Monday, May 15, 2011
Veteran motivational business leader Dan Cathy may have seemed somewhat out of place in a conference on technology-driven education around the world, but, after all, he was a prime benefactor in making the event happen. They called it the “Imagination Summit,” and invited some of the major digital companies to present and inform students, professors and administrators to some of the innovative technologies setting the pace in the new global economy. We heard from representatives at Cisco, Apple, Stanford University and Rethink Books, a digital publishing firm, among others.
There were definite “Wow!” moments as our facilitators walked us through some of the new tools for delivering academic content. Some of the most fascinating involve the penetration of remote, underprivileged, underserved places around the globe with high level, age-appropriate curriculum. In far away African villages, for example, with no connectivity or power supply, Stanford is opening doors and minds to a world of ideas. Cisco works alongside some of the most prestigious (and expensive) universities to bring the classroom experience with some of the nation’s most distinguished and innovative professors to sites all over the world. Online classes have become virtual classrooms, with live interaction and group video. Libraries are becoming digitized and accessible. In real time, lectures can now be transcribed and translated into several languages. Video recordings of speeches, simultaneously transcribed, can be searched according to outline and actual text. As information proliferates, it is becoming democratized, available for the asking, no longer the domain of exclusive, elitist associations. Those who resist technological advance are declining in influence. Those who integrate technology with their disciplines are expanding their reach in unimaginable ways.
Dan Cathy fit in, mainly because he runs his business from a smart-phone. He opened by giving us all his mobile number, which for a crowd of close to a thousand seemed a risky move. But it was all part of a tech-type contest in which he challenged us to send him a text message. The start would be signaled by the announcement of his phone number… first text in would win an iPad. You could feel the adrenaline rush as this collection of techies poised themselves, well, ourselves, to show our stuff. (I missed it – by a hair.)
But Cathy’s agenda differed from the rest of the presenters that day. The others were there to trigger the technological whiz-bang moments that would prompt collective Imagineering. Cathy brought in the human element. He challenged us to see technology, not as a master but a servant. Success in any enterprise, he said, means meeting the real needs of real people. Technology should enhance relationships. Our affection for our tools can be counterproductive, placing barriers between us and those we serve. Technology is no substitute for high touch. Connectivity must go beyond a digital login.
He speaks from experience. Mr. Cathy is President and CEO of one of the most successful business enterprises of the new millennium: the 3.5 billion dollar line of new restaurants – Chick Fil A. He is passionate about his business plan.
It must be a great sandwich, he will concede. But people will come back not simply because of a great product. He believes every visit to every store should be a great experience. So, they began with a highly intentional training program so that every manager, every server, every employee understands how to make every visit just that – a great and satisfying event. The sort you will speak of with enthusiasm to your friends.
One of the many training tools in Cathy’s box is a video that reminds his employees that every guest has a story. Even the unpleasant arrival carries unwanted baggage into the store. That burden may manifest in quirky ways. But the right question, a proper greeting, intentional assistance, an atmosphere of welcome and superior service will disarm most everyone. The video introduces us to a store filled with customers (a word Cathy avoids) and using animated text tells us something of each person’s back story – the man who just arrived from his chemo treatment, the tattooed teenager whose father walked out, the young couple struggling with infertility, the elderly woman eating alone whose husband recently passed away, the young mom with multiple kids trying to keep it together after the father of her children disappeared, the bright young high school woman who just got accepted at the university of her dreams, the grandmother herding her young grandchildren after a morning at the park and so on. At first, you see each simply as a patron in the store. When you read even a brief phrase summarizing the story, the patron becomes a person. And knowing the story, well, it triggers compassion and care. Boom. Cathy’s point.
So we live in a world of burgeoning technology. The possibilities energize us.
But let’s not forget the human dimension. Let’s look for those stories. Listen. Care. Smile. Hand ‘em a chicken sandwich. Waffle fries and ketchup.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2011
 Sponsored and held last month at Biola University