That Awkward Feeling

I hadn’t had that kind of feeling in 20 years.

It was back in grad school. I had a professor who taught a class on entrepreneurship. He was a highly decorated Green Beret who had founded a major manufacturing company after he left the army.

As he regaled us with the story of building his company, he mentioned missing the births of his children and much of their early lives. He wore that like a badge of honor, not a lick of remorse or regrets, despite having many years to reflect on it.

It was awkward. I’d never seen a presenter so misaligned with an audience, until recently.

I just returned from a conference about the future of technology and its impact on our lives,  founded by a parent of an autistic child who had gone on an exhausting journey to learn how new technology could improve the child’s life.

The presentations were from technology organizations putting purpose ahead of profits. I heard one eloquent speaker discuss using data and new insight to break the “chain of poverty” and the “pipeline to prison.”



A VR company gave a 3D game demo on how it was using virtual reality to help improve therapeutic outcomes with autistic children.

And then came the presentation from a global communication behemoth.

Except it wasn’t a presentation. It was a self-centered, chest-pounding, “aren’t-we-great?” type of speech, which would have been perfectly at home at a technology conference five years ago, but felt totally out of sync today.

We heard about his company’s history of innovation, recent acquisitions, and the billions it was investing in the U.S. What we didn’t hear was how its incredible technology was going to make our lives, our children’s lives, or our communities better. There was no sense of purpose.   

You could sense the disconnect with the audience. The awkwardness was palpable. It was an uncomfortable feeling I hadn’t had in a very long time.

Leaving the event, I was thinking, maybe it’s just me and the people I associate with who are looking for something more from organizations. Or — maybe this company, like my grad school professor, really doesn’t get it.

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