An Interview with John Naisbitt, Nana Naisbitt, and Douglas Philips Twenty years ago, John Naisbitt gained international acclaim with his landmark best seller, Megatrends, which celebrated the technology revolution. His books, which also include Megatrends 2000, Global Paradox, and Megatrends Asia, have sold more than 12 million copies.
Naisbitt, a former IBM and Eastman Kodak executive, served as a presidential appointee under President John F. Kennedy and as a special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson. In this latest book project, he has teamed up with daughter Nana Naisbitt and Douglas Philips, both writers, artists, and entrepreneurs who have worked on projects for such companies as Kellogg's, Motorola, and Shell Oil Co. Their expertise: visualizing corporate communications and business theories in art and story. High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning (1999, Broadway Books) was due to be released the same week we caught up with the trio via telephone from their base in Telluride, Colo.
CMI:Why did you again use "High Tech/High Touch" in the title for your book?
Authors:This was a concept first discussed in Megatrends, where a balance between technology and humanity was sought as technology increased. Of all the concepts in the book, this is the one that's still most talked about. What we realize today, however, is that it is no longer really about a balance, because technology is no longer neutral--it's out of balance. We need to control it and not let it control us. This book is really about viewing technology through a human lens in order to keep it in its proper perspective.
CMI:Tell us about the "technology intoxication zone" concept discussed in the book.
Authors:We believe that Americans are overwhelmed by technology and don't know how to think about it. As human beings, we have always been inventive, creating tools to make life easier and safer. Who doesn't celebrate running water, electricity, heat? These things have become the foundation of our lives. If you look back to the 1950s, you remember that we really got into buying all the gadgets and appliances that made us comfortable. As technology increased, we kept consuming things to make us even more comfortable.
But now we're past the point of being comfortable. Now we're almost in the service of technology, rather than it being in our service. We believe that if we aren't careful, technology will further distance people from each other and distract them from their lives and their work.
Also, technology has shifted our relationship with time. Time has become "high-tech" time instead of "high-touch" time. Little time is left for reflection, to be alone with ourselves and with others. Technology can be so enticing to companies, but it can lead to burnout. It increases the stress factor and decreases human interaction.
CMI:Given what you've said about how technology can cause people to burn out and distance them from others in the workplace, what kinds of meetings do you advocate?
Authors:The purpose of meetings is to have more high-touch time together. Meetings will become--in fact, already are--much more important as a way to increase the human interaction that technology has eroded.
But again, we have to be careful. For instance, many companies turn their meetings into competitions, using war games or paintball contests, and we certainly don't advocate those kinds of meetings at all. We can't imagine that you'd have better interpersonal relationships as a result of that kind of activity.
Instead, the trend we're seeing in positive business meetings is, as we said before, high-touch times, like adventure outings or cooking together. But even these meetings aren't optimal, because we see them as short-term solutions, quick fixes to help to relieve job stress and get people together. The secret is to find ways to incorporate this kind of togetherness more regularly, so that there is no need for what we refer to as "escape" trips.
We see this kind of thing all the time. We work and live part time in Telluride, and many companies have meetings here. What we see happening is that people come here for meetings and wind up looking around for land to buy. They want to live here, to escape from where they work. They don't want to go back, or they think that if they live here, it will lessen the stress in their lives.
CMI:As technology allows more and more employees to work out of their homes, what problems does it create for those employees, and how can employers better deal with these problems?
Authors:The danger is that when you bring high-tech time into the home, you're really not removing or relieving any of the work stress that's felt at the office. The employees often feel as if they're always at work and that their employers always want them available to work because they have the benefit of working at home. There can actually be a bigger chance of burnout. Companies may even have to be prepared to make counselors available to deal with this new kind of stress.
But most importantly, companies will have to do a better job of recognizing what it is to be human, and to apply that knowledge to the management of their employees.