Technology Can’t Transform Itself, Even with Sexy Tech Requirements

November 29, 2021
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I went to a venture capital networking event and found myself speaking with people not just from VC, but also cybersecurity and even public accounting. When I network with new people, I ask them what they need to do their jobs. 

I wait to see how long it takes before they mention people. 

A half-hour into the event, a big-four consulting company security specialist was telling me about the eight layers of cybersecurity. He dutifully listed them off, and at the eighth and final layer, he finally said “people.” 

“Don’t you need people to execute the other seven layers?” I asked.

“Yes,” he nodded.  

“So, aren’t the first seven layers really people, and you just repeat ‘people’ for the eighth?” 

He paused and then agreed, “Huh,” he remarked, “I never thought of that.” 

The truth is, no one ever thinks of people when they’re outlining their requirements for success. People, alignment, and emotional intelligence (EQ) are just taken for granted, dismissed as “soft skills” that are somehow blended into the hard requirements for a project or initiative.   

Dedicating time toward meeting your people’s needs is never “sexy,” and it’s why so many digital transformations fail. 

The need for alignment and emotional intelligence 

At this networking event, I watched these worlds come together. And I realized: this need to point out the value of alignment and emotional intelligence—these “soft skills,” as they’re called—is universal. We must connect with each other for digital transformations and other initiatives to succeed.  

Whether the transformation involves venture capital or cybersecurity, technology cannot transform itself—no matter how “sexy” those requirements get. 

A common thread underlies each requirement on every initiative: Before we can accomplish anything, we need people to relate to each other and pursue alignment. That requires emotional intelligence. 

Venture Capital

In VC, investors need to understand founders. They need to see which ones can make it and have the EQ required to relate to their customers. They must be able to understand people, their own decision-making, and the human behaviors that drive success in the deals they pursue. 

When I ask VCs what they invest in, they talk about founder temperament. Some say it comes down to how much compassion they have for their audience and market and how they relate to them. That’s relationship-building and EQ. 

They say that success isn’t just the product being great at whatever it does; it’s also about putting people first. 

Cybersecurity

In cybersecurity, we need the EQ to see that people are enmeshed across all the layers of cybersecurity, and people are so critical to success that they appear again, in their own layer at the end. Realizing this requires a change in mindset. It means we must embrace the value of skills that our business cultures often dismiss as “soft.” 

In order to succeed in any business, people need to know the pulse of the customer. They need passion. They need to understand the customer’s needs so they will be able to communicate their value proposition to them. 

That’s critical and intrinsic to the operations and tactics of technical work in each of these disciplines and beyond. But that point is so often lost. 

Break down those silos

We live and work in silos. We silo technical work here, communications over there. Then, we have a silo for leadership and another around culture. The initiative itself becomes yet another silo. 

When we have silos, we cannot have connection and alignment. Initiatives fail—even when we accomplish all the “hard-skill” requirements. And we’re left pondering why. 

In tech, strategy + capital + requirements ≠ success

In digital transformations, the tech does not transform itself. But tech initiative leadership often thinks in terms of budgets and line-item deliverables—like websites, data warehouses, operational CMS. They have the strategy and the anticipated outcomes. Then, they realize that something is intrinsically missing when they throw money at different pieces of the initiative and fail to get their results.  

It’s the people element that’s missing and they struggle to voice that. No one has ever said to me, “hey, I need someone to help with my people.” 

Instead, project leadership teams focus on requirements without realizing that the missing piece of their ask is people until they come back, much later in the project, and say that the most valuable thing provided was the interpersonal alignment.  

Rethinking soft skills

Why are soft skills so important, yet dismissed so quickly? Why aren’t interpersonal alignment and EQ prioritized as often as the more quantifiable “hard skills?” 

It seems like nothing in business that’s worth executing or that’s deemed sexy is ever called soft. 

But this is the central theme that runs through these male-dominated fields of VC and cybersecurity—without considering the human element, without taking a fresh look at the value of skills dismissed as soft or secondary, transformations in cybersecurity, VC, and everywhere fail—and at eye-opening rates. 

Maybe it’s time to rethink what’s “sexy” and look with fresh eyes at the “soft” skills we’re so quick to silo in practice or dismiss as secondary to success.

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