It’s a bizarrely bleak period. There are so many challenges facing business and tech, that it’s hard to keep up. We’re on the brink of a recession — and may already be in one. That’s largely why Techonomy chose “Reset + Restore” as our theme for 2019. We asked some of our community’s smartest minds — including people who’ll be at our next retreat — to answer this question: What must business and tech do to reset and restore itself in the year ahead?

Here’s what we found: a growing view that businesses have a responsibility to work for the benefit of society, not simply to pursue profit. Business must operate with more transparency. People expect meaningful collaboration across sectors, organizations and teams. The rules, traditions and definitions of the past don’t work as well in a highly diffused world. Here’s something else we heard: diversity is indispensable, and employees at all levels expect to be empowered. 


Some takeaways:

“We have to stand for equality and justice. The fundamental reason the banking system was created—the democratization and the safety of money—has to be pervasive in every way that we think about our role in society.”

–Cathy Bessant, Chief Operations and Technology Officer, Bank of America

“The U.S. must embrace a new form of capitalism. We need to shift our focus from big companies and instead focus on the players that can create jobs and income opportunities in an inclusive way for all citizens. I’m betting startups will be the ones to rise to the top – but they can’t do that alone. The U.S. is the only major country in the world without a national, government-level startup agenda. The next administration in the White House must prioritize digital, inclusive job creation, entrepreneurship, and startup growth—if we want to continue competing on the global stage as the leading startup nation.”

–John Chambers, CEO, JC2 Ventures

“It’s time for a wakeup call for ethical leadership in technology. We’re at an inflection point—we’re experiencing a revolution in the role and meaning of technology in our lives. Given the increasingly pervasive, and invasive, impact of technology on how we work and live, ethics is no longer something you can afford to think about after the fact. Now more than ever it’s imperative that ethics and responsibility play an indispensable role in a company’s strategy, culture, technology and operations.”

–Paul Daugherty, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Accenture

“It’s unrealistic to expect business or government to throw down their arms and stop manipulating people. Even the ones with originally good DNA often get caught up by their metabolism as they grow and become increasingly driven by their business models. The solution is to offer radical transparency and give people the knowledge and power to manipulate themselves. Help people understand the motivations that rule these institutions. Use big data to help them understand the trajectories they’re following and the likely outcomes, in concrete terms. Help individuals tell the truth to themselves, and to one another.”  


–Esther Dyson, Executive Founder, Way to Wellville

“Business and technology companies need to be forthright about the mutual value proposition that exists between them and their customers, users and consumers. What’s in it for them and what’s in it for the public. In a highly interconnected world of big data, companies must demonstrate their ability to operate in the interest of social good. They must serve as champions for protecting consumers, whether in new product offerings, the use of data, or data security.”

–Mehmood Khan, CEO, Life Biosciences Inc.

“If a tech company made a big investment in a new product initiative without achieving tangible results, shareholders would rightly demand that something be done to fix the situation. Yet every year, big tech firms spend millions on diversity and inclusion initiatives with very little to show for their efforts. We need to be as diligent about fixing the diversity problem as we are in triaging stagnating products.”

–Bo Ren, Ecosystem Director, Samsung Next 

“Tech should help restore our collective faith in our democratic institutions. The last few years have clearly shown that our democratic norms can be shaken to the core. Social media companies, search providers, and digital advertising platforms must commit to becoming part of the electoral politics solution — which means those platforms must prioritize balanced discourse, not just profit margins.”

– Pinky Weitzman, consultant, former Chief Digital Officer, ACLU

“Leaders in tech and business must take active steps to recruit in places you don’t normally go—including Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Be willing to sponsor someone who does not remind you of yourself. That’s the key to building a truly inclusive workforce—and driving business results.”

– Bari A. Williams, diversity/inclusion strategist, VP of Legal, Business and Policy Affairs at All Turtles, a studio for AI-focused entrepreneurs

We also culled a few relevant thoughts from other leaders in business, government and society. Some takeaways:

“Tell the consumer what their data is worth, and then give every consumer the right to get that data back. Facebook and Google – they hold out their platforms to the consumer as being free, but of course it’s not free. We’re paying for it with our data, and we want to give consumers the power to know exactly what that data is worth, and then to say, ‘no.’”

– Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri

“I have a dream: that governments, political parties and corporations grasp the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis and come together despite their differences—as you would in an emergency—and take the measures required to safeguard the conditions for a dignified life for everybody on earth.”

–Greta Thunberg, climate change activist

What would really ‘suck’ is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts

Join the conversation. Tell us — how should business and tech reset and restore itself in the year ahead? Email me: [email protected].

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