SXSW POV: It’s OK to be Rusty

Luis Acosta, Associate Creative Director, Art, McCann Health New York 

Viewing SXSW panels this past week, the most common opening by a presenter was them expressing how great it was to be together in person again. Most speakers felt invigorated by talking to a room full of warm bodies rather than at cold glass, some even sounded emotional. It should come as no surprise that on the 2-year anniversary of the pandemic there is a palatable sense of people missing being together, in the same room and in close proximity. And while this may not be true for every single person, it does seem to be true for a substantial number of people. 
Putting aside the real and painful losses many of us felt when the pandemic started, there was immense innovation from an industry standpoint. Existing companies were forced to fast-forward their remote working initiatives, if they even had them, and new companies took the world by storm; today, Zoom is as ubiquitous as Uber or Google. And while these new channels of communication were being opened, we were quietly closing others.  
Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters,” host of The New York Times podcast, “Together Apart,” and the opening speaker at SXSW, said "Output requires input." Feedback is vital for many of us, and over the past 24 months, we've lost a few ways that we receive that feedback. For example, as a creative who presents ideas, I like to be able to read the room to know if I'm bombing or killing it.  

As someone who mentors young designers, I need to be able to sense the frustration on their shoulders when they are struggling. Not being in close proximity has limited our ability to read each other. Specifically, healthy conflict is being hidden behind turned-off cameras, short Teams messages and declined calendar events. In this current set-up we are easily equipped to ignore the uncomfortable conversations rather than meeting them head-on and working through divergence. For those of us that have worked in mental health, we know there are implications to continuously shuddering away from necessary conversations and confrontations. Ignoring them is not the right strategy; being fully remote enables these bad habits. 
Today, we have proven remote work is a possibility, but, being in the healthcare industry, we should acknowledge it should not be the ONLY way of working because, frankly, it may not be healthy for everyone. There are fundamental soft skills being lost in digital translation. There are people who feel a video call can't quell their loneliness. Today, agencies are tasked with being both flexible and pragmatic when asking staff to return to office.  

As leaders in the healthcare industry, we should approach this head-on, from a scientific and medical perspective and innovate new ways of doing business together. A very interesting project discussed by Edwina Fitzmaurice, Domhill Hernon and Harry Yeff during their talk “Not Missing a Beat: AI and the Future of Creative Human Potential” dealt with enhanced artificial intelligence. Domhill spoke about bridging the physical world and the digital world and finding new ways of perceiving information. For example, clothing stores can use digital avatars to help shoppers find the perfect fit for an outfit. But, argued Edwina, how does it make you feel when you put on that blouse? These are the sensory issues that Earnst and Young are tackling. In a world where working in the Metaverse is a real possibility, how do we combine digital environments with the very human sense of tactility and para-language? The latter being the non-linguistic information, the unspoken communication, that Harry is focusing on while he creates his “Second Self” application. “Second Self” is a program that essentially duplicates Harry and creates a digital image that sounds just like him with all the language nuances and AI learning from his many hours of data. Perhaps there is a solution to how we work together in this enhanced AI technology? A quick hashtag search shows #BetterWorkingWorld is gaining some traction, perhaps others are thinking the same? 
To again quote Priya, "How we gather is up for grabs." Today we are all discovering new ways and methods of creating meaningful connections. We must also not ignore the younger generation who might not yet know what they are missing. We in the healthcare industry have access to the data that could lead to better ways of connecting. It's our responsibility to contribute to the conversation, regardless if that conversation happens in person over a cup of coffee or via Zoom in comfortable pj's.