My new gig: Digital Fellow, One by One

Last month, I shared that I was leaving the corporate world to pursue the study of digital transformation in the cultural sector. At the time, I was unable to share the particulars about my new position because I was in the midst of securing a visa for a 15-month fellowship in the UK. The past few months have been a turbulent time of transition, but the visa is in-hand, I have secured lodging, and have outlined a plan for my family’s international move. Game on!

So, a bit more about my new gig

I will be one of five Digital Fellows associated with ‘One by One.’ This is a collaborative project exploring and developing digital literacy in museums. ‘One by One’ is a 30-month national research project helping to build digitally confident museums. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is led by The University of Leicester in partnership with Culture24, and is being delivered together with a range of museums, strategic sector agencies and academic partners – including the Museums Association, HLF, Nesta, Arts Council England, AIM, NMDC, the Collections Trust and the Museum Development Network.

Phase One “mapped the ways digital skills are currently supplied, developed and deployed in the UK museum sector and pinpointed current changes in the demand around these skills.” Read more about Phase One findings.

Phase Two will be released soon and “will detail the specific range of digital literacies needed by the UK museum sector.” Read more about the objectives and methods for Phase Two.

As a Digital Fellow, I will join the ‘One by One’ team during Phase Three of the project and will be based in two of the the partner museums, The National Army Museum and The Museum of London, to deliver a “practical approach to building digital literacies within specific museum contexts” for the two museums where I will be embedded for nine months. Read more about Phase Three objectives.

The final six months of my fellowship will be spent with the other Digital Fellows capturing the insights gleaned from the museums associated with Phase Three.

I would be lying if I said I was not equal parts excited and terrified about this new opportunity, but the ‘One by One’ Project aligns brilliantly with my dissertation focusing on digital transformation readiness through the understanding of an institution’s digital data collection and use. I will be able to apply the tools and learnings from my corporate experience to the cultural sector. In time, I hope to re-enter the corporate sector and share insights from the cultural sector! There is so much we can learn if we adopt a growth mindset and take inspiration beyond industry echo chambers. Stay tuned – I will weave tales of my museum adventures into the new digital walkability series.

Making our digital cities walkable

There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. -Jane Jacobs

I am obsessed with the teachings of Jane Jacobs – ‘What would Jane do?’ is a question I often ask myself when scoping a new digital community project. When Walkable City was published in 2012, I was immediately drawn to the concepts author, Jeff Speck, championed because they were a modern interpretation of the community principles Jane Jacobs advocated. Walkable City  is a book that inspires me to think about how we can make our own digital spaces – workplace and consumer communities – walkable.

What do I mean when I advocate for walkable digital spaces within an ecosystem? Make it easy for your consumer to find the right content/community at the right place and right time. Perhaps, if we consider the digital ecosystem instead of individual pages, microsites, and communities, we can increase the value of the whole. I challenge you to look at your company’s website or intranet or community space – who owns the space(s)? You may immediately answer: sales, communications, human resources…, but do they really? In reality, the space is most-likely subsidized by many business units and communication/marketing campaigns with competing interests and varying levels of funding and executive support or interaction. Sleek landing page design may be hiding a multitude of sins…drop-down and hamburger navigation menus that trigger panic in a new hire or an employee on a deadline seeking information or personal contact. Rather than reflecting a healthy digital ecosystem, your digital spaces look more like urban sprawl complete with digital deserts and highways cutting off one space or community from complimentary resources.

The digital workplace is part of a greater ecosystem. It is a mistake to think or plan for the digital workplace as a standalone node within a digital wasteland of failed microsites and intranet redesign projects. Cutting corners does not result in making better places for connection, community, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Yet, aspiring for greatness is not enough…we need to see the path and all that is required to make decisions for, prioritize, and invest in the future. There is no single front door to the workplace, just as there is no one path to navigate the physical halls. We cannot forget the lessons learned from physical urban planning as we design our digital spaces.

We are building digital cities.

Similar to physical city planning, digital urban / community planners or architects need to be armed with how to sell walkability to receive consistent and ample funding to invest in the economics, health, climate, equity, and community of their desired digital space. This is no easy task because there is a false sense of simplicity to digital, social, and community projects. Companies of all sizes are swept-up in thinking there is a one-time cost to design or underestimate the time and energy needed to foster connection.

