Dex Hunter-Torricke – Former head of communications at SpaceX
Each month I feature different leaders’ voices offering insights into the future of work and changes that they’ve seen within their industry since the pandemic. I’m particularly interested in leaders who approach challenges as opportunities to create positive and lucrative business opportunities. This column will profile everyone from celebrities and business people, to community leaders and changemakers, and give readers a peek behind the veil of different businesses and industries.
This month, I interviewed Dex Hunter-Torricke. His experience as a communication leader is impressive and captivating. He has worked at some of the most influential tech companies of our generation, including SpaceX, Google and Facebook, and has written speeches for the world’s top CEOs. Dex has even gotten into debates about the meaning of poetry with Bono. Dex is currently the head of communications for the Oversight Board. In his current role, he supports the oversight of Facebook’s responsibility to answer some of the most difficult questions around freedom of expression online: what to take down, what to leave up and why. He leads with care and compassion, which is helpful in this line of business because the communications industry is built around relationships.
For Dex, no day or situation is ever the same. His work is dynamic and keeps him on his toes. He never knows what might arise on any given day. There have been many times where Dex is simultaneously addressing unrelated events in different parts of the world. Because urgent affairs take precedence, one area that people in the communications field tend to struggle with is finding time to concentrate on things that generate long-term value.
In the communications industry, developing solutions to challenges often boils down to people. That’s why it’s key to speak to multiple stakeholders to understand their viewpoints on any given situation. Navigating complex issues takes creativity and intellectual depth. It is important to think deeply about a situation to understand it from all angles. As tempting as it may be to employ a cookie cutter best practice, Dex recommends not going for off the shelf strategies and treating each situation as unique.
Below are questions I asked Dex about the future of work and changes within the communication industry.
As the workforce enters a new chapter, what needs reevaluation?
So many norms and working behaviours from the 19th century continue to govern the way we organize workplaces in the 21st century. The idea of the 9 to 5 workday is ridiculous. As we move into a global age, an efficient work day should be based on the team’s dynamics and needs (early birds, time zone differences, overlap time where employees collaborate, etc). Post-pandemic, the most effective organizations are going to use this as an opportunity to rethink everything about how they organize, hire and develop talent. For example:
What futuristic technology would you like to see developed?
We still don’t have good AI assistants and we know how transformative this kind of digital companion would be. Just look at J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man. Ideally everyone would have their own personalized AI that can help them with their work and personal needs. In a world where a mountain of data has produced an avalanche of noise, I think more powerful AI tools will help us to respond faster, better, and – counterintuitively – in more human ways.
* J.A.R.V.I.S. (Just A Rather Very Intelligent System) is Tony Stark’s artificially intelligent system, tasked with running business for Stark Industries as well as security for Tony Stark’s Mansion and Stark Tower.
If you could shape the future of society, what would you like to see?
If I were architecting the future, I would focus on creating better systems to advance global interests so we can solve the hardest global challenges. At a more prosaic level, for leaders and organizations I would encourage them to build global teams, and to break down the geographical silos that impede collaboration.
Throughout history, people have been organizing and collaborating in larger and more interconnected communities. Humanity went from tribes to cities to nation states. We are now living in an era where technology has given us the chance to operate globally, to reach for the next level of human collaboration and organization. However, for the most part, we remain imprisoned in the old way of doing things – operating nationally and thinking through a narrow lens of national interest and competition.
How has the communications industry changed?
Communication has changed enormously over the last few decades because of huge shifts in technology, consumer behaviours and the media industry. Every new technology platform – the arrival of the internet, smartphones, social media, streaming video – have had a revolutionary impact on the world. These shifts have placed us in a time where small causes and individuals can have an impact because their voices are amplified on social media platforms. This means that communications today has to move much faster, and also dramatically expand the range of stakeholders who leaders and organizations are talking to.
What struggles has your industry endured since the pandemic?
The primary function of a communications team is to build relationships, and when everyone is sorting their life into 30 minute intervals and instant messages it’s pretty easy to default into purely transactional exchanges with everyone – here’s what I need from you, what do you need from me? That’s not how relationships are built and relationships are essential for the communications industry.
* Have you been struggling with this too? To find ways to increase remote team connectivity click HERE
What is the next big challenge for your industry?
The next big challenge will be how to better distil and analyse data so it can have a meaningful and rapid impact on tactics. A lot of organizations talk a good game when it comes to using analytics, and everyone can certainly access a lot of data points. But most of these numbers are still just noise. AI will be key to turning noise into knowledge, and the next big technology shift.
Data in the communications industry is something that is still evolving. There are a lot of metrics that people tend to look at – for example, sentiment, reach, and share of voice. These can be somewhat helpful, but for the most part I think they’re pretty superficial markers of what people really think, and very short-term focused. For example, if you were doing a press announcement you might look at how many journalists wrote about it, or the number of people who posted about it on social media. But actually understanding how meaningful that announcement was to an audience long-term, or how a piece of content may have resonated with your most influential stakeholders, is still something I think is better assessed through more qualitative types of analysis.
How should we enter this new era of work?
The most impressive achievements since the pandemic are the human ones, such as organization leaders adding benefits that focus on helping employees take care of themselves during this difficult time, or shifting from rigid work hours to accommodating hours that recognize the personal circumstances of employees. These micro changes in cultural and organizational norms can have outsized positive impacts on performance.
As we operate through more virtual and decentralized teams, embedding diversity in the DNA of your organization is going to be key to navigating the global age, and can’t just be an afterthought for companies. Having diverse talent around the virtual table allows you to better solve the challenges of an age of complexity. Many of the systems we have in place today for assessing and organizing talent aren’t really optimized for promoting diversity. Organizations with a diversity deficit are going to increasingly fall behind in the next decade.
I am an entrepreneur, author and coach with a passion for helping people to reach their full potential. I am the founder of Vekita, a professional development company