Crystal Washington

How agile are your team’s digital skills?

24 Jun 2021   |   Culture Technology

Crystal Washington

How agile are your team’s digital skills?

24 Jun 2021   |   Culture Technology

Crystal Washington thinks we are mating with our phones.

We have reached the point where we find it hard to back away from them, we sleep with them, and find them essential to our lives.

But have we prepared our own perspectives and behaviors for a full symbiosis of tech and humanity?


Finding the right culture fit for tech

Crystal says not every organization will use the same tools. You need to find the technology that gives you the features you need, but also fits the culture you already have in your organization. Not every tool has the same perspective on work, and you need one that matches with your current team.

Building an adaptable organization doesn’t just mean throwing the latest tools in front of them. It also means building the culture that matches their skills and expectations.


The diversity of tech experiences

Crystal pointed out a lot of the ways that different groups experience the digital age differently. Women in traditional caregiving roles might need to take more advantage of remote work than others. People who grew up without much digital influence might take longer to know how to overcome the knowledge gap. There’s also the potential for generational differences in how people approach technology.

As you look at your team, think of where they are and where you want to take them. Even if they are digitally savvy right now, how can you keep them eager to learn new things?



Crystal Washington’s website

Welcome back to The Digital Workplace podcast. Today, our guest is Crystal Washington. She is a futurist, technology strategist, speaker, and author. Crystal, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me, Neil. I’m excited to be here.


I’m super excited to have you. You have a lot of energy and a lot of knowledge about things as we go forward into the future. We’re going to be talking about digital skills, how to keep people up to date on those. But let’s start off first, check in, make sure you are a human. Your capture question is, what is the best thing about where you grew up?

So, I grew up in Houston, Texas. And the very best thing about it was it was so multicultural, and in a mixed way. And so, I grew up eating all kinds of food in people’s homes. And I think that in times like now, where there’s so much confusion and contention, to have those types of connections gives you a very different viewpoint of the world.


I love that you said ‘in people’s homes’, too. Because you might say, okay, me and my city are very multicultural. You can go to this area of town and get this kind of food. You can go to this area of town and get this kind of food. But you’re saying it’s much more like everything is all mixed together. Right? 



Excellent. I grew up in a very small-ish town in southwest Indiana, and we were on the Ohio River, which I think was the best thing that my town had going for it. I’d like to just spend time down there and watch the river flow down, gives you a good perspective on things. 



Cool. Well, let’s jump in. Tell us about yourself a little bit. You are a futurist. You think about things beyond where we are now. So, give us a little bit of an introduction about who you are.

Sure, sure. So, I’m a speaker 100% of the time, and I work with organizations that want to leverage technology to increase profits and productivity. And foresight, or futurism, is a huge component of what I do, because people are always wanting to know what’s coming next in technology. But the bigger question is, how are people adapting or how are they needing to adapt to the technology? So, even though I spend all my time talking about technology, for me, it’s never really about the technology. It’s not about the hardware and the software. It’s about how it enables humans to become superhuman. Today, I have a whole program on how basically humans are becoming cyborgs and I actually prove it and scare people. But it’s true.


Well, you get done with the big keynote, you step off the stage. What’s your favorite question to answer that somebody comes up to you with?

Oh, I don’t know if I have a favorite question. There are so many good questions. But I think a lot of times I just like answering questions when people ask me about actionable things they can do, related to whatever the topic is. When people are like, ‘Oh, this was great. Now what can I go home and do right now?’ Because then I get to point them towards resources, then I get to point them towards actions they can take. Because I think motivation is wonderful. But I’m not a motivational speaker. I like for people to have information they can implement. So, ask me an actionable question, that makes me salivate. I’m excited. 


Excellent. Well, we will hold you to that as we get towards the end here getting through things. But we’re going to come back. You talked about humans being cyborgs and I just skipped over that. So, let’s go back into that a little bit deeper. What does that mean? What do you mean by that? And what can we learn?