Over the next several months, I will be reflecting on how Speck’s recent book, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, may be applied to the digital frontier. Let’s cut through the marketing consultant jargon and frame the scaffolding you will need to structure your vibrant digital space, by:

  1. Understanding the digital ecosystemWhat does the digital city include and how do I sell this concept to management, peers, and consumers?
  2. Establishing zonesHow do I take on the role of a place-maker and create safe spaces for engagement, creativity, innovation, and collaboration?
  3. Building crosswalksHow do I easily connect digital neighborhoods?
  4. Developing green spacesHow do I create free-range activity and interaction that is not stifled by management or short-term engagement bribes? 
  5. Packaging experiencesHow do I learn from community interactions and experiences to continuously refresh company intranet/website/community design and navigation?

It is time to go beyond theory, begin shaping strategy into action, and forge pathways connecting our digital neighborhoods into a thriving digital ecosystem.

Using digital workplace reflections to fuel scenario planning

It is that time of year when everyone seems to polish their crystal globes and share predictions for the year to come. I am wary of such practices because we spend so much time with an eye on the horizon that we stop to reflect on the past and what we can learn to assist us in the present. Drop ‘digital’ – The workplace is constantly in a state of flux. We have been wrangling how to collaborate-in-place (whether it be physical or digital) for some time. Predictions are used to convey an understanding of the environment and a certain level of expertise. Unfortunately, it is difficult to suss out the true expertise amidst the plethora of predictions, and as a result, many companies take these predictions and try to force fit company / individual solutions rather than seeking out fit-for-purpose through scenario planning exercises (developed specifically for the company).

I am a fanatic about scenario planning…I better be considering it is one of the two business tools I have been researching for the past four years to support my dissertation. You do not need to be a futurist or contract a consulting agency to craft your own scenarios. All you need is some thinking time. I know – Easier said than done. I do not recommend devising or evaluating scenarios in 15-minute increments between meetings, but I have found December to be a fine time for this work because many companies have a freeze on technology or new spending/projects and essentially shut down the last two weeks of the year. No matter what time of the year you choose to embark upon your scenario planning challenge, ensure you set aside a good chunk of time to engage in this deep work.

What is scenario planning?

Similar to many of the catalysts igniting the digital age in the 1960s, world events also influenced the way business strategy was being discussed and designed. The academic practice of scenario planning began with Herman Kahn’s work assessing the possibility of nuclear war and economic uncertainties of a potential boom in the 1980s. Scenario planning came into the business mainstream in 1971 within the Royal Dutch/Shell Company under the vision of Pierre Wack and Edward Newland (Schwartz, 1991). It is this process of examining potential futures and structuring narratives to influence business leadership and decisions adopted by Shell and other business titans over the course of three decades that will be the focus of this study and ultimate creation of a final framework adapted for cultural institutions.

Futurist and president of Global Business Network, Peter Schwartz, captured the theory of scenario planning in bestselling publication, The Art of the Long View, in 1991. Schwartz learned scenario planning under the tutelage of Pierre Wack. Scenario planning was crystalized for the business community formally in 1985 as part of a pivotal two-part Harvard Business Review series, ‘The Gentle Art of Reperceiving’ and ‘Shooting the Rapids,’ penned by Pierre Wack. It is this initial article that began to make transparent the “special sauce” employed by Royal Dutch/Shell to escape financial and industry turmoil in the 1980s (Schwartz, 1991). Wack introduced scenario planning as a shift in managerial mindset from the traditional forecast planning. Scenarios are a set of hypotheses with three prerequisite conditions of relevance, coherence, and likelihood (Godet and Roubelat, 1996). Scenarios are developed from “outer space,” meaning they incorporate information external of the company, such as business cycle information, technology trends, demand and supply pricing, and more quantitative variables (Wack). This type of data crowds the pages of forecast planning, yet does not address the “inner space” or the mind and personal factors managers use to judge these scenarios for potential business strategy and outcomes (Wack).

