My Invitation to the Davos Summit on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Okay, so I didn’t actually get invited to this week’s summit in Davos of the World Economic Forum to discuss the implications of the technological revolution on the future of the modern world. (I think it was between me and Leo DiCaprio for a spot.) But I have certainly been a virtual fly on the wall. The concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the dialogue around it should be required reading for everyone.

There is no question about the transformative power of the digital revolution we’re in the middle of. Indeed, the “Uberization” of products and processes is well underway. But what about the climate and culture of receptivity with which these innovations are greeted? Isn’t that almost as important as the technology developments themselves?

Examine Your Lens

Early in my career when I was a corporate finance lawyer, I remember talking with a senior leader of a large bank about the then-revolutionary ATM technology. “It’s just a fad,” he pronounced proudly. “Banking is a relationship business and people want to deal with their local teller.” Try to remember the last time you dealt with a bank teller and it will likely be because of limitations of the online or ATM technology. (That bank, as it happens, is no longer around.)

People often have an almost unconscious, white-knuckled hold on maintaining the status quo; this takes work and leadership to overcome. We need to make sure we examine the lens through which we view change in order to enjoy its benefits.

Resist the Urge to Resist Change

One of the reasons that the impacts of many of these digital platforms prevail mostly on the consumer side of our world is that individual decisions—not corporate ones—drive adoption. To have the Fourth Industrial Revolution realize its potential transformative impacts, we need to spend as much time and attention on creating an environment that enthusiastically embraces innovation and change, as we do on exploring the technology that enables it.

We see a small microcosm of this challenge in our business at Benevity, both with large enterprise companies and recipient charities. Our user-centric platform is innovative and is constructively disrupting a corporate giving and charitable landscape that has not changed meaningfully in 20 years. Like many Fourth Industrial Revolution platforms, it combines technologies to not only drive engagement, efficiencies and experience with users, but also improves the speed, time and manner of processing of donations to global charities.

Client program administrators get excited about the software and its transformative potential to infuse purpose into their corporate culture, but more often than not end up executing their existing programs and approaches through software that was intentionally built to power innovation around giving and volunteering, not just replace paper forms with a digital version. Desired outcomes improve, but not by the quantum leaps that might be possible by optimizing program design and execution for the enabling technology. Champions for change and program redesign sometimes lack budget or senior management support. By contrast, companies that make a point of using our technology as a jumping off point for their own creativity around how to engage people with their brand and Goodness initiatives have wildly higher-performing programs that deliver business and social impact.

The bottom line is we need to resist the urge to resist change. Technology enables change; it is only people and culture that can deliver on its potential.

Taking the Revolution Beyond Davos

While the transformative power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the risk that new technologies will be used to widen inequality and power selfish or xenophobic tendencies, it can also facilitate generosity at scale. Goodness is cross-cultural, knows no geographic bounds, and when executed with authenticity can create transformative impacts, both business and social.

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, presents an inspiring vision:

“In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to ‘robotize’ humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.”

Business leaders must seize the opportunity to use technology to infuse purpose into their corporate cultures in a way that drives meaningful change.

For the second conversation in our Purpose@Work series -- a discussion designed to explore how we can infuse a deep sense of purpose into our work -- we're going to focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.

How are you using technology to elevate purpose in your organization, community, or project? Let us know at or by tweeting with #PurposeAtWork.