So, if you think about the fact that most of the people that are with us right now, Neil, they probably sleep with their phones, the majority of them. So, there’s going to be one or two people who’d be like, ‘I don’t do that.’ Okay, great for you. Everybody else, for the most part, sleeps with their phone, and people are going to say, ‘Oh, I use it for an alarm, this, or that.’ And that’s cool. But if you slept with a beer in the bed, by the bed on the floor every night, you’d still have a problem, right? 


This is funny. We had some friends that just moved in. They said we need a nightstand by our bed. So actually, what you’re saying is you need a bed for your phone. Is that correct?



Because that’s the only thing we’re going to keep on a nightstand these days. Right? 

Exactly. That and a lamp maybe, right? So outside of that, we’re actually retaining less information. We’re developing something called digital amnesia, which means that we’re retaining less because we now have external brains, as well as our internal brains. We see how we learn using this as well. So, gone are the days where you and a friend have a disagreement at a party at someone’s home and you just argue it out or you look it up in an encyclopedia or dictionary. 

Now we’re like drawing Google like it’s some type of gunfight, right? It’s like ‘Battle of the Google’ to see who gets the answer. We’re using these to access things, keys to hotel rooms, we’re using this to experience things at museums, you hold it up for AR to get more information about what you’re looking at. In other words, we’re completely dependent on these things right now. All of our precious memories, our GPS, everything is here. 

So, by definition, we are mating with our devices and there’s two definitions of mating. Hopefully, not the first one. I’m leaving that alone. But the second definition of mating, which means to be fixed with, to be fitted with, so we always have them. And so, by definition, we are becoming cyborgs because we have these machine attachments. We’re not becoming androids, which are robots that emulate humans. So, it’s like Rosie from The Jetsons. That’s not what we are becoming. We’re becoming more like Iron Man without the alcoholism issues, hopefully.


Nice. Cyborgs as humans. So, let’s get into the context of the businesses we talk with every day. You’re building a team. You have a mission you’re trying to do. You’re thinking about adding new people to that team. We usually say you need to have a mix of humans, of systems, of spaces, of physical spaces- are you in the office or at home or whether somewhere else, and the technology that’s there. So, are we able to really separate out that human quality that’s there or do you see humans and technologies just continue to come together over time?

Well, you can’t really separate them. One informs the other. And typically, what happens is a lot of organizations do this backwards. They see a new technology, and maybe it’s cutting edge for the industry or whatever, and they’re like, ‘Oh, we need this. This is going to make things better, right?’ And then they bring in technology that doesn’t actually fit the culture of the people that work there. They’re not going to use it. Based on how they do things, how they view things, they haven’t been a part of the decision-making process and so there’s no buy in.


Can you give me an example of that before you go on?

I’m trying to think of specific ones without giving away company names, because it happens all the time. But let’s say that, okay, let’s take a hotel company. Okay. Let’s say that they’re changing their point-of-sale system. That’s the system they’re using to put in the reservations and all that kind of stuff, right? Now, if they’re using a new system that is more advanced, and it has all these other features, but the culture of the hotel company is just very down home, keep it simple, good service, just get your own breakfast buffet, simple. You set up a culture where those people are not going to appreciate a really advanced system. And maybe the way they’ve worked in the past has been just antiquated, simple stuff. So, you don’t have the type of people that would appreciate you updating to a system that has all these advanced analytics attached to your point-of-sale system for a hotel. Does that make sense?


I mean, it’s almost like when we talk about hiring, people use the term ‘culture fit’ a lot. You need a culture fit for your technology too, right?

Totally. And so, part of it, the technology does have to deal with or fit with your culture, but also having the culture of your company endorse, or the people that make up the culture, endorse the technology. I’m a big fan of, when you’re deciding on these things, get the input from everyone involved, or at least people from different levels of your organization. I don’t like to use levels, but people know what I mean by that. When you do that, this is what happens. 

I like to look at the example of a yellow cab, right? No one knew better than the people that were taking the calls for cabs – the call center, the operators or whatever, that people are having issues getting cabs. They kept calling back saying, ‘Where’s my cab?’ ‘I don’t know where it is.’ ‘I’m having a hard time catching a cab in this neighborhood.’ But they rested on their laurels. And they said, ‘Well, so what? People will get over it.’ And then Uber and Lyft came. 

