E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Resisting Change – Luddites Unite!

The London Eye, Palace of Westminster and the Thames

Who would have thought that, after 20 years in the IT industry, I am, essentially, a Luddite. No, not necessarily a technophobe, nor someone who is opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or technology in general. No, not like that! Just what the original Luddites were all about. People who were not opposed to technology itself, but to the particular way it was being applied. Or as Eliane Glaser brilliantly wrote just recently people whose ‘protest was specifically aimed at a new class of manufacturers who were aggressively undermining wages, dismantling workers’ rights and imposing a corrosive early form of free trade. To prove it, they selectively destroyed the machines owned by factory managers who were undercutting prices, leaving the other machines intact’. 

Whoahhh! No wonder I keep musing about another rather thought-provoking sentence she put together as well in that superb article: ‘Technological change does not automatically equate with progress’. And that would probably explain why, nearly at the end of 2016, we are still so averse to any kind of (technological) change, specially, inside organisations. And for a good reason…


We all know change is hard, very hard, yet, we all acknowledge that, if anything, change is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time for us to decide how long we may be able to delay it, while we decide how we may, or may not, need to adapt to the new conditions, and if technology kicks in, all the better. However, when thinking deeper about change, and how we face it, specially, inside organisations with all of these different change initiatives around Social Business and / or Digital Transformation, there are different ways of how we can make it happen a lot more effectively than what we may have been doing in the last decade or so. And it all has to do with a simple shift of focus areas: from technology and business processes to people (i.e. culture), from document centric to people centric computing, and, finally, from replacing knowledge (Web) workers (i.e. humans) with machines (i.e. algorithms) to augmenting, not replacing, the human potential.

If you look into one of the main reasons as to why vast majority of Social Business and Digital Transformation programmes have failed over the course of the last 10 years, there is a great chance that it’s mostly due to our very own reluctance to accept that we might be replaced, over time, either by business processes or by technology via automation, or the well known algorithm. Eventually, either by business processes and / or by machines. No-one wants to see that happening, of course. No-one wants to see how Artificial Intelligence, in whatever the form or shape, kicks in eventually taking over. Never mind how we are already seeing plenty of instances, specially, in the so-called Social Web out there, about that taking place and with very little left that we can do. The thing is that it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be. We can do much much better than that. And it only starts with thinking that change doesn’t necessarily imply something negative, but something (very) positive, as long as we keep thinking that such change, or change initiatives, need to have the main focus on and for the people. The knowledge (Web) workers themselves, not just the business. Remember how we need to dramatically improve the overall employee experience, before we can influence the customers’? That’s where we need to start!

Professor Calestous Juma already points out the potential main reason as to why we keep failing to adapt to change fast enough in a wonderfully inspiring write-up under the rather suggestive heading ‘Why do people resist new technologies? History might provide the answer’:

Society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity’

Assisted Intelligence anyone? Well, hold on for a moment. It gets better, way better. If you keep on reading throughout the article, there is this golden gem that will pretty much help you conclude, right as we speak, whether your change programme, either if you are starting now or if you have been working on it for a good while already, will eventually succeed (by whatever the criteria you may have put in place already) or fail along the process. To quote him:

‘We eagerly embrace them when they support our desire for inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature. We do so even when they are unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming to use, and constantly break down.’

Calestous continues brilliantly reflecting further along with ‘We live in exciting times where technological diversity and creativity offer limitless opportunities to expand the human potential for all, not just for certain exclusive sections of society’  to then finish off, towards the end of the article, with this incredibly inspiring reflection:

‘Resistance to new technologies is heightened when the public perceives that the benefits of new technologies will only accrue to a small section of society, while the risks are likely to be widespread.’

Is it ok now then for us all to become Luddites? And I mean, the original Luddites described in the article I already mentioned above by Elaine Glaser? Hummm … before you answer that question for yourself, take a look into this stunning article published by the one and only Howard Rheingold back in 1998 (Yes, you are reading it right … 1998!!!) under the title ‘Technology 101: What Do We Need To Know About The Future We’re Creating?‘ Go ahead and read it. It’s very much worth while the time. Don’t worry, I will be here waiting … 

 

Yes, I know, we are now all Luddites! We need to be. Either within our very own organisations or out there on the Social Web. We don’t have much of a choice for that matter anymore, if we would want to effectively embrace change and adapt to technology by augmenting the human capability versus either being replaced by it (i.e. automation) or subjected by it (i.e. the algorithm). We need to exercise our rights to question everything, to reclaim our long gone and lost critical thinking skills about what we know is just not right. We need to, eventually, at long last, wake up to the reality that ’technology is a tool we can deploy to achieve democratically agreed ideals’ and that, after all, it’s about defining, collectively, what our human choices and priorities may well be like and what progress really means. That’s when our change and transformation journeys will begin…

For everyone. That’s where inclusion, purpose, challenge, meaning and alignment with nature will kick in and, if I may add further along, that’s when we will start caring.

