Is technology slowing us down?

Seriously, is it? This might sound like a strange question from a technology early adopter and yet I believe this is a valid question. I realize that technology is actually fueling growth, opening up new opportunities and markets, giving access to consumers that were previously out of reach. It’s at the base of many new products and helps us connect with the world. But it also seems to be a burden, a barrier for many businesses in that same quest for growth. Every week I see decisions being taken – with clients, partners or friends – that are based upon technology and that should have been taken weeks, months or even years ago. Or even worse – decisions which we all know are wrong from the start, but where technology forces to do things in a certain way. This is just an observation but one I encounter too regularly to ignore. And I think these are the main reasons:

People can’t keep up. Being an early adopter for technology is one thing. It opens up opportunities if you are one, but it’s not really an issue for business when you’re not. The real problem with the rapid technology development is that this rhythm is very different than the business/marketing rhythm of many businesses. Even if they know which technology offers real opportunities, they haven’t got the means nor the organization to cope with that. On top of that the early adopters don’t care about that problem, they’re too busy being first with something new that it’s not their problem that the rest of the world can’t keep up. That is not the biggest issue though, the biggest issue is that business are seeing that the gap between the expected level of change and the ability to manage is is getting bigger by the year. And that that is largely related to technology. I didn’t  make that up, it was one of the key findings of the IBM CEO study.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin

How to judge the expert’s expertise? At the introduction of new technology, experts are born. These experts range from people that have been researching about this new tech for the last x years to others who have read a lot about all this over the last few days/weeks/months. That makes them pretty different even though both will claim their expertise in similar ways and in both cases they will sound pretty knowledgeable to all people that are new to the topic. I’ve always found this a serious problem because everyone knows the importance of a good introduction to something new, and how hard it is to change people’s minds when that introduction wasn’t meeting expectations. You never get a second change to make a first impression.

Wrong decisions from the (recent) past. Maybe the worst reason of all. Companies often know that the technology decision they’re taking today is not the ideal one, but that earlier decisions and investments define the window in which they can decide. That’s really unfortunate of course, it’s like the perfect way to maneuver yourself out of competition. It’s also a very challenging one, because at the one hand you would suggest to make sure everything is researched properly before making a decision (to avoid things to turn out badly later) and yet we’re already being too slow to begin with. A big part of these decisions are platform decisions and I don’t think businesses need to take more time to decide, I do believe they need to approach platforms different compared to what they do now. More on that in a separate post.

Organizational hierarchy. There’s no better way to put this than with Putt’s Law below – this may be from 2006 but it’s still very much true today. Make sure you have the right people take the right part of the decision when it comes down to technology.

“Technology is dominated by 2 types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand.” Archibald Putt

My issue with the iPad

It’s not about the lack of Flash support. Although you visit less sites in their mobile version (if available) on the iPad thus the lack of Flash support is a bigger pain than on the iPhone, I knew what I was getting into when I bought one. Nor is it the lack of multi-tasking capabilities, I’m sure once iOS4 arrives on the iPad we will have that (kinda) sorted out. And also the fact that there are only few really good iPad apps is an issue (for now). There may as well be several thousand apps available (250.000 if you count all iPhone apps), we all know most of them are rubbish.

My issue is with the OS. It still is a big phone, without the phone functionalities then… probably to avoid situations like this to happen. Now a mobile phone typically is a very personal piece of technology. You don’t just hand to someone else to toy with it, it’s yours and personal. And that’s where the problem lies, for me the iPad isn’t personal. Not like the iPhone (or any other mobile phone for that matter). My wife and I both have our own mobiles but it’s rather unlikely that I we will get a second iPad, we both use it. But since it’s built on a mobile OS, it’s not really built for multiple users. There’s no need for that on a phone but it means that on the iPad there’s a primary user next to other people that can also use it. But not in the same way.

Still don’t see the problem? I really enjoy Flipboard, so does my wife. But it’s logged in with my Twitter/Facebook accounts so she cannot really enjoy that part. I could add her email account(s) to the iPad but then those would be visible to both of us, that’s not really what you want. And we try and beat each other on playing Mahjong but since there’s only one high score, it impossible to tell (remember) who it was from. It would enable me to personalize the iPad for the kids when they use it as well. With us, the iPad is typically lying around in the living room for anyone in the family to use when they feel like it. But since I’m the primary user (and the geek – yes, that too) it’s mainly setup towards my needs. I find that a missed opportunity.

It would be great to see the iOS for iPad change in a way you can have a user login upfront, similar to what we are used to on our PCs/Macs. Or the possibility to switch between users, all to get a more personal experience on a multi-user/shared device. I’m afraid that is not going to happen (soon) so maybe in that case it’s worth asking the developers of Flipboard, Reeder, Mahjong, … to implement the possibility to switch between users in the app itself. Less ideal, but it would still solve my issue with the iPad.