And so, our internal people already know what problems are there. And so, they can help us when it comes to introducing new technology. If you have everybody in that room, from your VPs to some of the folks that are in your maintenance department, to some of your cleaning crew, literally, get everybody in there. Because you never know what they see that you don’t see based on their interactions in your business. And what happens is when people feel like they’re a part of the process, and it doesn’t mean you’re letting them vote on the technology. It might be a matter of, ‘Hey, we’re looking at this, but we really want your input right now to figure out how this impacts you, what little things you’re seeing that might help us in this.’ So, you’re basically having focus groups. 

You don’t have to have everybody in one room. You could split this up into multiple focus groups. But when they see that their opinions are valued, they’re more likely to help you implement it. Because they were part of the process, versus having something land in their lap and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is just one more thing for me to do.’ No one likes that.


Yes. And I think a lot of people feel that when it comes to taking on new technology adoptions, it’s one thing to feel like somebody else made a decision and just threw it on you and said, ‘Deal with this and figure it out.’ And then you’re almost guaranteed to have a bad experience with it. In some rare cases, maybe a light bulb goes off a year later, and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why they chose this one.’ But like you said, if you bring everyone into that process ahead of time, and they understand the strategy behind it and where we’re going with that, then that makes it a lot better. 



Excellent. Well, let’s talk about the skills that people need to succeed in this digital age. And we’ll take this in two different levels. So, one, let’s talk to a leader who’s maybe inherited an older team perhaps or team that has been together for a long time. There may be a generational leadership thing that’s going on, and they look at their team and they’re like, ‘Okay. We got some work to do right now just to get up to the present.’ Right? And then later on, we’ll talk about where you got a team that’s good right now, but how do you keep them updated? But let’s start with people who just need to come up to this world now. What do you recommend in terms of building up that kind of digital intelligence, that digital dexterity of those skills for companies in that situation?

So, I’m going to say something that may not seem nice, but it is true.


Yes. Okay.

Okay. And that is that we live in a world right now that requires a high degree of adaptability. And so, those team members that we have that refuse to adapt, because in the past they’ve been successful doing X, Y, Z, they are basically the weights that are chained to our legs at this point. And I think we saw, especially during the course of COVID-19, especially, because I work with so many different types of organizations as a speaker, I have to learn what’s going on within their organizations. What we found is that the organizations that were already adapting to the future of technology and staying ahead of trends had a much easier time when it came to having to have remote workers than those that didn’t, because they had the infrastructure to support it and they had people that were willing. 

And yes, they may not have had any idea that they were going to do it that fast. They might have been thinking 2, 3, 4 years down the line, and it hit them. But because they already had the mentality, and they already had staff that were willing to adjust, they were able to snap into it. The companies that were the most resistant to change, historically, had a very, very hard time. So, what that means is, is that I think part of it is, yes, inspiring employees. 

Second, we do have to listen to what our team members are going through. Because the other thing that we have to understand is that in this new world, it’s really had a negative impact on women in the workplace specifically. I want to say, something like 2.6 million women in the US have fallen out of the workforce. This is our lowest participation rate since 1988. They are the least likely to want to return to work, but they’re being extremely productive at home as a whole. The problem is that when we interview leaders, many of them falsely assume someone being in the office makes them more productive, when in fact, that’s not necessarily the case, right? 

So, when we talk about being adaptive, making sure that we have a high degree of adaptability, that also includes leaders as well. So, we have to adapt to the new world and how we want things to look. Because if we want to have fewer women working for our organizations, which is the reverse of what we’ve said we’ve wanted, then we’re going to have to adapt as well. So, I think, challenging employees, listening to what their particular situations are, creating a plan that works for continued collaboration no matter where people are at, and then giving them the tools to learn in a way that makes sense for them. Whether that’s coming into the office, some people are craving that. Whether that’s allowing a remote training option, that might work well for some of these women that have had to exit the workplace for social obligations that tend to fall more on women. So, I think that’s the biggest thing. And unfortunately, in this wash, Neil, those employees that are not willing to adapt, and they keep saying, ‘Well, how we’ve been doing it is’, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way’, we’re going to have to show them the door.


