OpenBlend Podcast Series: Conversations that matter
Episode 2: Alex Mecklenburg
In our latest podcast episode, Anna Rasmussen sat down with Alex Mecklenburg, a Leadership and Change Coach & Consultant and Co-Founder of Consequential, Dot Project and Truth&Spectacle, to discuss how technology can improve human relationships.
Alex's wealth of knowledge and experience stems from her deep passion for collaboration and partnerships. 10 years ago, Alex left corporate employment to start an incredible portfolio career, which focuses on three main focus areas; messy humans, and how to work with that messiness to shape strong collective relationships, responsible digital technology, and how it can and should have a positive impact on society, and how collective creativity allows us to collaborate and contribute to reimagine and produce new thinking and innovation.
'So ultimately, if you don't invest in your relationships, and conversations are one of the first things to enable relationships, then you're going to lose the fuel that builds your organisation'.
So let's start by discussing the opportunity for technology to reinvest time into human conversations
Here's my provocation, and you know me, that's how I work. I think the world would be a better place if we stopped talking about the fact that technology saves us time. Because my answer to that is always, what does it save us? What are we doing with the saving? Is there a big bank account of time that we can then tap in and out? And I think we should start to think about tech, being able to help us redistribute time, to be used for what we believe is deeply important.
I'll give you a couple of examples. I think it was back in 2019, the Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo, introduced their first 'Kletskassa', which means 'chatting checkouts'. So these are slower checkouts for customers who aren't in a rush, and who are actively looking for a chat with the cashiers. So on the one side they have the automated cashiers, and then they redistributed the time that they saved, and spent it in something that was deeply important for them as an organisation. Another example at the Dot Project, we work a lot with digital project management, probably more so than a lot of other organisations, and that enables us to save time and to work asynchronously. But we don't do that to create this big saving of time somewhere, we do that to be able to use that time for connection and collective creativity, and we're doing very intentionally.
So ultimately, I believe it's all always about the human intent, how you utilise your digital technology and how you redistribute your time that is saved by digital technology that will tell me a lot about your values and beliefs, whether you are an organisation or a human.
What are your thoughts around technology that we don't notice that influences conversation?
I think this is really about the fact that sometimes technology can get a little bit in its own head, and technology gets really excited about the technology. Whereas the most simple technology that we all use every day we don't even notice - WhatsApp is a technology, radio I would argue is a technology, and we don't notice radio. There is still a tendency of over constructing technology to the point that technology is often needy, it wants to be seen, it wants to be interacted with. But if the technology is just happening on the underground, enabling a conversation with you and me like now, where we have to press as little buttons as we have we see each other, we don't really control anything else, that is the most powerful technology in my book.
I have a wonderful friend, Rachel Kawika. She was the CEO of doteveryone, which was a digital Think Tank just before the pandemic. Rachel now runs Careful Industries, and she has this wonderful slogan, 'just enough internet', and I really deeply believe that. Let's not get over excited, the internet and technology are fantastic, but it's about what does enough look like? Does it support what we do? And when does it get in the way?
Can you share some experiences where you've seen technology facilitating conversations that would never otherwise have happen?
I don't know whether you were at Coal Drop in London about a year ago, but what they did is they installed these digital seesaws, and they were working with senses of pressure. So it started to create music and light, and it was very subtle, but the joy in Coal Drop, both grown-ups and children starting to interact, seesaw to seesaw, conversations and connections that would have never have happened, is pure joy for me. I think we have experiences that want to be so intense that it is really difficult in that context to have conversations. That might be that there's too loud music, there's too much going on, but those seesaws were beautiful because they didn't overshadow the voices and the laughter and the joy that the humans had as they were interacting with technology and with each other.
I work a lot in the social economy, and it's so fascinating how small community organisations are really empowered with technology. They're able to work in a very different way, they're able to identify other small place-based community organisations that might sit somewhere completely different, and start to exchange experiences, they might exchange staff, they might start to collaborate on bigger initiatives. So I do think this idea about community tech and how that enables people to create much closer relationships is another wonderful story. The Doom scrawling stories exist, absolutely they do exist, I would consider myself a tech ethicist, and there is a lot of difficult conversations to be had around technology, but it is also an amazing enabler.