Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!
A few days ago, I was in a meeting, and I was distracted by a small chair. I first noticed how unnoticeable it was. I’d been in the room for an hour before I even saw it was there. I started wondering how it was manufactured, and my first guess was it was mass-produced and factory-built, probably by a robot. That gave me no joy.
Then I thought about how a human could have made it. I imagined producing the mould, pouring in the material, and then sanding down the final product. I considered the design and planning that would’ve gone into it. I realized the challenge the designer faced: making the chair perfect enough to be considered quality, but not so perfect that it would appear to have been made by a robot. Seeing the humanity in design is necessary to make it resonate with the consumer.
When I go through the speaker list of our upcoming event, I start to consider the intersection of tech and humanity — or actually, like whenever I think about something, it’s the people involved that first come to mind. I’m delighted to see so many friendly faces I recognize. I’ve met a bunch of them before and the experience has always been delightful.
You would think these famous and influential speakers would be busy and impatient, maybe even arrogant. But my experience has actually been the opposite. The more famous and powerful, the more personal and human they seem to be.
And now that I think of it, it might even be the secret to their success: being friendly, open, and easy to get along with is a powerful quality to possess. Whenever I bump into Steve Huffington, Corinne Vigreux, Nir Eyal, or Ben Hammersly, I’m always amazed at how interested and personable they are.
But while I’m amazed by these people, I guess it’s no coincidence we’ve found each other. TNW positions itself as ‘the heart of tech.’ Our whole focus is on humanity in tech, so we attract — and work well with — the more ‘human humans’ around us.
Still, it’s heartwarming to see these people again at our event and think back to some of these fond memories. Dancing on a beach with Steve Huffman and talking openly about our insecurities around being CEO. Or how passionately Ben Hammersly spoke about how his daughter persuaded him to get their nails done, and how he proudly wears nail polish now.
I don’t think these stories are secondary to my business. I don’t see them as a ‘cool extra’ but as a fundamental part of TNW. Often, people who attend our events — or read our stories, or visit our spaces — say there’s something different about us that they can’t quite put their finger on. We even struggle how to explain this ourselves sometimes. But this is it.
Everything we do is personal. Humanity leaks out of every pore of what we do and show. The speakers we have on stage don’t hide their humanity behind a veneer of professionalism. They laugh on stage, as well as cry. They bring their insecurities and passions. They talk about business, tech, structures or ideas, but always from the heart and from their own experience.
We are professionals and all our work shows professional quality. But I would never want people to think our products are mass-produced, without love, doubt, and passion. I would never design and produce a chair that would be an unnoticeable factory-made block. My chair will always reflect the love, passion, and difficulties behind its creation.
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