Scenario planning bridges the inner and outer spaces to surface the unknown and challenge assumptions required to address and influence actions of decision makers. Wack emphasizes the required philosophy embracing scenario planning is understanding the power of responsibility and ripples of impact at all levels and various timelines. Wack states, “…power comes with an understanding of the forces behind the outcomes. Scenarios must help decision makers develop their own feel for the nature of the system, the forces at work within it, the uncertainties that underlie the alternative scenarios, and the concepts useful for interpreting key data (1985).” It is useful to understand what resources the organization has at any given time and the extent to which those capabilities may be affected. The maturity model serves as the business object to understand the current state, but the value is only reaped when this understanding is paired with the drivers, interdependencies, and trends of possible futures impacting the tasks and timeline an organization may or should take to optimize assets.

The elements of forecast planning are essential ingredients for a scenario to plant inside the mind of a manager. Wack calls this process “rooting” because a narrative without such predetermined data “would be effective and alive in the minds of managers as long as a tree without roots (1985).” The futurist maintains the image of the tree to further relate scenarios to cherry trees where the fruit is not born on the trunk or larger boughs, but the smaller branches (Wack). The fruit of labor that is the outcome of a scenario requires the extraordinary foundation of the tree trunk, the protection and resourcing of the boughs, and the focused and agile investment channeling through the smaller branches. he tree is part of an ecosystem fueled by specific nutrients derived from its environment, developing a unique signature or terroir. The scenario outcome or fruit is only as sweet and rich in flavor as all of the elements required for it to take life.

Academia is not short on models or frameworks devised to shed light on topics of interest or bearing on cultural institutions and when aligned with thinking inspired by Wack, “scenarios can effectively organize a variety of seemingly unrelated economic, technological, competitive, political, and societal information and translates it into a framework for judgment – in a way that no model could do (1985).” Just as a cherry tree could not take hold on the Arctic, scenarios are meant to represent different worlds with various outcomes that are consistent with the internal fundamental structure or life force of the cultural institution. Scenarios represent the many pathways to achieve that life force (Wack). There is no one right answer, but a small number of narratives exploring these pathways that when synced with capability status of a maturity grid, will prepare an organization to weather any circumstance and bear fruit for the next generation.

What areas should we be questioning?

Many organizations take steps to question and plan for the future. While these actions are commendable, some of the planning exercises may be causing more harm than good by advocating deterministic thinking and unintentionally supporting the assumptions of decision makers. Schwartz recommends asking the following open questions to begin mapping the gaps and opportunities of the organization: “What challenges could the world present me? How might others respond to my actions (1991, p.3)?” Scenario planning is not limited to thinking or planning about negative-based futures and may also be applied for organizations dreaming about greater opportunity and viability in the years to come. Scenarios are narratives constructed around various plot points of quantitative and qualitative data that paint a distinct worldview for that scenario (Schwartz, 1991, p.4).

Forecast planning may be the default for decision makers because fault can be traced back to the past quantitative data extrapolated for future consumption without context. It appears easier to take this route for action rather than the continuous barrage of questions and challenging of status quo driven by the scenario planning process. Blame can and is shifted down instead of accountability being at the top for action of success and failure. Schwartz does not side-step failure as a reality, but strengthens the argument for scenario planning as giving the manager a degree of confidence not viable in any other planning situation and being prepared for any outcome. Schwartz councils, “It is this ability to act with a knowledgeable sense of risk and reward that separates both the business executives and the wise individual from a bureaucrat or a gambler (1991, p.6).”

Change is difficult for a company of any size in any industry. True transformation occurs when actions and mindsets align towards mutual positive outcomes. Wack termed this behavior modification as “reperceiving” or to sync one’s reality with reality as it is perceived or may become in time (Wack). The end result is not to prescribe exact outlooks, but begin emotional and actionable tangible preparations for addressing any significant potential future. These early futurists pioneered the blend of art and science that would become the art of the long view Schwartz and the next generation of futurists would document and explore.

Your challenge

Consider using the digital workplace predictions drafted by Paul Miller of the Digital Workplace Group to begin crafting your own possible, plausible, and probable scenarios to aid in your decision making and investment processes. This is hard work. It is messy work. You may encounter the pressure to produce tangible, actionable, and agile results, but the process of benchmarking and scenario planning is the necessary and actionable work required for a solid digital ecosystem foundation and flow of information.

