To tech, or not to tech — that’s not the question

Harold Jarche posted It’s not about the technology the other day.  He was looking at resistance to adopting technology, something I’ve let roll around the back burner lately.  And he makes a great point:

It’s not about the technology, but it’s definitely not about ignoring the technology.

I’d actually thought about a post with the title, “It’s not the tech; it’s the aliens.”  Putting myself next to people who seem to resist change, I’ve tried to figure out the sources, which I think include:

  • I’m using what works.
  • I haven’t got time for this.
  • Doing things this way is kind of  stupid, but I’m used to how stupid.
  • So I have to read blogs, and I have to have a feedreader (only it’s called feedburner?), and I have to read it to read the other stuff?  Where do I get a job that pays me to “friend” people?

I do have some bias against early adoption, because it seems to lead to marketing and then prosetylization.  (If you’re not on Twitter, there must be something wrong with you.  If you’re still using Front Page, you probably need a twelve-step group.)

In talking about how learning shouldn’t be too easy, I used this photo:

In terms of using new technology (or, really, any kind of new tool or process) at work, think of the vertical axis as time to spare, and the horizontal axis as pressure to produce.

I think if people have lots of time to spare, they’re actually less likely to play with new tools.  There’s no motivation whatsoever, other than escape from boredom.  (Similarly, as the old post says, if you don’t see any challenge in a new learning situation, you don’t exert yourself at all.)

As the pressure to produce results increases, though, to the extent I’ve got some time to spare, I might try a new tool — but the payoff has to be reasonably apparent.  As soon as I feel I’m going backwards, I’m going to bail out.  What’s more, I’ll have another example of a dumb idea imposed on me from the outside.

Keep in mind that some new ideas are dumb, at least to those who have to carry them out.  If you’ve been to a U.S. post office lately, you’ve probably encountered counterproductive upselling disguised as customer service.

Do you want priority mail? Do you want insurance?  Do you want confirmation of delivery?   Do you want chocolate sprinkles with the confirmation?

Harold gives examples of people getting things done through technology.  These are vital, I think.  Even in face-to-face computer training, people generally have very little interest in “learning to use a spreadsheet.”  But “analyzing monthly sales” (or even “avoiding math when making reports”) appeals to self-interest, and to getting something done (as opposed to “doing something”).

No matter what the goal of the training (or, for the more highbrow, “the learning opportunity”), people need to quickly produce results that they judge as worthwhile.

Bell-curve bench photo by cris.

4 thoughts on “To tech, or not to tech — that’s not the question

  1. Dave:
    I was thinking about similar concerns with web 2.0 recently. New technologies offer us more and (sometimes) better ways to communicate. This is fantastic for personal learning and networking.

    In organizations though, learning is a means to an end…business performance. Learning technologies (learning 2.0)need to be focused squarely on performance goals or, as we are starting to learn, they can generate lots of “behaviour” but very little “performance”.

    I posted just today on this…

  2. Tom, I tend to agree that in organizations, learning ought to connect to performance — though I think some of that connection can be indirect. When I worked for GE, some of my professional development would benefit me as an individual in the short run, with benefit to the company harder to make an “objective” case for.

    William Horton in one of his books looked with a skeptical eye on ROI and training (to say nothing of performance) because it’s often rater bias dressed up as objectivity.

    The largest training effort I ever worked on saw the client’s main product go from 24% of 28% of a highly competitive market in which 1% equaled nearly half a billion dollars. If the employees hadn’t learned the new system, that increase couldn’t have happened. That doesn’t mean we delivered all of that 4% increase, or even one-fourth of it, I don’t think.

    The best judgment was that the client came back to us for other projects.

  3. RE: “If you’ve been to a U.S. post office lately, you’ve probably encountered counterproductive upselling disguised as customer service.”

    The postal clerks get graded by Secret Shoppers, who look ONLY for things like this. (Not on, oh, whether the clerks are nice, or competent, or fast.) And there is BIG trouble if the clerks don’t ask each and every question. That’s right– the line you are waiting in grows ever-longer while the postal clerks run through their list of 20 questions with you. Even better: they have to do this even with customers they wait on every day, and who they know wants none of the extras, lest the Secret Shopper be within earshot.

    Why can’t the postal service see that this is, as you say, “counterproductive”?

  4. The postal service has always had schizophrenic direction–such as the service focus and the political patronage kowtowing, when it was still a direct branch of government. Now, of course, its problems have increased: email and package services gnaw at different ends of its traditional market. Somewhere some marketeer thinks it’s a great idea to ask busy people about stuff like certification or, for heaven’s sake, insurance, when all they want to do is mail the package.

    This is justified as “informing” or “providing a full range of service,” though I suspect it’s mainly job security for consultants and product managers. Self-stick stamps: good idea. DIY machines to weigh packages and provide postage: good idea. Detaining your actual customers while you blather about arcane services: less so.

    The model is turning into the relentless nickel-and-diming mixed with subtle intimidation that makes the auto rental and banking industries so popular with consumers.

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