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    Entries in change (11)


    From 20 Years Ago: 5 Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

    Over the weekend I found my way, (don't ask how), to the transcript of a 1998 talk given by the late author Neil Postman, ('Amusing Ourselves to Death, 'Technology: The Surrender of Culture to Technology' and others).

    In the talk, titled 'Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change', Postman runs down how he saw advances in technology, (computers, cars, planes, medical devices, etc.), impacting people, society, work, and even technologies coming next. It is an incredibly interesting, and I think prescient, take on how technology disperses across the population, influences our behaviors, and changes, well, almost everything. And what was just as interesting to me was the fact that much of Postman's thinking and work about the impact of technological change was done between 20 and 30 years ago.

    I definitely recommend reading the text of the full talk, (link here), but in case you don't have the time, here are the five main points Postman made on technological change (with a little bit of commentary and perhaps an update for 2018 from me).

    Point 1 - Culture Always Pays a Price for Technology

    In this point Postman was essentially stating that every technological advance is accompanied by some negative repercussions and impacts. He wanted us to make sure we did not only focus on a new technology's advantages and gave equal attention to its inherent disadvantages. Postman was specifically talking about computers here, but in 2018 the obvious example would be social media - Facebook, Instagram, etc. For all the benefits of these platforms the negative consequences have to also be considered.

    Point 2 - There Are Always Winners and Losers in Technological Change

    Postman states "The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others. There are even some who are not affected at all."

    Everyone's experience with new technology is unique. And some technologies are going to harm or displace or even render non-essential people and jobs that a particular technology disrupts. And of course some people are going to benefit from that disruption. We are cognizant of this, just think about how many 'robots are going to take the jobs away' articles you see, but at the same time we're not sure how it will indeed play out.

    Point 3 - Every Technology Has a Philosophy Which is Given Expression in How the Technology Makes People User Their Minds

    There was actually a little more to this point, but you can read the entire talk for the additional context. But Postman was basically saying that every technology has a kind of predisposition, or that proponents of a given technology are often predisposed to think a certain way. For 'tech' people, every problem is one of data, analysis, algorithms, etc., and they can have a tendency to think about the world and its problems as simply data challenges. The drawback of this approach is to limit the importance and influence, (or to ignore altogether), human factors like emotion, judgment, even empathy. We have to always be mindful of how our chosen technologies shape and inform our thinking.

    Point 4 - Technological Change is Not Additive, it is Ecological

    This point is perhaps Postman's most intriguing idea about technological change. He makes the point using an analogy of placing a drop of red dye into a beaker of water. Soon, the entire beaker of water takes on a subtle shift from clear to light red. Every part of the water has been changed by the one drop of dye.

    Extending the analogy to business-driven technology change, Postman suggests that the modern-day technology business innovators, (Gates, Musk, Zuckerberg, etc.), are effectively creating massive changes in how people and businesses interact with technology, and like the red dye doesn't care that is changing the entirety of the water, these tech leaders don't care about the massive changes their technologies are driving. Postman cautions us back in 1998 about this phenomenon and in 2018 I don't think we have to be reminded about the potential for negative effects in society of too much power and influence accruing to a small group of technology titans.

    Point 5 - Technology Tends to Become 'Mythic'

    By 'mythic' Postman means that once technologies achieve a level of adoption, we, (especially newer generations), forget that these technologies were actually invented by someone, and at a particular place and time. The internet did not always exist. Neither did texting or Tweeting or having GPS on our phones at all times. The caution of this mythic status, argues Postman, is that once these technologies become an essential and inherent element of our lives they are exceedingly difficult to change. Postman uses the example of television in his talk, but in 2018 we could easily think about how much people would revolt if changes were suggested to social media or mobile phones. What if Facebook decided to limit your time on the platform to 10 minutes a day? Most of us would be better off, probably, but we would never let it happen.

    Really interesting observations, and probably perhaps a little ahead of their time as well. While in 1998 when this talk was given society had seen and was seeing some pretty dramatic advances in technology, and the rate of mainstream or widespread technology adoption was accelerating, it is probably safe to say that now, 20 years later, these kinds of advances are even more dramatic and important.