If you would like examples of well-crafted narratives, check out Trendswatch 2018 by the American Alliance of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museum, depicting four narratives set in the year 2040. … You don’t have to be a cultural institution to benefit from these examples. The narratives were drafted by CFM by crowdsourcing ideas from the museum community.

Share this challenge with your community by asking them to help think about what the world would be like for your company in five, ten or twenty years.

Resources

To get you started, let me share with you some of my favorite resources to help create scenario narratives:

Letting go and making way for a new adventure

When I published my first blog post in 2004, I never could have imagined how much my life and career would change over fourteen years. During this time, my blog has transformed three times. Initially, my blog, Communicators Anonymous, focused on the trials of a young, early career PR professional. My obsession with data and how communicators should understand their communities beyond mere personas kicked off the second iteration of the blog known as, The Root Report. Then, in 2010, I dubbed my blog, Your Digital Tattoo, to convey and discuss the permanence of our individual digital bread crumb trails.

I won’t be renaming my blog with this next career transition. The digital tattoo concept is more relevant today. Instead, I will be expanding the discussion of digital transformation journeys, importance of community management, and the need for digital literacy development, beyond Corporate America. There is much that can be learned and transferred between the private industry and the cultural sector.

Since 2012, I have been working toward moving from the private industry to the cultural sector. It has been a long road for everyone involved! Earlier this year, I leapt without a net – I resigned from an executive position in a successful financial services company and focused on completing my PhD dissertation on digital data collection and use. What is the saying? When one door closes, another opens. I have accepted a 15-month research position in the United Kingdom! As anyone who has been through an international move knows, the visa process is complicated. Once all the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed, I will follow-up with more details about this position in future posts.

My social media habits and personal content marketing have changed dramatically over the past couple of years. When I was no longer the face or voice of a brand, I took the opportunity to take a step back and observe digital behaviors. Now, I am back and ready to contribute a consistent voice once again. On this blog, I will detail my new adventures in the cultural sector, as well as, further explore the digital neighborhood + urban planning ideas I have been road-testing for the past five years.

My curiosity is insatiable – I hope you will join me as I embark on this new adventure!

And what better time to announce the publication of The Routledge Handbook of Museums, Media and Communication. Inside, you will find my first published chapter in museum studies – Smart media: Museums in the new data terroir. I am honored to be included among such brilliant voices of our generation.

All details for how to order this text, are in this flyer: flyer-final-USD

#BookDNA Tribute for Museum Week (#BooksMW)

Books are an incredibly important part of what makes me, well, me. As I have stated many times before, I attempt to read 3-4 books a week. I read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Not every book is spectacular, and since I turned 30, I no longer feel the obligation to read the book cover-to-cover if my interest wanes. Several years ago, a brilliant idea (most likely due to no sleep) came to me and I mind-mapped every book I have ever read. I was able to visually recognize how one book led to another book and impacted a new way a thought or interest. This map became my #bookdna and I share the books I add to this map on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In honor of Museum Week and the corresponding daily theme/hashtag, #BooksMW, I will share a book that has had the most professional impact. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and published in 19161 remains the book that reinvigorated my drive to improve and evolve communities (physical AND digital). It is an extremely dense book and may be difficult to wade into as a newcomer to urban planning and community organization topics. I highly recommend reading Vital Little Plans by Jane Jacobs. This is a collection of short works that will give you a hint about the formidable Jane Jacobs (my hero). I like to read (or re-read, in my case), an essay in the early morning before I open my email and begin slogging through the day. Reading these essays helps me get into the right frame of mind and navigate the ups and downs of change management…because these woes are nothing new or extraordinary. I start the day by thinking, “What would Jane do?”

Why is this of interest for Museum Week participants? No matter your role in the museum industry, all are struggling to make our cultural institutions relevant. To look forward and fight our way into securing a place in the physical and digital spaces in the 21st Century, perhaps we should look back to those who have forged a path for us? It is only fitting to recognize a female author since the focus of this year’s Museum Week is female power! Looking outside of our industry and to the people who earned battle scars before our time, may help us find new ways of thinking that may be applied to museums. We are not alone in our fight. And never were. Everyone is fighting their own battles. How can we share and learn from each other?

Happy reading! Crack open a book, turn on your Kindle, or listen to an audio book. Consume books any way you see fit and create your own #bookdna.

