DON’T PANIC: In a time of tech-driven transformation, don’t get hung up on the tech

Technological evolution is driving everyone, within almost every sort of organisation, to analyse and re-analyse every ‘known’ about their worlds.

But a lot of this analysis and re-imagining is actually panic. Panic that we don’t really get it. Panic that this might be the one thing we need to get. Panic as we sense Digital Darwinism heading into view. In a digital Darwinism era, nobody wants to be caught without a clue.

And as Douglas Adams said, the best approach to almost any complex and unknown situation is ‘DON’T PANIC’.

Don’t worry about the tech

It’s hard to avoid that panic, particularly when it also aligns with our urge to obsess about gadgets and become hypnotised by them. But the key to avoiding it isn’t in trying to understand the technology alone. The key to maintaining anything like sanity, let alone effectiveness, is to ask constantly about any potential change: ‘what is this really about and why is it important?’

It’s the only way to align technology change to your strategy and operational needs and ensure that evolution of technology and evolution of culture and strategy stay, at least to an extent, balanced.

We are awash in technological change that most of us – if we’re honest – find almost impossible to understand. Cognitive computing. Quantum computing. Beaconing. Nanotech. Li-fi. Neuro-Kitten-Computing*.

*Just kidding. 

But you don’t have to get the tech. You have to understand the implications and impacts of tech.

Tech V Human models: diff’rent strokes

This isn’t just possible. It’s necessary. Because it’s the failure to understand technological impacts, much more than a failure of technology, that leads to systemic problems in businesses and in society as a whole.

Evolving sensible ways of handling technologies and making use of them effectively is much harder and slower than technological development (in the main). It takes longer to socialise how to use technology. Map benefits and threats. To create rules about its use.

And then everyone in your organisation ignores them and uses their iPhone.

This imbalance creates gaps. Within organisations. Within societies. Between them. And between man and the world.

This is why businesses and governments seem slow to implement new technology.

It’s the reason for Shadow IT.

It’s also the reason we haven’t acted to prevent climate change.

Innovation really fast. Tech development fast. People slow. Organisations and cultures sllloooooowwww.

Actually doing something about it

That’s all fine. But what can you do, practically, to ensure that tech shifts and innovation don’t overwhelm you? To be cheeky, let’s break it into A, B, C, D.

  • Asking, Alignment, Agenda-setting. As I said at the start; overanalysing the technology is a fool’s paradise – you think you’re achieving something, whereas actually you’re just getting high on gadgets, a phenomenon so ingrained that there’s even an (admittedly slightly quacky- and preachy-seeming) ‘Center for Internet and Technology Addiction’. Whatever we think of that, advanced technology has an intoxicating effect on us poor target-oriented clothedmonkeys, as does obsessive research into ever-more-complex fields, and the tech becomes the point rather than the organisation’s cultural, strategic and operational goals. The way to control this is by asking real and grounded questions about technology – basic stuff like

“Why is this technology important?”

“How will it affect me?”

“Where will it create change?”

“What can we do to change with it?”

Only by asking, and seeking to answer, these questions, can fast-moving technological and slow-moving cultural evolution be aligned aligned to your business agenda – and technology can empower positive change rather than being a source of continuing problems.

  • Build Beyond. A fundamental tech implementation error is that you focus on needs now and seek to meet them. That’s understandable but given that most enterprise technology implementations take considerable time, during which – as discussed here in a Tieto blog by Nina Nissila – the technology you started with might be rendered obsolete. This means you need to not build structures around specific tech goals but around long-term business goals – and therefore adapt to technologies (as much as possible) as they change. This requires a culture and context that enables relevant technology embed.
  • Culture-ify and contextualise. Ensure that tech trends are socialised within organisations in context. That means that technology is understood and applied to the strategy, vision and operations of your business – not simply bought and applied. Why would we buy technology we can’t use, you ask? Businesses do so all the time. I’ve lost count of the number of businesses that tell me they bought the latest marketing automation tech, which now sits unused. Many factors are blamed – lack of content, etc – but the real cause is that structurally and behaviourally they’re not equipped to put it into practice. The predominant factor in any technology implementation failure is the human one.
  • De-silo Disruption. Ensure that innovation works centre-edge and edge-centre, and across business units, to avoid siloed technology and business model thinking. Any structure that forces innovation into a box – like any structure that forces any function into a box – is ignoring the holistic nature of increasingly digital business, as well as ignoring the nature of ideas – they escape. Technology strategy, in other words, needs to be truly strategic, and truly holistic – just like security strategy has become. The age of departments is gone. The time for The Center of the Edge (to steal wholesale from Deloitte) is here.

I’m not saying that these are the only things you need to do – or even that these are right to do for everyone. But thinking about technology in this kind of framework may help to ensure that disruptive technologies are made part of the change in terms of culture and context, build and design, and agenda. So you they propel the business, rather than steering it in the wrong direction or just become a black hole of lost cash. It also helps to ensure that you don’t have to choose between being in your technology ‘comfort zone’ – that warm, cosy place of death – and getting out of it.

One thing is certain because it’s ALWAYS TRUE. Only by putting technology in its place – at the centre, but understood in context – will you be able to understand how to use it.

And in an age becoming obsessed at every level with technology, that’s a key way to differentiate, compete and outmanoeuvre.

image: lets panic later by Wackystuff via Flickr