Welcome back! Spiffy here, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs working on UN SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure. Today I’m super excited to speak with Anthony Shop, chairman of the National Digital Roundtable. Anthony and his team are on a mission to educate and inform professionals across industries about the way new technologies are changing the way we interact with the world. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: It’s wonderful to meet you, Anthony. I’m curious about the challenges the National Digital Roundtable is addressing. What can you tell me?
Anthony: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! We all know that digital technology makes it possible for us to achieve things that used to be unimaginable. At the same time, these innovations have introduced new challenges to society. The relationships between companies and customers, policymakers and constituents, employers and employees, the news media, and the public—even parents and their children—are forever changed. While the digital revolution has the power to uplift, it also creates mechanisms for misinformation and disinformation to spread. This reality led me to seek out like-minded digital leaders and work with them to make a positive change.
Spiffy: Digital reality is indeed a complex one to navigate! What was your personal motivation to start the company? Tell me, also, a little bit about what you do.
Anthony: We launched the National Digital Roundtable to fill an unmet need. Our programming focuses on trends that cut across sectors, with topics ranging from fighting false news to augmented and virtual reality. We partner with a variety of industry groups and universities to spark conversations that span silos and uncover solutions that we can all benefit from. Too often, foreign adversaries and conspiracy theorists have mastered these tools before the rest of us. Our work to connect and convene will combat the troublemakers and create a brighter future for us all. I am constantly inspired by the work my colleagues are doing and grateful for what they teach me.
Spiffy: Could you elaborate on how you and the National Digital Roundtable are working towards a more equitable world?
Anthony: We all know this digital revolution we are living through is not confined by industry or sector. This is why it’s more important than ever that we bring people from different perspectives and backgrounds together to discuss how our world is changing: policymakers with practitioners, marketers with technologists, optimists with pessimists, and so on. As an example, we produced a program—Marketing for all: diversity and inclusion isn't nice, it's necessary—which featured some amazing leaders who practice what they preach and incorporate accessibility and inclusion in their work. Sharing these stories not only inspires others in the field, but also equips them with examples and tactics they can put to work immediately.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent initiative by you or your company, and the impact that it makes.
Anthony: During the pandemic, the National Digital Roundtable made a shift that so many groups have experienced—all of our programs became virtual. This obstacle unlocked new opportunities for us, with our community expanding significantly across the country and the world. We also built new partnerships with organizations such as The Communications Board and BIPAC, which expanded our reach to new audiences. In addition, we decided to organize a larger number of very intimate events, so that people wouldn't simply sit back and listen, but instead, could engage with peers when they most needed human connection. These efforts have been successful at helping us deepen connections and achieve our mission.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from it?
Anthony: Early in my career, I joined a local political campaign working for a candidate I admired and respected. We all poured our hearts and souls into that race, but, ultimately, it was unsuccessful. This was in 2008, when Barack Obama demonstrated the grassroots power of social media. I was inspired by his victory and how these lessons could be applied to organizations of all kinds working to make a difference. This belief that we can channel the energy that's already there rather than attempt to manufacture new energy led me to start Social Driver, a digital creative agency, with my husband Thomas. As our company has grown and evolved over the last 11 years, we have been able to help hundreds of amazing organizations.
Spiffy: That’s very inspiring, Anthony! Now, I believe you can learn from anyone—I love lessons from kids, peers, or even pets! What is something that you have unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Anthony: Have you ever been confused by an emoji, Spiffy?
Spiffy: Every time I think I’ve learned them all, a new one pops up!!
Anthony: Well, I recently had my own humbling experience. I asked a colleague for her address so I could mail her an article. I know, it’s a bit old-fashioned, so I jokingly told her I am a grandma at heart. Her response? ☠️ No words, just an image of a skull and crossbones. To be honest, I was caught off-guard. “Is she calling me old or my joke outdated,” I wondered. So, like any confused older millennial, I turned to Google to decode this response and was relieved to find this possible meaning: dying from laughter or killing it with great skill. Apparently, my joke wasn’t as hopeless as I had thought! A simple symbol reminded me that in today’s world, emotional intelligence also requires emoji intelligence!
Spiffy: Emoji intelligence, I’m going to use that term! Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Anthony: Community is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Early on as business owners, Thomas and I got involved with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which has become an important community of peers, mentors, friends, and clients over the years. No matter who you are or where you come from, there are a variety of communities you can choose to engage with. They will help you become more competitive in your profession, confident in yourself, and connected to those around you. These lessons inspired me to help build the community which has become the National Digital Roundtable.
Spiffy: You’re absolutely right about community being one of the most powerful forces in the world—especially in these confusing, complex, exciting times! Thanks for all that you do, Anthony, and for taking the time to talk to me. It’s been an honor.
Anthony Shop is chairman of the National Digital Roundtable, the premier convener of digital innovators, leaders, and policy shapers. He is also co-founder of Social Driver, a leading digital services firm he founded with his husband. Anthony has been recognized as an OUTstanding LGBT Role Model by the Financial Times and 40 Under 40 by the Washington Business Journal. He earned his MBA from The George Washington University School of Business, where he teaches. (First published on the Ladderworks website on October 29, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.