Technology has been at the centre of all the great advances in human evolution, from the first time our ancestors picked up a stick through to the printing press, the industrial revolution, and more recently, the internet and mobile.
Working in the technology industry means that we get to have the power to influence our user’s lives.
In recent times the smartphone has perhaps had the single biggest impact on the way that humans behave. But as every Spiderman fan knows, with great power comes great responsibility.
Technology is agnostic. It doesn’t care how it is used. It is the people that use it that decide. We choose to use it for good.
Tech for good
We didn’t start as a tech for good agency. Like most startups, we were too busy trying to find clients.
But from our early success with Esillor and the British Red Cross, we soon realised the huge positive impact we could make on the world with mobile technology.
We also soon noticed that the “for good” work that we did was why we got out of bed in the morning. It was meaningful and rewarding. And the thing that the team was most passionate about.
That all adds up to a whole load of motivation, and when people are motivated they produce their best work.
I’m a firm believer that if you can find something you’re good at, that you enjoy, then you should do that thing. A lot.
So that is why we focus on tech for good. It’s where we can have the most meaningful impact. And having a meaningful impact is the most rewarding thing you can do, it’s where we are at our best, and because of that it gives us a real competitive advantage. It’s where we win.
But what is tech for good? How do we decide what we do want to work on and what we turn down?
I’d love to say that there is a hard and fast rule. But there isn’t. Ultimately it’s down to your moral compass, and how you feel about a project.
To add to the ambiguity the entirety of the “for good” world is a mass of contradictions. Go to any third sector conference and you will hear people who have very strong opinions about different charities and their missions.
Whether they are paying people too much or too little.
Whether they are monolithic bureaucracies stuck in the past or fly-by-night cowboys risking their donor dollars on the latest fad.
And when you get into the world of corporate social responsibility, it gets even murkier. Who is paying for this and why? Motivations behind the money can be a rabbit hole that leads to analysis paralysis and stops projects in their tracks.
To help us navigate through the moral maze we try to stick to three rules:-
1. Don’t criticise from the sidelines
Everyone likes a moan from time to time. Let’s face it, being angry and annoyed is enjoyable. It gets the adrenaline pumping and is a great motivator.
But for it to be meaningful you need to act. Criticising from the sidelines isn’t going to make a difference. If you know something is wrong get in the game and change it.
Getting involved is your best opportunity to learn.
It forces you to engage with the issue, and get a better understanding of why the bad stuff is happening, which in turn gives you a better understanding of how to stop it.
2. Focus on the impact
When making the tough decisions we always focus on the end game.
What is the impact that this project is going to have? Is it going to help change peoples lives for the better? If we don’t do it will peoples lives be worse?
Focussing where possible on the real impact takes some of the emotion out of the decision.
In the “for good” world, this can be difficult. Anyone who has read Freakanomics (and if you haven’t you really should) knows that the actual impact of any type of intervention is almost impossible.
The environment is a great example of a complex eco-system, where it can be impossible to understand the impact ahead of time.
But it’s important to temper caution with inactivity (see rule 1).
3. Don't let the bastards win
You can’t win a fight with one arm tied behind your back. And there are plenty out there that will not be worrying about the damage they will be causing whilst pursuing their own goals.
Unfortunately to have the impact required you have to try to beat them at their own game. So be prepared to ruffle a few feathers, elbow a few people out of the way and take advantage of the opportunities that arise to give you the best chance have of maximising your impact (see rule 2).