Technology can sometimes be like Pandora’s Box. In business, technology can create amazing opportunities to surprise and delight our customers or target audience. But technology, on its own, won’t gravitate toward surprise and delight. That opportunity lies squarely in the vision of the humans who apply technology.

The lure can be irresistible and convince us to rethink the way we do almost everything. Sometimes we’re so focused on the approach and the tool that we miss the end goal. And when we apply technology the wrong way, it can degrade user experiences, customer loyalty, or brand position, as if we’ve unleashed a world of unstoppable evils.

Consider our ability to reach customers, prospects, candidates, or business partners through the technology of virtual presentations. The potential to reach more people, increase our visibility, maintain brand presence, and reduce travel costs is terribly exciting. Those who attend these presentations—which we often call events—value the greater flexibility of viewing from wherever, and sometimes whenever, they like. A win/win, right?

But what about the 85% of our everyday human communication that comes through non-verbal cues? The way a presenter carries him/herself… The supportive head nods that come from a live audience… The eye contact that demonstrates we don’t understand a concept… Or the telltale yawn of marginal engagement. Our new virtual environment may not offer any of that shared value to the presenter or the attendee.

It’s not the technology that has unleashed this Pandora’s Box of yawns. It’s the way we humans envisioned its application.

Oddly enough, one of the brilliant exceptions to this pattern has hijacked its name from this famous Greek mythology. And it’s out to not only retain the lure, but also to improve the outcome for its users, sponsors, and investors.

Just under six years ago, Pandora showed up on a consumer music scene that was dominated by satellite radio, HD radio, and portable player devices (that’s generic for iPods). The company was ready to help music lovers double down on their willingness to change.

Early adopters of Pandora’s “music genome project” knew they were moving toward a radical future that would be good for everyone… for the artist, the listener, the industry, and the retailer. But it was hard to see how quickly Pandora would move us to have new and expanded musical expectations.

Pandora is an important example for anyone who works with technology. It doesn’t force a compromised experience on the end user (who doesn’t always pay and so isn’t always the customer). Pandora is ready, for free, to help you discover new music that fits perfectly into your musical taste. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing. You don’t have to conduct a dedicated search. You just name an artist or a piece of music and you’re ready for your own personalized discovery experience.

As a result, Pandora, with over 75 million active listeners, holds 31% of the streaming music marketplace. That’s more than three times the nearest competitor!

In a CBS This Morning segment on Pandora, founder Tim Westergren talks about realizing his desire to help listeners have “that feeling you get when you hear a piece of music you love,” which has turned into a massive success for the music industry. For his vision, Westergren is recognized as one of today’s 100 most powerful people in the music industry.

I think Westergren deserves every bit of the influence he’s wielded. With Pandora, Tim has racked up a win/win/win/win/win that serves an entire ecosystem of stakeholders, including Pandora’s paid and free listeners. His technology creates opportunity for musical discovery that delights those listeners as well as the musicians, publishers, and advertisers that value Pandora’s give-and-take value.

What’s the takeaway?

We should all do more to drive surprise and delight into our user experiences—whether in a mass-market cloud-based application or an engaging virtual event. That’s not an easy challenge. But I’m certain it’s a goal that will yield a powerful payback.

Please share your thoughts and comments on tech applications that either support or diminish joy, discovery, or engagement for the target audience.

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