The Change Challenge of New Technology
Strong economies need organizations to introduce and integrate technology that drives performance and innovation to remain competitive and productive. Policy structure is often built on creating a supply of scientific discovery. Where it fails is generating or encouraging firms to exploit discovery for competitive advantage.
Market forces also play a role in determining the distribution of innovation but protectionist tendencies, particularly in certain industries, discourage wholescale changes in 'business as usual'. Protectionism is eroding, however, as more and more multinationals find ways to leverage innovation across boundaries and domestic markets are forced to adapt.
Our collective long-term success will be contingent on productivity growth within traditional industries and in emerging industries where research can be applied to address emerging problems. Organizations must participate in a process of 'creative destruction' where old habits and old assumptions are discarded in favor of new ways to work and generate wealth. Policies that protect old practices will disappear in time as they consume critical resources that could be used to support long-term innovation.
I believe that existing industries can be transformed into new ones and that the careful and systematic introduction of new ways of working (technological or otherwise) will be critical.
In 1980, Gibbons and Hopkins proposed a Scale of Experience that describes the increasing responsibility of learners over time. I believe that this scale is very useful in understanding the necessary development of a user of a new technology over time.
- Personal Growth
- Social Growth
How often do any of us move much beyond the Analytical stage in working with technology, even one that we use on a day to day basis? For most of us, technology is something from which we receive information. We browse the web and watch a curated version of the world. We answer the phone and have conversations without really examining the technology we are using.
More avid web users begin tinkering with the settings of the technology. Working with tools and options, we can bypass some of the assumptions of the technology and begin to offer a critical eye to what was once a given. This might involve more sophisticated queries of the intentional exclusion of information that you do not require.
Those that are truly interested in the web begin to generate new content and structures that violate the existing templates and actively challenge how the technology can be deployed. The concept of a 'website' has evolved enormously and any number of sites can be said to have derived from a primitive HTML ancestor.
At some point, the tool-user becomes a professional and they are looked upon as possessing the competence and mastery to educate others. The tacit assumptions that frame this relationship are strict, and much like pornography, 'we know it when we see it'. We call our IT department for a reason, and we don't often question the training or competence that allows that person to look inside our computer.
The final stage of development or responsibility is to employ the tool to achieve some personal growth or social growth. The technology begins to serve a larger purpose, or perhaps it always has. Growth and maturity are required in order to support a personal journey or a larger community. Blogging is an example of a 'challenge' to a technology turning into something quite different, and quite supportive of growth across many individuals and fields.
When technologies are implemented in organizations, the change management process can be difficult. This is particularly true when the decision makers already "know" how the technology needs to be used. Digital media artists are constantly extending the intended use of modern media and that creative urge exists in everyone.
To put it bluntly:
“Any change initiative centered on new technology that requires human beings to serve only as spectators will fail.”
Change initiatives require a level of permission from those being changed. Even those that rationally support a change initiative will, paradoxically, resist it as a short-term self-defense mechanism if they are not enlisted as participants in the initiative's creation and if a state of readiness doesn't exist to internalize it.
More importantly, the change initiative must be framed at the psychosocial level. If competency is expected, then service to personal growth and social growth must be the understood outcome. Competency in a new technology requires a higher level of responsibility of the user than an analytic explanation can provide.
Think of anything you've mastered in your life and you will quickly see that underlying that pursuit was a sense of personal or collective growth. Some may never reach the level of mastery required of an innovation but if they embody the desired outcome, their development will be much faster than if they only understand the analytical intent or no intent at all.
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