(Only fitting I write this post while completing my third annual Museum Studies PhD Research Week at the University of Leicester!)

You are not job-shaped

Yesterday, I had the honor of being the Harvard Extension School degree awarding ceremony speaker for the Information Technology and Museum Studies graduates. I tried to remember my own graduation ceremonies and the words of wisdom shared with me by those speakers…and I could not recall a single thing. I know I am not alone in this lack of remembering your own commencement speeches. As I viewed my favorite commencement speeches to prepare my own, J.K. Rowling shares that she too could not remember her own speaker! There was a lot of pressure to get this speech right. The day was not about me, but for the graduates. And, knowing that I would have limited focus and Mark Zuckerberg would be giving the official commencement speech later in the day, I struggled with what to share and why to share it. After intense preparation [THANK YOU, Tamsen] and an epic graduation ceremony yesterday, I now share the speech with you:

In the latest Avengers movie, Tony Stark, is working with Dr. Bruce Banner to build an artificial intelligence defense system or what Stark refers to as a suit of metal around the world promoting peace in our time. This technology would put the Avengers out of a job and replace their somewhat flawed superhero characters with the one-track protocol of artificial intelligence creation, Ultron.

Okay, here it is, SPOILER ALERT. Ultron performs its duty with a single-minded focus – protecting humankind at any cost. Unfortunately, Ultron computes that to achieve peace, humans need to be saved from themselves and the protection of the Avengers. And ultimately, Ulton decided the best way to do this was to kill the humans. Ultron rigidly followed instructions and things went horribly wrong.

I am sure all of us can think of an example when we have weighed critical thinking over critical feeling and simply got this balance wrong.

Beyond my fan girl love of superhero films, I find real parallels with the world we live today. We cannot sidestep the debate of human versus the machine and we can’t ignore the power of and access to data in any field. And that’s a debate we have to face as we leave here and return to or seek new jobs.

No matter if you are here today because you are graduating with a degree in Information Technology or Museum Studies, each of you face a similar challenge: how do you take everything you have learned in this prestigious academic environment and apply them? How are you able to apply what you have learned in novel ways? And, how can you activate what you have been taught and experienced during a time when you are not just competing against yourselves and each other, but also machines?

I have sat where you are sitting right now. [Right about there, actually]. Most likely, you have already started the long slog of job searching and are endlessly scrolling through job postings or parsing through the LinkedIn contacts of anyone you have ever stood next to in line at a conference. 

Job descriptions are unrealistic. Unwittingly they are being written by super-computers and not humans. Job descriptions are primarily being written for a computer search. These descriptions are a frankensteined list of anything and everything the hiring organization does not have the skills or the time to do today, mixed with an equally long list of super human talents envisioned by wistful hiring managers. Ultron represents the danger when jobs are not well-defined and look how that turned out!

In the hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, an already staid job market is becoming further infected with the fear that machines will replace all jobs currently belonging to humans. What we have are fully dimensional humans who are not cookie cutter. We do not all have the same experiences and outlooks. And we have all of these people – all of us – competing for the same job description that doesn’t consist of more than 150 words. And that job description written by and served up by a computer, determines your future.

What is clear is that the jobs being marketed to us do not reflect the personality and curiosity we bring to these roles. We are not job-shaped. 

But we are tormented into unhealthy relationships with LinkedIn or Indeed job alerts by the fantasies of a wishful thinking executive with the expectation that one extraordinary person can do the role of twenty average employees. Not even one of the Avengers could fulfill these lofty requirements.

I know from experience what it can mean to try to be job-shaped and it didn’t work. When I entered the workforce as a communications professional, there were very few accepted varieties of my job. I was simply relieved to have landed a job in a volatile job market, but relief gave way to restlessness. I craved challenge. I felt I was in constant execution mode and never pausing to reflect why my team or I was taking action.

On my own, I discovered I loved numbers. I enjoyed playing with data, crafting it into usable insights, and then packaging the information into snackacble knowledge. This was a surprise because I had shied away from anything resembling math. I wanted to learn what made people tick, so I could become a better communicator. I started by learning more about people analytics. First, I read anything and everything I could get my hands-on and then I started conducting informational interviews of co-workers. I was so excited about what I was learning and how I was making the connection to my current job that I wanted to share this energy with the world.