What do you care about?

Worth while sharing it along?
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5 comments

    1. Hi David, thanks a lot for dropping by and for the lovely comments! Much appreciated! I haven’t watched the presentation by David Wood just yet as I am running some personal errands, but will be doing so over the course of the day and may comment back on it over here as well… So thanks much for that!

      With regards to your thoughts about what do we do?, I know I may well be oversimplifying things a fair bit, but I keep saying it may well all down to education and at all levels, not just at schools, high schools or universities. And education not just necessarily from the traditional education systems point of view but from each and everyone of us educating and enabling those who may want to reach out for help and assistance. I think we need to recover that apprenticeship – master relationship as an opportunity to not just work on the present, but also prepare for the future, and for that to happen we need to shift gears in terms of how we view our education systems and the current models they use focusing on the jobs of the 19th and 20th centuries vs. the 21st and beyond.

      Yes, I know I may be oversimplifying on this initial response, but I suspect the moment we wake up to recognise the true importance and relevance of education in today’s knowledge society, the better we may be able to prepare for what’s to come, whatever that may well be … What do you think?

      PS. I will take a look into the presentation during the course of the day and let you know as well some initial thoughts… Thanks a lot, once again, for the wonderful feedback! 😀👍🏻

    2. Hi David, here I am again … heh I have now taken a look into the YouTube link and went through the presentation by David Wood and I have to tell you I have enjoyed it very much as I think he pretty much nailed plenty of the challenges we have got ahead in the following 5 to 10 years! Love the fact that he talked extensively about the whole notion behind happiness, not necessarily in the context of work, but in general and I think it can correlate pretty nicely into the whole notion of happiness at work.

      Not sure whether you may have seen this video clip, but if you haven’t, take a look into it. When you were asking about what do we do? I think we could eventually start right there as well! Looking after the well being of the employees improving their employee experience by introducing that notion of happiness at work. Take a look into the video clip and you will see what I mean…

      One great example as well that David mentions is the case of Costa Rica where the notion of happiness at work seems to have been well established to the point of influencing as well the overall engagement of the employee. David didn’t mention that specifically, but you could have a look into Gallup’s latest data available from their global research around employee engagement where back in 2013 (last data publicly available) it stated how Costa Rica itself is the most engaged country in the world, above anyone else! Perhaps we should start there as well …

      After going through David’s presentation, I think we all ought to start asking the most poignant question there seems to be out there that may be influenced by the huge impact of technology itself: what kind of humans or human beings do we want to be in the long run?.

      Fascinating topic to no end and one that’s dear to my heart, more than anything else because I keep exercising that moderate optimism anticipating things will be all right eventually in the long term, despite the temporary hiccups we may go through till we reach that point. It’s the journey that I find rather fascinating even more to the point of evaluating whether we are ready to evolve from Civilization Type 0 to Civilization Type 1. See here for more details on what I mean and let’s hope we are just getting ready for that successful transition. 😀👍🏻

    1. Hiya, Laura! My goodness! So great to hear from you!! Hope you are doing well! Many many thanks for dropping by and for the wonderful feedback! Much appreciated. I have just watched Haley’s TED Talk and I couldn’t have agreed more with your thoughts and her insights!

      They are a living proof it is possible to shift gears and get us back on track! I am so with you in your reflection about ‘technology needs to be built with the end user in mind’. I think that’s pretty much part of the problem, that it is not happening often enough. We, the end users, are always being taken for granted, because, you know, we don’t have much to say, but a lot to write (i.e. data) that tech companies are thirsty and very hungry about so they can do whatever they want with it. Asking questions first to the end users has never been part of the equation and it’s the main, fundamental problem. No wonder the rejection and reluctance are there going rather strong!

      I am so glad you have dropped by and added this comment to Haley’s inspiring and rather passionate presentation, because she is showing us that it can be done, and effectively. We just need to shift gears, change our focus from data hungry systems into people centric computing systems. In the area of the Social Web it’s a transition from using media tools into social media tools.

      Listening to Haley’s pitch one clear message comes out that I wish all of these technology companies doing media tools would focus on: look after the needs of the end users and the end users would look after you! Splendid!

      Thanks a lot, once again, for the wonderful feedback and look forward to further conversations! 😀👍🏻

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