February 8, 2010

What a day-brightener in the midst of yet another winter storm, to read Harvey MacKay’s column in the Strib this morning about the use of technology to enhance brainpower!

For 25 years, I have had a simple “reminder note” displayed in my office. It reads: “The Medium is NOT the Message”. The mid 1980s was a technology transition time in the meeting and event production business that would move us from use of communication media such as 35mm slides and 16mm-35mm film to video and video conferencing–and with the introduction of computers, the very beginning of programs that eventually were replaced by PowerPoint as the preferred method of speaker support to talking heads, – not only in general sessions, but in every break-out as well.

After the initial discussions on compromising the quality of image, we gave in to the notion that our audience was acclimated to the inferior images of video at the time because of TV and we needed to embrace it. At the same time, our passion and knowledge for message reinforcement through peer discussion in social environments, along with a long list of advantages of traditional face to face meetings allowed us to weather the scare of teleconferencing putting live meetings production out of business.

And so, with a new mindset, we slowly started to move away from analyzing the best tools and means to communicate a message to the thrill of finding that newest available technology and how we could be among the first to introduce it to our clients. It was not long before our creative brainstorming was giving precedence to technology – and not to achieving client outcomes in the most efficient and effective manner. We were selling us and our expertise and knowledge, not how we could best tell the client’s story.

As Mackay mentioned, the McLuhan theory of the 1960s stated that the medium used influences how the message is perceived, and engages the viewer in different ways. Twenty years later, an industry thought-leader expanded on that. I’ve lost the source name but not his campaign message: “The Medium is NOT the Message”. I adopted it as a primary principle – not only in our work environment in the CMG Meetings Division, but as a guiding directive over the next 25 years.

So Mackay’s affirmation of that principle definitely got my attention.

Based on a concern that we are losing the ability to think creatively because we are now focusing more on how to use today’s tools of communication than we are on how to effectively communicate, MacKay posed the question of whether creativity was lost to the medium. He stated that if communication is meaningless and useless, the whole point of having and using great tools is lost. Reminiscent of my earlier blog on Innovation and the need for leaders to foster creativity, MacKay suggested that good managers challenge employees to use technology to enhance their brainpower.

MacKay offered up some interesting exercises to get creativity and innovation moving in organizations, adapted the McLuhan theory to state that the medium ENHANCES the message, and then closed with the MacKay Moral: “Technology is a result of creative thinking, not a replacement for it.”

Even in today’s world with technological applications growing exponentially, we can’t just blindly include a new tool, it has to contribute to the purpose. My mantra still stands – the medium is not the message (or vice versa).

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