Do you think that’s more in employees or in managers that are in that situation of not wanting to change?

It’s in all of them. It’s all over the place. 



I think that’s more of a personality situation, than having to do anything with a particular level of management. Because some people are just resistant to change. And while I empathize, there’s a difference between being resistant and refusing to move with the times. And things are moving so fast right now that people who are not agile don’t really have a place in the modern workforce.


This is a concern of mine is that, like you used the term ‘agile adaptability’. People who already have that disposition are doing great. They have figured out how to do things and then they moved on to another. As you said, we should recognize and acknowledge specifically women. Maybe their adaptability is realizing in looking around themselves, and thinking, ‘I just can’t work right now, or I don’t want to work, or I have whatever situations’. So, we need to keep that in mind. But that ability to be agile is enabling them to succeed. And then you have other people who are perhaps willing to be adaptable, willing to change, but they just don’t know how to. They have a system that doesn’t know, or they have management that isn’t encouraging of that. What about those people, who love to learn, they’re willing to do it, but just either their skill set isn’t there or they haven’t had somebody to take the time to actually walk them through? What can they do?

I think, for those people, and this is where I really appreciate mentorships that are dual in nature. This is not just a function of age what we’re talking about. It is the people that are baby boomers, who are extremely embracing of agile as a way of life almost, right? But, so again, it’s not necessarily, but it does tend to happen a little bit more around age lines, just because it has nothing to do with any positive or negative traits. It has to do with how fast things have developed over the years. 

Let me give you a personal example. I’m a millennial. I’m an old millennial. So, I have a mortgage and a husband. Okay, so I’m not the kind of millennial where people think where I’m eating avocado toast living in my parents’ basement. That’s not what I am, right? But in my lifetime, as a millennial, I have used 8-tracks, records, cassette tapes, CDs, mp3s, Apple Music, iTunes. So, I’m used to constantly adapting. That is not my mother or grandmother’s story. 

And so, this high degree of adaptability or being agile, it’s also a function of how we’ve been raised and what we’ve been around. So, I say all that to say that, again, it’s not that someone being a baby boomer can’t be agile. Many of them are. But I do find there tends to be a little bit more of this around age lines, because of what I just stated, right. 

And so, this is where I think it’s a good idea to have mentorships that are dual. So, pairing someone up who has the experience, okay, with someone who’s younger, but who still has that agile mind, and they still think creatively, because they haven’t been completely consumed with the acceptable manners of thinking and industry best practices for that particular industry. 

And so, if you look at a dual mentorship, this person is going to talk about, ‘Okay, these are the things that work in the industry overall. This is what you need to know. That’s the traditional model.’ But then these people in turn give them the newer information, the trends, how to look at making changes. 

One thing I get a lot from baby boomers specifically, because Gen X is in the middle, so they don’t tend to have this issue for the most part. I hear a lot of baby boomers say young people are better at technology. And that’s not true at all. If we get on any program and it’s completely reconfigured our website, all of us are looking at it like, ‘Ahh’. 

The difference is that someone who is a younger Gen X, or a millennial or Gen Z, and again, I’m not saying there’s no baby boomers and traditions like this, that’s not true. But we’re just used to just saying, ‘Alright, well, let me figure this out.’ Versus across town if it happens to my mother, and she logs into something that’s completely changed, she’s like, ‘No.’ And then I get a call because I’m tech support. 

All of this is just a shift in how you’re thinking of things. That’s it. We both mess up stuff when we’re learning things. No matter what age group we’re looking at, all of us mess up things when we’re learning how to use it. The difference is, is that my generation was not taught that if you do something you have to do it right the first time. So, I don’t have that fear of messing up.


And like you said, you’re starting that new experience thinking, alright, I got to learn this, like you’re just used to it. Now I want to ask you because I’m also a geriatric millennial. Have you noticed there are times when you’re starting to lose that willingness to start over again? Are there new platforms that are out there? Like, ‘You know what? I’m kind of good right now. I don’t I’m not willing to do that.’ Or have you kept that fervor for new things?

