How To Stay Human In A Digital Age

A review of "The Empathic Enterprise: Winning By Staying Human In A Digital Age" by Mark A. Brown

Merchant Trask Press (June 2016)

It feels at times as if we are approaching a tipping point, as if our society is evolving into a mob of Internet-addicted lemmings ready to tumble into an abyss of virtual vulgar rudeness, clutter and digital Taylorism. It saddens and worries me, and that is why I am writing this book.

– (The Empathic Enterprise, p76).

Mark Brown kindly sent me a copy of his book, The Empathic Enterprise. I was inspired by the passion he shows for “daring to stay human in our increasingly digital age” (ibid.), and wanted to review it here. (In the rest of this post, page numbers in brackets refer to the version of the book listed above.)

Mark A. Brown, MA, MBA, PCC

As the CEO of a tech start-up, the digital age excites me. As an executive coach, I know that human connection in business can be powerful. In the quotation above, Brown expertly diagnoses an acute issue at the intersection of these two worlds.

Make no mistake: The Empathic Enterprise is no Luddite tome. Brown is positive and optimistic about our potential for progress in the digital age. The book addresses “the widening gap emerging between the embrace of IT on one hand and the necessity to generate trust, empathy, and rapport in business on the other” (p3). Within IT, Brown’s focus is on Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), and Brown’s definition of an Empathic Enterprise is “an organization that embraces the enormous potential of information technology with a clear strategic commitment to stay human in an increasingly digital age” (p5).

For me, the beating heart of the book is the strategic question of how business leaders can harness ICT while staying human themselves, and building organizations that cherish humanity. Throughout, Brown pleads for greater thoughtfulness in making use of people and their relationship skills in business, with practical examples of what that means.

Brown describes what winning means, and what the problem is, admirably combining art and science. At one point Brown compares the business problem to a tapestry and at another he references “credible evidence of steep declines in personal empathy in the tech-savvy millennial generation” (p83), citing a meta-analysis in the Personal and Social Psychology Review Journal.

I also loved Brown’s productivity argument for empathy. (This grabbed my attention for two reasons: Coachify™‘s  tag line is “redefining productivity”, and authors frequently balk from precision in such an elusive area as productivity.)  In logical form, Brown’s argument proceeds as follows:

  • If leaders show empathy
  • then greater relationships and trust with employees follow
  • which leads to more collaboration in work
  • which tends to increase productivity

The book left me wondering how Brown’s insights relate to other key findings on staying human (such as the research underlying the FIRO Element B psychometric), and to significant technology developments such as wearables and Artificial Intelligence, the latter claimed by some to threaten our humanity (see discussions by Tech Times and the BBC). Perhaps a discussion for the second edition?

In summary, The Empathic Enterprise is an excellent handbook for staying human in the context of challenges posed by ICT today. This book is a rare find in that it combines historical context (the development of ICT) with practical application through case studies, summaries and personal challenges from Brown the coach.

What next? 

Buy Mark’s book! (I’m not on commission.) And share your comments about it below and on Amazon.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “How To Stay Human In A Digital Age

  1. Dear Nick, many thanks for the thoughtful review and particularly for your suggestions for further investigation. As you point out, advances in AI, wearables and empathetic functionality are transforming the technical and commercial landscape as we speak, and it behoves us to ask what these developments will mean for our humanity. I look forward to continuing the conversation! MAB