Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inaugural lecture - Introduction, thanks, why 'connectivity'?

Darl G. Kolb
Professor of Connectivity
Inaugural Lecture
University of Auckland Business School
15 September 2015
Connectivity isn’t everything
(but it’s almost everything)
Connectivity underpins almost every aspect of contemporary life.  From toddlers with tablets and texting teens to smartphone addicts and the Internet of things, we are increasingly able to be connected anytime/anywhere.  But, ubiquitous and near-constant connectivity also comes with a price of fragmented attention, blurred work/non-work boundaries, and even (ironically) social isolation. The democratization of information and media is shifting power to the consumer of everything from hotels to hospitals, amidst unprecedented threats to privacy and security. Moreover, digitization, automation and machine-to-machine connectivity are changing work and organizations, and disrupting extant business models. Socio-technical theories have explained the interaction between humans and machines in the past, but we need new ways to think about information and computing tools that literally go with us everywhere we go. The conceptual and practical challenges are great, but increasing connectivity also brings extraordinary opportunities for news ways of working, innovative business models that can succeed from anywhere, and enhanced personal performance and well-being.


Thank you all for being here today. 

What some people won’t do for a glass of Goldie wine on a Tuesday afternoon. J

As some of you may know, the tradition here at Auckland is to give this lecture in academic regalia.  I like the tradition and my Cornell regalia, but the gown may have to go if it gets too warm in here.

One more caveat on format.  This is an inaugural lecture, not an inaugural TED Talk and while I normally admire and aspire to deliver TED-type talks, I can’t do that for 40 minutes, so if you’re expecting a TED Talk, this will be twice as long and half as entertaining. J

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words of thanks to those who have played a role in my being here today. To Stuart for the cool title.  To the Deans, Alastair (MacCormick), Barry (Spicer) and Greg (Whittred), all of whom have encouraged and supported me in different ways over the years.

To the many great academic and professional colleagues within the School, many of whom are here today.  Thanks for making this such a great place to work for nearly 24 years.  To every teacher who put up with me in class, thanks for your patience and encouragement! And, to my students over the years who have challenged and also contributed to my understanding.

To my parents who encouraged me to go out and see the world, knowing that I might not come back home. And, last, but certainly not least, many thanks to my wife, Joline Francoeur, who pulled me back into the raft in the middle of a rapid 36 years ago and who has helped keep me afloat in many ways ever since.

It is an honour to be giving this inaugural lecture, not just as a Professor of the Graduate School of Management, of which I am very proud, but as the first Professor of Connectivity.  I imagine many of you are wondering what a professor of connectivity does.  Some think I might fix their wireless router, but I am not that kind of doctor. In this talk, I hope to explain what this Professor of Connectivity does.  And, maybe inspire others to join me in this emerging field.

But, first, having lived in New Zealand for 23 years, I have come to appreciate the Maori concept of ‘whakapapa,’ that is introducing yourself, not by your credentials or achievements, but where you come from.  Where is your mountain.  Where is your river.  Where is the place and who are the people that brought you here and shaped who you are.

I grew up on a farm in Western Maryland.  My mountains are the Allegheny Mountains and my river is the Youghegeny River.  The significance of this place was that it was relatively isolated, geographically and socially, but we had a strong connection to the land, something I will return to later in this talk.

The other significant mountain in my life is Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska.  Climbing Denali, the highest peak in North America, at the age of 28 was a life dream, and it gave me the confidence to pursue another life dream, which was getting my PhD. 

The thing about climbing Denali and running the Grand Canyon and working month-long wilderness courses in the Colorado mountains or the Chihuahuan Desert was that I was fortunate to experience considerable isolation.  Such experiences are rare today.   I will also return to the importance of ‘solitude’ later in this talk.

So, these are some of the places and experiences I bring with me to this place and time.  Speaking of time, maybe I should get on with the talk. J

Why connectivity?

You may wonder how I came to be interested in the subject of ‘connectivity.’  Well, at the end of the 1990s, I was in the market for a new and ‘enduring problem’ to research. And, so it occurred to me that New Zealand had this problem with distance, which ironically seemed more pronounced after the World Wide Web and the tech boom of the 1990s. I decided that ‘managing distance’ would be my ‘enduring problem.’  So, I began reading the sociology of globalisation and the organizational literature on ‘distance.’ 

A turning point, however, was when my friend Deb Shepherd said to me after a research seminar I had given, ‘Distance is not a problem for most people in the world.  What about looking at the positive side of connectivity?’  And, that turn has made all the difference! Thanks, Deb!

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