So I started a blog. Okay, maybe I didn’t have the eyes and ears of the world, but the three readers who were not related to me, asked questions and pushed me to continue this exploration. I made the leap to researching more about customer relationship management systems, attended conferences, networked, and continued to blog. Eventually, senior executives in my department noticed this activity and I was transferred to a newly formed team to do what I had been operating on the side. Working out loud – meaning, sharing the frameworks I adapted or created and openly sharing my successes along with my own failures – had its ups and downs, but it led me to the connection and mentorship of the gentleman who offered me a job in what became a successfully acquired technology start-up.

If you had told me that I would have ended up here on this stage today or in my current job when I was that young woman in her first job after college, I would have laughed in your face.

There will be a frustration. A chasm exists between what is available in the job market and the ideal we have sought after putting in our time and rigor in our academic life. Do not despair. You have all the tools you need to be successful, but more often than not, success is not effortless, rather it is the outcome of continuous learning – but a kind that (at least so far) only we humans can do well.

My love of data began as a communications professional. Continuous learning and development compounded over the years as I evolved into a technical writer and community manager in the tech sector and regulated industries. Today, I am researching data collections and use within museums. The evolution of computation has been a major influence on my career path.

But it is not just computation. If it were solely about computation, we would fit these jobs. Siri and Alexa are phenomenal computers, but they are not great conversationalists. So there must be something more to this problem and solution. It is Albert Einstein who said, “Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.”

There is no doubt technology has improved the quality of our lives. The quality of our jobs, however, and what we make of ourselves is self-made. I greatly admire the work of leading researcher in the field of motivation, Carol Dweck, and her concept of the growth mindset meaning, “people believe their most basic abilities are derived from dedication and hard work.” This is both what makes us not job-shaped, but also what gives us the path to figuring out the future we want.

Case in point: Elon Musk. I think that name should ring a bell for everyone in the room. Musk has built four multibillion companies in four separate fields of software, energy, transportation, and aerospace. Multiple people have noted his work ethic and scenario planning method, but what fascinates me and has been a factor of my own career success, is that Musk has and is learning across multiple fields and not just those areas where he studied academically or had early accomplishments. According to a family source, Musk has routinely read two books per day since he was a teenager. Inconceivably that numbers somewhere around 23,000 books!

A growth mindset is something to be practiced consistently and frequently. I began daily practice the second I realized I was suffocating in the box of my first job. It has not always been an easy or a desired path.

How many of you would rather stick toothpicks in your eyes than crack open one more textbook right now? I know. I know. I felt that way too. But I have never been able to resist the urge of delving into the unknown – first with magazines in my interest of study and then branching out to seemingly disparate subjects and industries. When I parsed apart the concepts, rearranged, and put the pieces back together, the context changed and the product was fundamentally different.

I have been an adult student for sixteen years. I am also a mother of two daughters – one just became a teenager. I have juggled multiple years of course work and classroom time around my daughters, all the while, having a full-time job. I read three-to-four books a week. You will spot me on the train commute to any destination with my nose in a book. I have missed my stop on more than one occasion because I was so engrossed in the novel or magazine article 

I employ the best of technology and a time-turner to also be a PhD student at the University of Leicester. I share this with you not to earn a gold star, but to let you know that you are not alone in the struggle to become more than what you are now or how a job description may define you.

It is not just critical thinking that defines success. It is what I have learned from computation and through the experiences in using such methods. It’s the comprehension. The critical FEELING that all that additional learning brings to critical thinking.

While we need both computation and comprehension, comprehension trumps computation.

Which means that, to truly succeed not just tomorrow but into a future that is sure to blend the lines between human and machine, we must be humans first and technologists second.

And that means constantly learning beyond our job and industry. If we want to do more than artificial intelligence can do for us, then we need to be able to comprehend at a different level. This type of thinking can only happen if we think deeply about those things we have amassed in our structured and unstructured learning and experiences and look for different ways to apply these lessons.

And this is where the hope lies when it comes to job searches, because anybody can compete. Anyone can do critical thinking. Not everyone can combine critical thinking skills with comprehension. Coming out of Harvard you are more than well-equipped for critical thinking. Not everybody works equally hard on comprehension or critical feeling skills.

