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The future, according to the CEO of The Gap, isn’t about digital. It’s about finding a purpose—a drive that has long been in place for companies of all stripes. But despite his claim that digital is dead, The Gap is making sure that finding its purpose includes the use of technology as a tool.

Seth Farbman came to The Gap from an advertising agency background, with two mantras: return to roots and go digital. But as it pursued these two goals, the company realized they were not separate. For The Gap, returning to roots meant regaining the founders’ core values of optimism, individualism, and democracy. And as The Gap looked for ways to do so, it found the best examples of such values online.

For example, in partnership with Threadless, The Gap posts challenges to the creative users of the site, asking them to express their individuality while voting for their favorite options. A recent question asked, “What does it mean to be bright?” which also implicitly evoked the value of optimism. In response, designers posted T-shirts summarizing their responses, and the winning designs were available for sale both on the Threadless site and in Gap stores.

Using technology by Chatter, The Gap also encourages its employees, both corporate and in stores, to participate in an internal social network. Whereas previously, they might interact only sporadically, the Gap-dedicated social network encourages shared insights and feedback. In addition, employees feel as though they are part of a larger team that values them as individuals, as well as their contributions to the firm.

Thus as much as The Gap embraces digital technology, its CEO remains insistent that it never use technology just because it exists. “If we couldn’t have done it in 1969 or 1970 or 1971,” he argues, “then it’s just a tool, just technology.”

Discussion Questions

1. In what ways is technology just a tool? In what ways is it more than a tool?

Source: Natalie Zmuda, “Gap CEO Explains Why ‘Digital Is Dead’,” Advertising Age, April 17, 2012.