how to use sign language (an insight I picked up from Emeritus Professor Glenn Bassett‘s book “Word Play“). However, chimps don’t have the ability to use spoken language and, more crucially, codify that language in written form.

Spoken and written language are easy to take for granted because everyone who is currently alive was born after the invention of both technologies, however the implications of these technologies appear to be an important factor in explaining our ability to survive and thrive as a species.

Isaac Newton famously stated in the late 17th century that “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

In other words, Newton was acknowledging the important truth that his discoveries were dependent on the work of people who had come before him. People whose insights he was able to benefit from because they were communicated to him through written language.

It’s one thing to have this amazing technology available to you, and it’s another thing to appreciate and make use of it.

Here are three questions to get you thinking:

  1. What was the name of the most recent book you read?
  2. Do you keep a journal to record your thoughts and ideas? If not, why not?
  3. What was the topic of the most recent article you wrote or co-authored? Did you publish the article so that other people could read, share and benefit from your ideas?

Let me know your answers via email by hitting reply, or sending an email to tom [at] spencertom [dot] com.

Olswang – The name says it all

I recently had the dubious honour of meeting with two partners from London based law firm Olswang.

Olswang is a firm which holds itself out to the market as being an expert in technology, media and telecommunications, and so I was quite looking forward to meeting them.

Unfortunately, I was sadly disappointed.

It was interesting to learn that, despite being apparent technology experts, the firm’s partners still use an old version of the Blackberry.

And in a world where technology startups is a growth industry, I was edified to learn from Partner Charles Kerrigan that he has no growth strategy for his practice, no desire to develop one, and moreover the firm as a whole appears to have limited interest in using its legal skills in the technology arena for the benefit of genuine technology startups.

As Paul Keating might have put it, “Olswang – all tip, no iceberg.”

Libin’s Law

Libin's Law

(Source: Techworld)

Phil Libin, founder and CEO of Evernote, was one of the guest speakers during Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford which was hosted at Oxford’s Said Business School a fortnight ago.

As part of the conference there was a debate held at the Oxford Union, the world’s oldest debating society, the motion being “This House Believes that Humanity’s Augmentation with Technology Creates a Better World”.

The debate was a heated one, and Libin was a speaker for the proposition.

In making the case for technological progress in general (as you would expect from a tech founder), and for human augmentation in particular, Libin argued that “[t]he upsides of making people better and making people smarter will far outweigh the downsides.”

At the same time he was quick to acknowledge that some of the potential risks associated with human augmentation are likely to come true, and we will need to be prepared to minimise and mitigate these risks.

These risks were variously acknowledged to include (a) the creation of an unrivalled and potentially immortal tech elite, (b) the creation of artificial intelligence which has been characterised by Stephen Hawkings and Elon Musk as a technology with extreme downside risks, and (c) the creation of greater inequality worldwide since only the wealthy will be able to purchase augmentation technology in the early stages, and so they may gain a self-sustaining advantage over everybody else.

In response to the risks outlined by the opposition team including their references to Murphy’s law, Libin proposed a law of his own.

“The opposition talk very intelligently about Murphy’s Law … but there’s an alternative to Murphy’s Law, which I’d like to propose here. In fact, I would very much like from here on out, for this to be known as Libin’s Law … It’s the combination of Murphy’s Law and Moore’s Law. It says that the number of things that go wrong will roughly double every year and it’s for this reason that we need technology and that we need augmentation.”

Whether it be artificial intelligence, or some other form of existential threat like climate change or nuclear proliferation, are you inclined to agree with Phil Libin? Do we need to augment humanity in order to protect and save it from these escalating risks?

Peter Thiel at Oxford’s Said Business School

I had the good fortune yesterday to attend a conversation between Teppo Felin, Professor of Strategy at Oxford’s Said Business School, and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and recent author of the bestselling book Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future.

Apart from being a co-founder of PayPal, Thiel is also known for being the first outside investor in Facebook, taking a 10% stake in 2004 for $500,000. He now sits on the company’s board of directors.

As if that weren’t enough, Thiel is also:

  • Co-founder and chairman of Palantir, an American software and services company;
  • President of Clarium Capital, a global macro hedge fund;
  • Managing partner of Founders Fund, a venture capital fund with $2 billion in assets under management;
  • Co-founder and investment committee chair of Mithril Capital Management, a global investment firm; and
  • Co-founder and chairman of Valar Ventures, a globally oriented venture fund.

Needless to say, I didn’t want to miss this conversation with one of the world’s tech startup demi-gods.

Below I highlight ten (10) of the key lessons shared by Peter during the discussion.

  1. When it comes to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation there is a certain paradox.  How do you offer a formula for how to do new things? Science always starts with experiments and every moment in the history of technology happens only once. For example, the next Gates won’t create an operating system and the next Zuckerberg won’t start a social network.
  2. A lot of great entrepreneurs have certain diametrically opposed personal qualities. They will be, for example, people who are very stubborn but yet still quite open minded.
  3. Imitation is how culture is built, but it is also how things go wrong. People who are hyper-socialised (for example, business school students) are more likely to follow the big social trends and more likely to be talked out of their truly interesting and original ideas before they are even fully formed.  Innovation requires a certain willingness to buck the trend.
  4. In a company, you want to unite people around a common mission which differentiates the company from the rest of the world. For example, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is the only company aiming to go to Mars.  At the same time, within the company, you want the roles to be as differentiated as possible. Conflicts tend to arise when people’s roles are too similar.
  5. There is not enough time to A/B test every idea you might have.  We live in a world which is far too skewed towards A/B testing, and not enough towards mission driven and vision driven companies.
  6. If you define the culture of a company the way an HR person would, then that’s probably evidence that you have no culture at all. You shouldn’t think of a culture as “having foosball tables and lava lamps” or anything generic like that. You should define culture around the common mission of the company.
  7. Assuming it were possible to reduce innovation to a formula, Thiel says the three part formula for a successful startup would be to have (1) a great team, (2) some great technology (because Thiel is a tech investor), and (3) a good business strategy.
  8. A startup should have a great team, and the team should in fact be a team. You need very talented people who can work well together. Preferably people who have known each other for a decent period of time, and who have complementary skills. When it comes to finding a startup co-founder, Thiel notes (tongue firmly in cheek) that “you don’t want to get married to the first person you meet at the slot machines in Las Vegas”.
  9. Business strategy is about having a story which explains how the startup will move towards building a monopoly. You can have a great team, and great technology, and no business at all. If your business creates X dollars of value and you capture Y% of X, most people forget that X and Y are independent variables. In most cases Y equals zero percent (0%).
  10. Investment capital is often deployed in extremely inefficient ways. Thiel notes that there is a very big difference between investing your own money, and investing other people’s money.  When you invest your own money, you are just trying to generate good returns. But when you invest other people’s money, you have two objectives. Number one is to get good returns, and number two is to look like you’re going to get good returns.  And the disconnect between those two can be much larger than people would typically think.