Well, okay, so I’ve kept it, but I may not have had it to the same degree as some of my peers. And let me say this, I’m a millennial with a baby boomer sensibility. And I’ve been like this. Since I was younger, I had a very different mentality than a lot of my peers. In that, I’m a big fan of the practical. So, ‘Does it make sense? Can you show me how this is helping you before I adapt it, or before I adopt it,’ right? 

And so, I’m always willing to look into something and to research and figure out what it is. But me actually using it, there has to be a very real reason other than the shiny button effect. And a lot of my peers, they just use things because it’s the latest and greatest. Whereas I find that sometimes things are the latest, they might be the greatest overall, but they don’t actually serve a practical application for me. It doesn’t actually make my life better or make me more efficient or effective or connected. So then why would I use it? So, no, I think I’ve maintained the same mentality. I’ve probably always had that one. 


I love when a new platform, a new technology comes out. I’m really the first one to use it. But I love trying to figure out why this is so popular right now? What do people like about this? If it’s kids or whoever else that’s onto it’s like trying to figure out that and then see where that trend is leading to. So, that part is still on me. Doesn’t mean I’m going to be on there, but I like seeing that. Cool. 

Crystal let’s close with where I was leading with before. Let’s say you’re talking to a leader who has a great team, they’re looking around, saying, ‘Hey, we are on track, everything’s going well’, but they’re nervous about, ‘Hey, we want to stay up front. We want to stay excited about these things.’ What are some things that leaders of teams can do to make sure that they’re continuously upgrading their own skills and skills of the people on their team?

I think it’s establishing a culture of creativity and innovation and curiosity. And that can be done in many different ways. If you’re referring different resources to your people, it might be blogs, it might be podcasts. Podcasts are great because people can listen to them in their travels, to and from work, if they’re coming to an office, while they’re doing dishes, while they’re walking the dog or jogging, whatever else that is. And then just having little discussions. And if you have a Monday morning meetup meeting, or maybe if you’ve been having virtual meetings, and there’s a trivia question at the end for $25 gift card where you’re asking a question about this podcast you suggested to everybody last week, right, so, I think it’s fostering this community around creativity. 

And then making sure that you’re utilizing it so that as they’re listening to these different resources, or reading these different things you’re suggesting, as they’re doing the training, how are they implementing it? Are you doing team mind mapping exercises to figure out what’s next or what would be interesting? Are you allowing them to just brain dump all the ideas that they have that might impact the future of your industry? Are you allowing them to imagine and daydream what could be possible next? If you’re not reinforcing that creative spirit with some type of group activity around it and some type of reward system, whether its internal or external, well, then you’re not really establishing an innovative culture.


What’s your feel about learning extra things, learning new things? Should that be done on “company time”? Or is that something where, as an employer, I should just expect that I’m going to hire people who are passionate about this. They’re going to learn on the weekends. They’re going to learn it when they’re out, working out and doing all that thing on their own? Or is this something where I should build in that time for them?

I think it’s both. This is not Elementary School where we should have to babysit people. But I do think we should allow for learning in the workplace because people have home lives, right. But if you’re making little suggestions, ‘Hey, on the side, you should check out this podcast.’ And they might be listening to it while they’re at work. They might do it while they’re jogging at home. That’s up to them. But I think just rewarding the behavior of participating in that, having those conversations about what you heard in the last episode in a morning meeting for two minutes, because the people who didn’t listen, they’re not going to be able to comment. They’re going to feel awkward. And so now they’re going to have that very ‘loving team pressure’ to be able to get into the conversation next week, right? So, we don’t want to add work for people. 

But at the end of the day, our team members have responsibility to the organization. But even more so, they have responsibility to themselves. Last year, a lot of people were laid off. But those people that were the most creative, a lot of them were able to find jobs in completely different industries, because they had these other skill sets. And so, it benefits your company, yes, for them to stay up to date, and always be thinking about future trends, but it actually benefits them even more because we don’t know what the future holds.


