President Abraham Lincoln and the Telegraph

lincoln14President Abraham Lincoln’s embrace of new technology—the telegraph—offered swift communication with soldiers in the battlefield during the Civil War. His use of the 19th-century telegraph offers a comparison to the 21st-century Web: the single machine through which we all connect daily. The Web requires leaders to adapt to major shifts such as the growing cloud, mobile devices and apps, and social networks that reduce face-to-face communication.

But Lincoln’s response to the telegraph suggests today’s need for balance. Lincoln combined the telegraph with extensive face-to-face travel by visiting generals and greeting soldiers in the field. Technology offers functional tools and a strategy for remaining relevant, but so does face-to-face communication or authentic human connection.

If the newspaper and book industries had ignored the Web, most would be out of business; instead, companies have blended the brick-and-mortar with point-and-click, keeping the traditional newspaper and book alive while adding features like an online copy, blogs, multimedia and sharing tools that enhance readers’ access to information.

Leaders don’t need to be tech experts, but they must understand the value, consequences, and applications that technology brings to their organization and industry, especially as they move forward through our 21st century of significant change.