Combating the Dark Side of Technology (Part 1)

by John Hagel

Combating the Dark Side of Technology (Part 1)My last post on The Dark Side of Technology definitely seems to have hit a responsive chord. Many of us see evidence of this dark side of technology every day in the world around us.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The same digital technologies producing this dark side also have the potential to produce a world of unparalleled opportunity. But the dark side is the default – if we choose to do nothing, the dark side will take hold in all of its dysfunctional potential. It is up to us to take the steps necessary to turn pressure into opportunity. So, what are those steps?

If we’re going to carve out an alternative path, it begins with us as individuals and then expands out into our institutions and broader social arenas. I’m going to explore three elements of this path – passion, institutional innovation and narrative – that will have to come together if we are to successfully navigate the Big Shift and harness the opportunity it creates. This blog post will focus on the first element – passion – and in subsequent blog posts I’ll layer in the other two elements.

Integrating Passion and Profession

First, we all have to find ways to more effectively integrate our passion and our profession. Here’s the thing. If we aren’t truly passionate about our work, we’ll inevitably experience mounting performance pressure as a source of growing stress. That stress will ultimately consume us and marginalize us, until we finally drop out or drop dead.

On the other hand, if we’re truly passionate about our work, that stress will turn into excitement – it’s an opportunity for us to test ourselves, to draw out more of our potential and to make an even bigger difference as we reach new levels of performance. We’ll begin to actively seek out the next challenge and not just wait for it to come to us. Passion is a powerful energy source that is not only self-renewing, it generates even more energy as the challenges multiply.

When I talk about passion, I’m referring to the passion of the explorer, a particularly powerful form of passion because it drives us to learn faster over an extended period of time. The passion of the explorer brings together three attributes.

  1. There’s a long-term commitment to making an increasing difference over time in a specific domain, usually broadly defined. This ensures that the learning is sustained and cumulative.
  2. There’s a questing disposition – actively seeking out and pursuing new challenges as an opportunity to get to that next level of performance and impact. This provides us with a never-ending supply of learning opportunities.
  3. There’s a connecting disposition – an orientation to find and connect with others who either share our passion or who can help us to more effectively address the challenges you’re pursuing. This amplifies our ability to learn by drawing on diverse experiences and perspectives as we work collaboratively to come up with creative new approaches.

These three attributes come together to create a powerful catalyst for learning to drive sustained extreme performance improvement.

Integrating our passion with our profession is no longer just optional, something that might be desirable if it happens. It’s become an imperative if we want to continue to succeed in our professional life. We’ll increasingly be competing with those who are passionate about their work – wherever they might be in the world. No matter what our credentials or current skills might be, we’ll find ourselves at a growing disadvantage as others, driven by passion, learn faster than we ever will and achieve ever higher levels of performance. And let’s not forget those robots that are also learning faster and coming up from behind.

Integrating our passion and profession will be a huge challenge for most of us. Based on recent research we’ve done, only 11% of the U.S. workforce truly is passionate about their work. That leaves 89% of us exposed and vulnerable to the dark side.

We’ll need to do whatever it takes to find our passion if we don’t yet know what it might be, and then craft a way to earn a living from pursuing that passion. We’ll need to challenge and discard the belief many of us have that we’re not capable of passion. I’ll wager that even the most jaded and downtrodden of us can reach back into our memory banks and recover experiences where we truly connected with passion, even if only briefly.

Many of us have safely hidden our passion and pursue it outside a work environment that is deeply suspect of, if not hostile to, passion. We’ll need to step back and find out how we can either pursue that passion in our current work or find a work environment that will provide us an outlet for that passion. Anything short of this will leave us deeply immersed in the dark side that is gathering force around us.

As we find our passion, the cognitive biases that blossom on the dark side will begin to recede. In their place, we’ll find ourselves looking at the world through new (and much more productive) lenses. We’ll begin to be more motivated by perceived rewards and discount the perceived risks along the way. Our time horizons will lengthen and we’ll become much more proactive, able to resist the distractions that bombard us minute by minute, as we stay focused on the longer term opportunities ahead. We’ll also embrace a positive sum view of the world, one where we will create more value by working together and the real question is how much value can we create rather than how much value we can carve out for ourselves. We’ll find it much easier to build trust and work collaboratively with others who share our passion, secure in the knowledge that we’ll make an even bigger difference by working together. We’ll still compete in an effort to discover the most productive approaches to dealing with the challenges we face, but we’ll find that collaboration is ultimately the most powerful form of competition.

As we connect with this passion, something interesting will happen – we’ll increasingly shed the masculine archetype that dominates our society today and embrace the feminine archetype that helps us to more effectively pursue the passion of the explorer.

Bottom Line

Passion is the key starting point in our journey from the dark side to the frontiers of opportunity created by the Big Shift. Before we seek to change the world, we first have to find a way to change ourselves. There’s much to be done to create a world that can help us to achieve more of our potential.

But let’s not get distracted. If we’re not connecting with and nurturing our passion first and foremost, we won’t have what it takes to change a world that is deeply entrenched in outmoded institutions and practices.

Let me be clear, passion alone will not save us from the dark side. Virtually all of our institutions today are explicitly designed to squash passion and squeeze us into the molds that have been carefully programmed for each of us. These institutions will do everything they can to weaken and disillusion us.

But if we are able to connect with our passion, it will energize and sustain us on the long road ahead. It’s a powerful antidote to the pressures gathering force on the dark side. So, what’s your passion and is it an integral part of your work?

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John HagelJohn Hagel leads a major research center in Silicon Valley and writes extensively on evolving forms of innovation. His most recent book is The Power of Pull, his personal blog is Edge Perspectives, and his Twitter handle is @jhagel.