For the first time ever, the top five companies in the world are tech companies. Throughout the 20th century, transportation and energy ruled our industrial economy. As we charge full steam ahead into the Digital Age, information and data dominate. Not only has technology changed how we communicate, relate, research, learn, buy, work — how we live — it has altered the very nature of leadership.
Tech leaders have virtually unprecedented power to mold the future. The question is: how are they using it — and how will you?
Wizards Rule the World!
Apple is the most valuable public company in the world. It has just passed the $1 trillion dollar mark. Its profits are greater than Facebook’s revenues. And it was started in a garage by a 26 year-old computer scientist with help from a 21 year-old who knew basic coding.
A pair of unassuming 25 year-old computer scientists were working on a research project at Stanford — yes, in a garage. They came up with a little search engine called Google, which nearly 20 years after its birth, posted a $100 billion year.
A 19 year-old Harvard sophomore built a site called “thefacebook” to connect with classmates. It’s grown a bit since then. With over 2.40 billion active users, 2.20 Billion monthly users, and nearly $41 billion in annual revenues, Facebook now connects the world.
And let’s not forget Microsoft (started by a 20 year old computer scientist in his garage), and Amazon (another garage success story from a comparatively “old” computer scientist - he was 30!). The former pulls in $100 billion in annual revenue, while the latter is worth more than Walmart, Costco, Kohls, T. J. Maxx, Target, Ross, Best Buy, Ulta, Nordstrom, Macy’s, JCPenney, Bed Bath & Beyond, Saks/Lord & Taylor, Dillard’s, and Sears — combined. That’s insane.
Why These Stories Matter
In the Book of Samuel, we meet David. Small and the youngest of eight brothers, everyone discounted him. But the Lord told Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature… For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
In David’s heart was strength and love for God. He defeated Goliath who stood “six cubits and a span” (about 9’9”!), and God made him King, choosing him over the bigger, physically stronger Saul. Why? Because the Lord said, he is “a man after mine own heart.”
This story, and those of the foundings of the world’s most influential tech companies, are important: a “leader” isn’t necessarily someone who is bigger, stronger, faster, taller, or older. It’s not someone who came from great wealth or was born into a prominent family.
The leaders of Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon started from unassuming roots. They probably didn’t look like “leaders” in their garages. But they are the ones who have managed to completely shift our culture.
Today’s most influential leaders (or potential leaders) aren’t the Sauls, they’re the Davids.
They’re often the awkward ones. The ones standing off in a corner, thinking. The ones building something in their basement that will ultimately change how we communicate, work, and think. The ones who wield tremendous power with their ability to innovate and disrupt.
And the truly amazing part of all this? Anyone can do it. If you wanted to start an energy company 30 years ago, you couldn’t go down to your basement and start drilling for oil. If you wanted to start an automotive company, you couldn’t set up a production line in your garage.
But you can go down to your basement or out to the garage — or set up at your kitchen table or your neighbourhood coffee shop — and start building a website or developing an app. We can thank Youtube for giving anyone access to the world's “how to’s”.
Frightening - and Exciting
The power that computer scientists and engineers, or as I like to call them, wizards, have is unfathomable. One change in a piece of code can crash a system. Skilled hackers can influence elections, compromise data, or impact security.
But the opportunity to do good with technology is mind-blowing. Facebook, for example, developed a suicide reporting system in 2011. Users could upload screenshots if they were concerned about particular content. In 2015, they could flag such content, and Facebook staff would review posts and provide “supportive resources.”
The tech giant is doing still more to help: it is expanding AI capability that will automatically detect suicide-related content and alert emergency responders in the user’s area.
Suicide claims more than 3,000 lives around the world each day; technology cannot heal a broken heart or cure depression. But it can help individuals who are struggling through their darkest days to find support.
The sheer revenue- and profit-generating power of these tech companies also provides incredible opportunities — if leaders seize it.
This is why we pray for these leaders: so God touches their hearts and empowers them to leverage their power for the good of others, for the good of the world, and for the good of the Gospel.
Putting Faces to Faceless Corporations
Do you know who the president of Exxonmobil was in 1989? How about the founder of GM? No? I had to Google it too! But you probably recognize each leader from the stories above: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Mark Zuckerberg; Bill Gates; and Jeff Bezos.
They give large corporations a face; we’re reminded that even these phenomenally large companies are only “human.”
A group of people at Facebook pray for Mark Zuckerberg every week. Why do they take time out of their lives to do this? “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (Timothy 2:1-3).
Mark Zuckerberg now says he’s not an atheist and that “religion is very important.” We can’t presume to know what’s in his heart, but through his actions, we can see he is using his influence to reach out to those in need.
You may be more influential, more powerful, than you know. You help create a world where everyone has purpose and the means to realize it. You build it everyday in whatever sphere you are in. And, knowing you have this influence, you also have a responsibility to use your ability and expertise to serve the Church. To serve the community and the poor. To share the good news of Jesus around the world.
Like Uncle Ben explaining to Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility!”
Your great responsibility? Challenge everyone — challenge yourself — to accept that there is a new influencer, and it’s not the leader we used to know. Pray for them. Pray that Jesus works in their hearts. Pray that they use their influence for the good of others, for the good of God’s Kingdom.
Seek out those leaders. Use your influence to encourage and train them, to mentor them. Help them see their work as an opportunity to serve the Church, the community, God.
Technology provides incredible opportunities to change minds, to change hearts, and to change the world — if leaders seize it. Will you?