A Clash of Cultures

As we speak, technology is reinventing relationship. Instant messaging continues to find its way into the workplace, slowly replacing that outdated technology called “email”. It should be of no surprise why this is catching on, given IM is that perfect balance of achieving dialogue without having to deal with eye contact and other interpersonal annoyances that come with having to influence people sitting across a conference table. Discussion boards, blogs, social networks – the way we connect is changing faster than our ability to embrace any of these tools. And with a generation of up-and-coming leaders who grew up embracing electronic media, our views on how work gets done and the meaning of “relationship” is under attack.

We are living in a clash of cultures, those of us who have spent a lifetime developing face-to-face interpersonal skills, and the generation that is weaving emoticons (:-o zz) and instant messaging phrases (PCM or LOL) into our professional dialogue. How do we develop new definitions of relationship and trust that draws from our rich history of oral communication while taking into account the changing nature of written communication and how work gets done? Is this cultural dichotomy something we as seasoned leaders continue to resist or dismiss (“when I was young, we walked 12 miles to school and we liked it!”) or do we collectively learn how to be efficient and effective, while maintaining that personal connection with each other? If this isn’t a perfect storm for the quote by Alvin Toffler, I don’t know what is:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

At a deeper level, how does building trust fit into our 21st century organizations? Does it mean the same thing to future leaders of our institutions as it does to the generation who “walked the floors” and connected one-on-one with those doing the work?

These questions are at the heart of what we need to engage our current and future leaders in discussion around.