The Tech Whisperer

I’m not going all softy, new age psycho-babble on you with the idea of a Tech Whisperer. I’m just suggesting that some of the perspectives and tactics of the whisperer crowd might actually be effective at improving the technology/human partnership, be it in business or the wider social sphere.

A digital tsunami has come roaring through our lives in the last decade or so. The ring tones and Facebook, the credit scores and identity theft, targeted marketing and buyers clubs, blue-ray that and hi-def this, it all seems little concerned or even aware of the gentler, more engaged, almost miraculous “whisperer” variants of animal training and control. Instead, us high-tech cowboys saddle up our boxes and applications and herd those poor dumb pack humans into our corrals of Digital pre-conception, by and large ignoring their bellows of distress and obvious pain. We’re much more Yosemite Sam than Cesar Millan.

Even the most fleeting perusal of the internet turns up literally thousands of references to whisperer variants for dogs, cats, birds, lions, bears, and… well you get the idea. All the various species in the whisperer club share a common trait. They’re social animals. They have highly evolved social structures and means of communication within those social structures. The whisper approach, regardless of species, emphasizes getting tuned into to the social structure and the communications that are central to maintaining it. That “quieter” communication and social interaction approach becomes the basis for forming a partnership rather than the more physical and coercive “loud” approach of say “breaking” a horse.

Still not getting the Analog/Digital interest? What’s the dominant animal on the planet, the most intensely hard-wired social and communicative species? Anyone who answered “The Na’vi from the movie Avatar” needs to take their meds and have Mom warm up some milk for them. I’m referring, of course, to us, human beings.

Becoming a Tech Whisperer
If we’re going to talk Tech Whisperers, we have to talk about roles first. Cesar Millan, the wildly successful Dog Whisperer, is pretty clear on this point of roles. Every show starts with his introduction, “I’m Cesar Millan. I rehabilitate dogs, and I train humans” before he plunges off into some scene of domestic canine chaos and in the first few minutes has a Tasmanian devil of a dog morphed into a happy lap pup.

So wait a second. Great results, but what did he say at the beginning? He TRAINS humans? I thought this was about training dogs. Well apparently not so much. The dogs come more or less hardwired with predictable responses within their social lexicon. The humans are supposed to be the pack leader, but that leadership is not assumed. It is earned and in particular is earned by becoming savvy about the social lexicon of that particular species of pack.

Learning the Ways of the Human Pack
If we want to become hi-tech whisperers, we have to drain the useless drama out of the development and application of technology. If we want to achieve seeming miraculous acceptance and pleasure with our ‘wares, then we have to become savvy about the firmware of the human sub-conscious. It’s the tech whisperer’s job to bridge between the explicit syntax and precise design of the boxes to the less tangible, but no less real social wiring of the human pack.

So the next time you’re asked to wade into a swirling, snarling pack of disgruntled users or customers or execs, don’t get too wrapped up in the snapping, whining and verbal outrage.  Yes, ignore it at your own peril, but don’t let it become your entire focus. Put all the words, all the energy, in a wider context. Notice the non-verbal interactions, the gestures, the choice of media (e-mail, phone, meeting, whatever), the types of words as much as the actual content. Are people really angry? Or are they more afraid or insecure? Are they aggressive or just really really uncomfortable and not able to express it effectively.

What can you do to address that underlying fear, the lurking discomfort?

Training Yourself
We have to listen to and acknowledge all the messages, have to recognize the individuals across the table in all their conscious and subconscious glory. But don’t forget to look at your side of the table. It’s as much about the mechanics of your response as about the content. Pay particular attention to yourself and your posture, your cadence and tone, your actions and your volume. Do they feed the useless drama, or drain it? If you’re not playing to the underlying social dynamics as well as the explicit messages, you’re probably not being as effective as you could be.

Becoming a tech whisperer, learning to consistently and predictably enrich the human/technology partnership, isn’t the work of a moment, or some parlor trick to be quickly learned and flashed to amaze a wondering crowd of executives. It requires attention to and study of how the human pack is wired. And it requires diligent and honest self-appraisal for how you, the technology surrogate, plug into that wiring. If you’re successful, the end result is a more humane technology that has a broader impact and is more easily assimilated into our personal and professional lives.

Additional Reading
What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, Malcolm Gladwell, from Amazon.com

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