Carol Dweck captured the essence of this when she wrote, “We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

Reading or being exposed to insights and perspectives other than our own helps us cultivate our own humanity and become insider-outsiders. The ability to seek out methods of adoption and adaption is a superpower that will get you far in the corporate, non-profit, and academic worlds. Channel what you are observing works well or not so well today and then reimagine what we need to do to change ourselves and our industries for future success.

You have been training for this each and every day you have come onto this campus or signed into an online course. The human ability to continue to learn from our mistakes and experiences is at the core of who we are. The more you learn, the more you can learn. And it is those of us who learn beyond the confines of the classroom and our job – beyond the confines of what we have been trained and explore beyond the concepts introduced to us – it is those of us who will be successful. Commencement is not the end of the physical or virtual classroom.

Because comprehension trumps computation. We have to seek and create jobs that will mold to and welcome our vulnerabilities and the very essence of our humanity.

This is not an “either-or” or a ‘yes, and’ problem to be solved. Computation cannot exist without comprehension – and we would not want them to. If we had computation only, we will have created Ultron, but we know that critical feelings only is just as unrealistic. Rather it is when humanity works with technology, that we gain the best of both worlds.

That is what I have been able to do by writing my own job title and descriptions over the past decade. Some of you may say that is lucky, but I have seen people combine these skills and have repeated success. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, stated: luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And that is just what I did. I prepared 

I immersed myself in the cultures of these organizations – the majority within regulated industries. I discovered what made these organizations tick buried beneath deafening social silences. I sought underlying patterns and surfaced the missed opportunities and risks. All the while, I attempted to piece together parts of existing jobs with the purpose and tasks of my ideal job. I continue to break apart and piece together these criteria as my talents and skills evolve.

Today, I am ridiculously happy in a job where I did not settle for a position or a company that has me shackled to a fixed set of criteria. I am in a position where I am engaging my critical thinking and my critical feeling skills.

Here are the three things I have learned about how to be a human first and a technologist second. I hope they help you, too:

  1. Combine critical thinking with critical feeling as you find new ways to visualize a sea of data and mold data into information;
  2. Transform information into plain language knowledge to combine computation with comprehension; and
  3. I encourage you, just as I did, to share how you are combining what you learn and experience. Be open with the frameworks you create. Share your failures with each other. Because it is when we speak the truth about the good, the bad, and the ugly of our jobs and what we produce, that we can recognize the real problems, and then get to work on solutions.

It is when we put all of these actions together, that we can only truly feel fulfilled and that we have honored this education. By changing the way the world looks around us, we begin to see that we are bigger than the box the world tries to stuff us into.

So, if being squished into a job-shaped box doesn’t sound like fun to you, I challenge you to be too big for the box. Push from within to shape and expand the confines of the box around you. Or, change the box.

For those of you graduating today in the field of Information Technology, I urge you to not lose your humanity as you program our digital future. Humanize our algorithms!

For those of you graduating today in the field of Museum Studies, you are the culture carriers, keep us human as we absorb more effective and automated intelligence 

Because computation trumps comprehension, when we combine critical thinking with critical feeling we can shape a job to fit us, rather than suffer through trying to shape ourselves to fit that job.

We can all agree that the world is changing and familiar companies and well-established industries are struggling to keep or even recognize disruption is happening all around them. And to them. And within them.

But the real problem is the struggle individuals within these organizations face as they attempt to force-fit themselves into jobs that do not leave room for both critical thinking and comprehension skills.

There’s another Avengers character, known as Vision, that reflects this computation and comprehension fusion. Neither human nor computer, Vision explains to Ultron at the end of the movie that survival is the blended balance of computation and comprehension. He says, “Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.”

Today, we are sitting amongst superheroes. You are extraordinary because you have put in the time and the work to evolve yourself. That doesn’t end today. You have to work at being a superhero each and every day. We are all flawed. You will succeed and you will fail on any given day, but you can choose what you take from those experiences. Because you are human. And you comprehend, you don’t just compute.

How do we become the change we seek? By constantly reassessing what is “normal,” you can shift your view of the world and gain greater perspective Critical feeling is when: You must learn to walk in another’s shoes, see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and speak in their language.

Only then, will we be able to develop products and services made by humans and enabled by technology…and not inadvertently create an Ultron to save the world, but save ourselves by ourselves.