Again, coming back to the women discussion we had earlier. If I have a woman on my team, or I’m reporting to somebody and they say, ‘Okay, here’s a good podcast. Everyone, listen to this. Do it on your own time. We’ll talk about it on Monday morning.’ It’s Friday or something like that. That’s one thing if I’m a single guy, I got nothing else going on. Sure. I mean, I listen to 12 podcasts a day. I go out and do all this type of stuff. Whereas perhaps a woman who maybe unfairly has additional responsibilities with childcare and other people around them says, ‘I don’t have 30 minutes of free time in a weekend to fit this in.’ Is that unfairly pushing forward somebody else who has that time? Or how should we respond to that?

Well, I wouldn’t give anybody a homework assignment. Let me frame it. Okay. So, on Monday, if you’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve been listening to this podcast. I really think we should listen to it. It comes on tomorrow or whatever. We’re going to discuss it in the Monday meeting.’ Well, I’m giving them a week. You figure out when you’re going to do it. You might be doing it at your desk, you might be doing it at home, whatever. But if we want to discuss this, you’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to choose between these three different resources. If you want to read this or listen to a podcast, let’s talk it over, because I think these apply to where we’re going.’ But give people enough time. 

The other thing is if we want more women participating in the workforce and to buck this trend we’re talking about, we’re also going to have to redefine the workforce. And I know we’re not going to get into a whole lot of detail on this. But we might want to even look at childcare and elder care in these workplaces. Because it’s not enough for us to just say we want them to participate. We have to recognize the fact that for whatever reason, culturally, we put more on women. And so, if we’re serious about wanting them, then we’re going to have to be serious about accommodating them.


Are you talking about whether you’re able to drop your parents off when you come to work? 

Yeah, parents, children, whomever. 


I love the idea of being recognized. That’s just obvious. If that’s something where you want these people to work, we’re going to need to provide some options in that way.

Think about how dedicated they will be to you. Think about this woman who’s fallen out of the workplace because she was homeschooling two children. She had one child that was in daycare and daycare shut down. And now she’s responsible for an elderly parent, right? Imagine how much she will give to you if you give her a place to safely put the child that would have been in daycare. The two kids are back in school now, and her elder is taken care of during the day. Can you imagine how much she would give to that company?


Yeah, absolutely. That’s fantastic. Crystal, I’ve loved this conversation. You are obviously somebody who’s thinking about this all the time. Somebody who’s passionate about the future, passionate about technology and seeing people go forward with it. Where can people go to learn more about you and what you do?

Thank you so much. Well, they can go to and all the social media links are there, and my email, and I’m always happy to be of assistance in any way that I can.


Excellent. Well, we hope this is not the last time we interact with you. We’ll make sure to bring you on further discussions that we have. But thanks so much for being on the show and for teaching us what you know.

Thank you, Neil.

Crystal Washington, CSP works with organizations that want to leverage technology to increase profits and productivity! As a technology strategist and certified futurist, Crystal takes complex social media, app, and web topics and makes them easy to understand and accessible for everyday people.Crystal’s clients comprise Fortune 500 companies including Google, Microsoft, and GE, and as a sought-after keynote speaker, she has entertained and educated audiences around the globe.

As one of Forbes’ 50 Leading Female Futurists, she has appeared in numerous publications including Entrepreneur and Bloomberg Businessweek. She is regularly called on by major television networks as a tech expert. Crystal is the author of the books One Tech Action and The Social Media Why.

Crystal Washington, CSP works with organizations that want to leverage technology to increase profits and productivity! As a technology strategist and certified futurist, Crystal takes complex social media, app, and web topics and makes them easy to understand and accessible for everyday people.Crystal’s clients comprise Fortune 500 companies including Google, Microsoft, and GE, and as a sought-after keynote speaker, she has entertained and educated audiences around the globe.

As one of Forbes’ 50 Leading Female Futurists, she has appeared in numerous publications including Entrepreneur and Bloomberg Businessweek. She is regularly called on by major television networks as a tech expert. Crystal is the author of the books One Tech Action and The Social Media Why.

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