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How to create positive impact with technology? Foster critical thinking

Léon de Bakker
July 13, 2020

Curating an organization that doesn’t take anything for granted

Do you want to create positive impact with technology? It's really up to you to choose a positive or negative impact.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Technology is, just like steel or words, neither good nor bad. It is a tool without emotion nor consciousness. Yet, it’s application can be a powerful force for good. But also, technology can destroy value in unforeseeable ways. A conscious approach and critical thinking will help you create positive impact with technology.

This post is part of a series about technology and organizational positive impact

  1. A guide to organizational positive impact, tech edition
  2. Doing good drives profitability
  3. Major events and big statements
  4. Be consistent about your positive impact
  5. A strong purpose proposition requires agility and resilience
  6. Agility and organizational complexity, beware of the present
  7. How to create positive impact with technology? Foster critical thinking
  8. Technology as an accelerator for positive impact
  9. Assess how technology shapes your organizational positive impact
  10. Reframe technology’s purpose and strengthen organizational alignment

How technology helps preserve the rain forests in Indonesia

Technology can help achieve a sustainable way to produce palm oil. Palm oil comes predominantly from Indonesia. Indonesia is also home to rainforests that are the most biodiverse places on Earth. Economically, palm oil is much more lucrative than biodiversity. The effect, I’m cutting some corners here, is illegal and widespread deforestation.

A Dutch university and a Dutch company joined forces. Now they use data from a radar-equipped satellite that monitors the rainforest in Indonesia. The software interprets the data that comes from space and shows, with great detail, where and which type of vegetation is lost and what has come in return. 10 multinationals such as Unilever, PepsiCo, and Nestlé use this information to have an informed conversation with their palm oil suppliers. Which in turn brings closer a more sustainable approach.

Videoconferencing gone bad

Technology is an indispensable tool for organizations to positively impact the planet and society. But be aware of its unintentional side-effects.

At first glance Zoom, a video conferencing application provides a wonderful service. It connects people across the globe. The use of Zoom has exploded due to the isolation that comes with the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The peak-number of daily users went from 10 million at the end of December to 200 million in March. With that increase in users comes an increase in scrutiny. As it turns out, Zoom sends user data to Facebook, wrongly claimed end-to-end encryption, allowed meeting hosts to track attendees, left Mac users vulnerable to having their microphones and webcams hijacked and users experienced uninvited and unwanted attendees, often to shout abuse, share pornography or make racist remarks.

Small incidents and mundane acts

These two examples of sustainable palm oil and Zoom are straightforward. Most people will choose health over destruction. Safety over abuse. If similar cases arise within your organization, I wish for a smooth and simple process leading to a quick resolve.

Your big incidents and your response show your stakeholders the strength of your purpose proposition. They enable you to lead by example and make it possible for others to follow.

Your organization’s small incidents and daily almost mundane acts are equally important. They are hardly noticeable and yet they do add-up. Jointly, those small acts cumulate into interwoven patterns of ways of working. They will create automatic and unquestioned behavior. It will become the way things are done.

A wide lens and critical thinking

Some level of automatic behavior is essential and welcome as long as there’s space to correct course, also in small ways. If you want your organization to be able to deal with shifting contexts and stay aligned to your purpose proposition, then you need to stay conscious in your actions. Apply a wide lens.

To achieve this, foster critical thinking. Encourage an environment that is open to question the ordinary and the exceptional alike. One that embraces constructive and solid feedback and cuts through bias, ignorance, stereotypes, automatic behavior and groupthink.

In my next post, “Technology as an accelerator for positive impact”, more about applying critical thinking and a wide lens to your technology landscape. You’ll find my posts and more at SogetiLabs.


Defining critical thinking

Critical thinking is an umbrella for underlying skills and approaches. Since there is no commonly agreed upon definition nor framework, you need to define critical thinking in the context of your own organization.

To me, critical thinking is the ability to keep an open and curious mind and to voice oneself in a logical, empathic and independent manner. Critical thinking is especially important when the going gets tough. And yet it’s at those moments of difficulty when barriers to critical thinking are most evident. For instance, due to complexity, ambiguity, sensitivity, time constraints, incomplete or incorrect information, group pressure or possible rewards or punishments.

Curate a critical thinking-friendly environment

The good news is, you can help your organization overcome barriers. The disclaimer to the good news. Critical thinking is essential for a resilient positive impact. So, if you want to use technology for good, define and operationalize critical thinking. For this, curate a critical thinking-friendly environment on an individual, value chain and organizational level to achieve the desired skill set, mindset, group dynamics and policies. Help shape conversations by being clear about the why, objectives, limitations and boundaries.

Critical thinking will be in high demand

You won’t be the only one aiming to improve on critical thinking. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, critical thinking is amongst the skills employers consider most important today and expect to be trending by 2022. See table 3 of the report “Towards a Reskilling Revolution”. So, you may need to step up your game, if you want to stand out from the crowd and attract and keep talent that has mastered this particular skill.

About the author

Lead Improvement Coach | Netherlands
Léon leads digital transformations with a core focus on future-proofing organizations and putting purpose into action. Aligning teams, business and IT across all layers of the organization and its key stakeholders with a wide lens and an open mindset. He studied business economics, has IT experience since 2001 and has supported organizations with their transformation journeys since 2003. Léon is passionate about all that is tech, new gadgets and visual design. Currently, Léon is working on connecting purpose and IT as key drivers for organizational change and exploring innovative ways to redefine and remeasure growth and success in a world in urgent need of more businesses moving positive impact front and center.


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