As technologists, we have all been using and or promoting the use of technology for years, some of us for decades. Whatever your view of the merits of technology for getting work done, finding information or communicating to co-workers, friends and family, we can all agree that our lives have changed dramatically and permanently from the digital revolution that started decades ago.
Increasingly, I've been reading books and articles that express a growing discomfort with some of the unintended consequences of our reliance on computers. The latest book to cover it is Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Turkle, a professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and a licensed clinical psychologist, has written before about the impact of technology on our lives. In this book she examines the costs and risks to us of relying on technology for our emotional lives, either through sociable robots or our reliance on social networks and smart phones for our connections to others.
One of the most difficult issues technologists face is explaining the need to replace legacy IT systems to business people. A major hurdle is that technologists and business people frequently speak different languages. Technologists often talk about the technology in far more technical terms than business people can understand or care about, while business people prefer to talk about gross margins, new revenue streams, innovation and expanding markets.
It's not a surprise that this occurs. After all, that's how each sees their world. But if communication is to take place between the two, then IT needs to learn how to talk and listen differently. Michael Schrage, author and a research fellow at MIT Sloan School's Center for Digital Business, blogged about his own consulting experience for Procter & Gamble at Harvard Business Review .
Delivering bad news is something that most people are not good at. Either we're trying to ease the pain of the message for the recipient or trying to protect ourselves from that person's wrath. It's a human impulse to shield those we care about from distressing information and it's equally human to avoid being the bearer of unpleasant news.
This same behavior can be observed in the business and IT worlds. Research conducted by Jaclyn Jensen of George Washington University found that as projects get closer to completion, decision makers are more likely to conceal negative information. In this study, groups of undergraduates were confronted with a significant problem in the fictional business projects they were working on. If a project was 90% completed, 81% failed to mention anything negative. However, if the project was only 10% complete, 37.5% avoided mention of the problem.
Many people who make their living in scientific fields would classify themselves as rational beings, people who make decisions based on facts. But in reality, many situations are not so cut and dry. Often choices need to be made about situations that involve elements you can't control, like the economy, the price of goods and services you buy, the weather, customer attitudes, employee loyalty.
"I don't think rationality is the golden standard," says Dan Ariely, a Duke professor and author of "The Upside of Irrationalilty" and "Predictably Irrational." "We need to think about what creates the best structures, incentives, motivation - and rationality is not always that." He thinks that businesses need to "understand the irrationality" of their employees and customers and take that into account when making decisions.
Do you ever feel pulled in too many directions at once? If you do you are not alone. A recent Booz & Company survey of more than 1,800 executives found that almost 2/3s said their biggest frustration is having too many conflicting priorities.
Added to this problem is the existence of incoherent strategies that don't differentiate the organization or don't align with corporate goals. More than half of executives (56%) said that their biggest challenges are ensuring that day-to-day decisions are in line with strategy and allocating resources in a way that supports strategy.
Many of us get the evil eye from spouses when we can't stop clicking away on our Blackberries or other smart devices. This is particularly vexing at meals or other times that should be family time. None of this is surprising, it's easy to understand how annoying this is and how it interferes with interpersonal relationships. But what about at work? It's okay to show how efficient we are at multitasking by taking our electronic devices everywhere, right?