When I was younger, the ‘cool’ stuff was created by large, faceless organisations with brilliant logos and jingles. I imagined they sat in massive offices, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and dreaming up incredible solutions to problems we hadn’t realised we had. Growing up, I found this wasn’t too far from the truth – although the non-smoking policy in many buildings diluted the reality.
Let me place down my cards straight away: I love new technology, I’m a geek, and I will pretty much buy anything with some form of wireless transmitter, or trial pretty much any software that increases my productivity.
But equally, I will only keep using stuff that makes my life easier or better… and this is why I have drawers full of useless crap that probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But that’s what eBay is for, right?
When speaking with numerous inventors or creators (of whom most were technologists), I realised a while ago, there is a distinct divide in motivation that leads to invention. Without meaning to be too binary, and purely for illustrative purposes, the divide I see is:
Those who create or invent due to an existing problem that needs to be solved
Those who create or invent due to a technological capability, without addressing an existing problem
The justification of the second type tends to be that the technological capability will address a future problem that, maybe, people haven’t even realised yet. Actually, most people retrospectively state they are in the first camp – the key word here being retrospectively.
If we look closely at the genesis of ideas, there are multitudes of instances where “doing something really clever with technology” is actually the driver, rather than “doing something that will help or add fundamental value to the end user”.
I see it time and time again – the ‘adding value’ part is appended to the end of a ream of technological wizardry and often, people accept the rhetoric if the powerpoint presentation is cool enough.
In reality I see these as solutions looking for a problem, and, whilst we’re on the catchphrases; when you’re a hammer, everything looks like nail.
Worse still, if we work for a company or organisation with a strong technological bias, we may well be pre-programmemed to dream up a ‘use case’ or ‘user journey’ after the technology has already been created (or, at least conceived).
However we arrive at it, these circumstances are symptoms of an exceedingly popular poison known as The Poison Of Technology That Can.
The problem is that the technology around us presents so many opportunities to do ‘stuff’; it’s very tempting just to go ahead and do it.
We can be driven by the desire for money, the desire for fame, or the desire to fulfil a mandate from our bosses. We can invent stories of demand, which actually are based on an assumption that we represent the mass market.
Rooms of people in corporate suits, earning big money, carrying three smartphones, assuming that the girl on the reception desk truly cares about the latest 3.542v processor that enables something that only those in corporate suits can pronounce, but none are brave enough to describe, in case they get it wrong.
“No, you’ve misjudged us Jonathan,” they say. “The 3.542v isn’t for people like her, we are going for the biggest market opportunity, and that is people just like us.”
Then I say, “…but, with respect, you may not actually be representative of the biggest market.”
Then they say, “No, we are! Everyone I know is like me.”
Then I say, “So why are you putting out an advertising campaign aimed at people like the girl on reception?”
Then they say, “Because people like that aspire to be just like us!”
Then I shut my big mouth.
The Poison Of Technology That Can is a terrible virus. It’s everywhere you look. Want to test it? Ask someone who has created something, how they came up with the idea. Here are some potential answers:
“We noticed our competitors getting into the space of…”
“We read a report that this market was going to…”
“We were instructed by our CEO that we had to use our tech capability to…”
If the answer starts with phrases like these, it is quite likely they have been infected by The Poison Of Technology That Can.
The evil beauty of this poison is that you can hide it really easily with key messages and marketing communications.
In fact, even people within organisations can believe they are making real people’s lives better, simply because they have been told they are.
The poison is so damn clever, it sometimes results in successes, thus justifying future creations based on the same approach of technology first, external purpose second. The poison is also intelligent. It is the big brother of post-rationalisation that continues the viral mutation. So – what’s the antidote?
It’s as easy and as hard as having the vision, ethical merit and bravery to continually question “how can we make people’s lives better?” or “how can we add more value to people’s experiences?”
Then, having the courage to invest in fulfilling the external purpose rather than a) following competitors, or b) taking the easy road of doing what’s possible, rather than what’s valuable.
Sounds easy to say, doesn’t it?
Sadly, it really isn’t…
However – if you ever wanted a competitive edge, if you ever wanted to tear apart the marketplace you’re in, or, most importantly, if you ever wanted to attract loyal and loving fans, my advice is to avoid The Poison Of Technology That Can like the plague.
In fact, Technology That Can will almost guarantee you will be left with a Bank Manager That Can’t… and People Who Ignore.
What could be worse?
Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/