Don’t let technology take your mana

We have a concept in New Zealand known as mana, which we have inherited from Maori culture (Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand).  While there is no direct translation into english, mana has been defined as "authority, control, influence, prestige, power, and also honour”.  Traditionally there are two types of personal mana - the mana you are born with based on your genealogy, and the mana that people give you based on your deeds and actions.

We also have something known as the “tall poppy syndrome”, which means you’re expected to remain down-to-earth regardless of your deeds and actions.  If you don’t meet this expectation, then you’ll be cut down to size and your mana will be diminished.  As the Maori saying goes, “the Kumara does not talk about its own sweetness” (Kumara is the Maori name for sweet potato).

To provide a very topical working example of all this, President-elect Donald Trump did not really enhance his mana through the recent election campaign, despite his ultimate success at the polls.  But he does have the opportunity to significantly increase (or decrease) his mana through the way he exercises the power and authority of his newly elected office.

Spend your time well

But mana is inherently related to success.  In a previous blog, I suggested that the people who will thrive and inspire in this age are the ones who - despite all the distractions that compete for their attention - manage to connect with and nurture their greatest gifts and passions.

Our mana, therefore, is also affected by our ability to manage distractions and focus our time and energy on the things that are most important to us.

In this context, I think it’s time we all started to think more carefully about how our digital behaviour impacts our mana, and the mana of others that we interact with through digital channels.

Tristan Harris provides a great perspective on this subject in his Ted Talk 'How better tech could protect us from distraction?'  Tristan poses the question “What does it mean to spend our time well?”, and observes that technology has provided us with constant opportunities to distract ourselves and bulldoze each others attention through technological interruptions.

Tristan compares the habitual checking of our phones with playing a slot machine, and then shares a statistic that I find disturbing: slot machines generate more revenue in the US than movies, game parks, and baseball combined.

Slot machines achieve this result by taking people's money one coin at a time, while smart phones steal our attention one small interruption at a time.  The comparison is hard to deny, and while I am no fan of slot machines, I'm as vulnerable as the next person when it comes to digital interruptions.

So we have to keep asking ourselves - what is the value of the time that we collectively waste on these interruptions, and what impact is this having on our mana? How can we help ourselves, and the people we interact with, to avoid this waste?

Better design goals for new technologies

Tristan suggests that we need to develop new technologies with deeper human goals in mind, and with a focus on enabling people to spend their time well.  He provides some great examples of how this design philosophy can be put into practice, and how it has already been put into practice by companies like Couchsurfing.  Please do watch the video (if you have 15 minutes spare).

We’ve embraced this philosophy at Blinder, where we’ve developed a new technology for PR managers working in professional sports and entertainment.

These PR managers work with some of the highest profile athletes and entertainers in their communities.  This profile often comes at a high price, as these “VIPs” can experience a barrage of demands from the media and fans.  And these demands are often combined with an entitlement mindset, where the public’s belief that it has played a role in the VIP’s success (by sharing their attention and adoration) gives them a reciprocal right to demand the attention of the VIP.

We all have the right to protect our privacy - and our mana - regardless of the level of public attention that we “enjoy”.  That belief is central to Blinder’s mission.

Time well spent with Blinder

So Blinder has embraced Tristan’s design focus to help these VIPs, and the PR managers who represent them, to spend their time well.

We discovered that many sports and entertainment organisations were having trouble arranging media interviews for their VIPs.  PR managers were either having difficulty arranging these interviews while maintaining the privacy of their VIPs, or they were actually sharing their VIPs' mobile phone numbers with journalists because “there was no other practical way to arrange the interview”.  This number sharing was taking an obvious toll on the privacy of the VIPs, and we found that many were changing their phone numbers on a regular basis.

So Blinder took on the challenge of making it as easy as possible for PR managers to schedule media interviews for their VIPs without sharing their phone number.

We also set out to achieve a design goal mentioned by Tristan in his TED talk: To facilitate the highest possible quality of communication between two people (in Blinder’s specific case, the two people involved are usually a journalist and a VIP).

Our criteria to meet this design goal:

  • That both parties are willing participants (a fundamental criteria for any fair transaction)
  • The call should take place at a specific and convenient time so that both parties are focused
  • The general topics to be covered are established beforehand so that both parties can prepare
  • That the interviewee is as relaxed and confident as possible, and best able to handle whatever is thrown at them
  • Given the relative importance and value of these calls, that they should be easy to record.

Blinder’s new web application meets all of these criteria.  The PR manager still plays a critical liaison role between the VIP and journalist, agreeing an appropriate time for a call and the general nature of topics to be discussed. Then they use Blinder to manage the rest of the process as follows:

  • They load the details of the call into their Blinder dashboard, including briefing notes for each party and selecting the recording option where appropriate (which can all be done in less than a minute).
  • Blinder then automatically sends all of these call details to the participants by text and email
  • Reminders are automatically sent to participants 10mins before the call is due to start, to help ensure that everyone is prepared and the call happens when it is supposed to
  • At the agreed time, the journalist dials a unique number provided to them, which Blinder routes directly to the VIP’s mobile phone without sharing their number
  • When the call is completed, the PR manager can access details of the call on their Blinder dashboard, including an audio recording if this option has been used.

Pleasing results

When we started Blinder’s development, we were primarily focussed on protecting the privacy of the VIP, and hoped that PR managers and journalists would buy-in to this basic premise.  But the feedback from our early customers has exceeded our expectations.

PR managers are telling us that Blinder is saving them significant time on every call they arrange, and that the ability to record each call gives them more opportunities to extract value from every media engagement.

The VIPs have more confidence and clarity about what is required of them in each media engagement, and the convenience of doing the interview from any location on their own mobile phone.  And - having agreed to do a call (and received the convenient reminders) - their phone simply rings at the agreed time, without any further effort on their part.

Then, perhaps most surprising to us, many journalists have come to appreciate Blinder because it actually provides better access to the VIPs that they want to interview, and their interview subjects are more confident and prepared for each call.

But that’s probably enough about our “own sweetness”.  While it’s very early days in Blinder’s development, we are enjoying the small role we have been able to play in sports and entertainment media, helping its participants to spend their time well and enhance their collective mana.

We’re also excited about the opportunities that exist for us to transfer these new technologies and design principles into other areas.  I’m convinced that there is a lot of value to be created by reducing the impact that digital interruptions are having on our time and our mana.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on digital behaviours and interruptions, and examples of any strategies or technologies that you are using to mitigate their impact.


About the author:  Ross McConnell is a "late blooming startup athlete”, fortunate husband, father-under-training of three young boys, and co-founder of Blinder

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