    Have a great week!


    Deconstructed Protocols

    I have been on a bunch of long, cross-country type flights lately. And part of the deal with a long flight is the time honored tradition of casually glancing at the laptop or tablet of the person sitting next to you to catch a glimpse of their Facebook feed, the movie they might be watching, or my personal favorite - the contents of the PowerPoint deck they are likely about to present the next day.

    On my flight from JFK - SFO yesterday I succumbed to my curiosity to steal a glimpse (or three), at my neighbor's laptop. She was preparing and refining a PowerPoint presentation on some kind of really, really complex subject related to health care and disease control in hospitals (I think). While I was not able to make sense of the slides that I was able to see, one slide in her deck just about jumped out at me. It was the slide that seemed to mark the transition from 'These are all the crap things that are going on right now' to the section that would hold the ideas on 'Here is how we fix this mess and (hopefully) fewer people die.'

    The slide was titled 'Deconstructed Protocols.'

    And when I saw the slide title, I was really blown away. The gist of her presentation, I think, was how hospitals needed to really break down and dissect the specific steps, or protocols, associated with a certain procedure in order to try and figure out why an unacceptable level of post-procedure complications, like infections, have been occurring. And the only way to try and fix the problems is to tear down every element, every step, every piece of communication, every patient interaction, every handoff of responsibility, every piece of equipment used, every medication prescribed, and probably a dozen other things, and assess them both individually and as they exist and contribute to the overall process.

    All of which, for a complex medical process, seems absolutely exhausting and probably has lots or people lined up against it.  

    Deconstructing this process will take ages, will make people in high positions uncomfortable, and will likely require increased investment in the short term thay may take some time to pay off. All things that are hard, are hard to sell internally, and often have people lined up against anyone trying to drive the changes that need to be made.

    What is the point of all this? 

    A guess just a good reminder that even in situations like in a health care setting where making needed process, technology, or workflow changes can result in PEOPLE NOT DYING, often the agents of change run up against all the same barriers that you run into in your corporate role.

    It will cost too much. This will anger the VP of something-something if you cut his team out of the process. You can really KNOW for sure if your changes will have the desired effect. And on and on and on.

    But I hope you stick with it regardless. 

    Maybe you are not in the business of saving lives but I bet the change you are (or want to) advocate for will make people's lives better - employees, candidates, managers - doesn't matter. Even when the benefits are obvious and important, effecting change is still hard.

    And when the benefits are less clear, like as in most of what we do in HR/Talent, it is even harder. But keep the faith. And deconstruct the protocols.

    Have a great week!


    Learn a new word: fact-resistant

    Let's start with the definition, courtesy of Wordspy:

    fact-resistant adj. Impervious to reason, counter-examples, or data, especially when they contradict one's opinions or values.

    From the examples given on the Wordspy entry (on the science behind global warming, politics in the Middle East, violence due to firearms), the term fact-resistant seems to have been most commonly applied or ascribed in these kinds of political or 'hot-button' kinds of contexts. I suppose using the term fact-resistant is a slightly kinder and gentler way of saying. 'What the heck is wrong with you, you big dummy. Can't you just accept the truth of what I am telling you?'

    But where fact-resistant is likely to be more relevant and applicable in the HR/workplace/talent management worlds are the conflicts and tensions that can arise between the data and analytics camps and the folks who prefer (or are just more comfortable with), the traditional or old-school ways of evaluating, assessing, and managing people.

    Here are a few specific scenarios where you, as a modern, progressive, and 'seen Moneyball six times' HR pro might run into some fact-resistant colleagues:

    The hiring manager that 'just can tell from looking in the candidate's eyes' whether or not they should be hired. He's been managing by 'gut feeling' for so many years, why should he change now? What does it matter what your data shows about what sources, backgrounds, and characteristic of candidates predict better performance? 

    The CEO who 'gets a good feeling' when she walks around the office at 8AM (and again at 5PM), and sees cube after cube of people diligently working. She is not interested in hearing about your data that shows that engagement, retention, and productivity would all be improved by the introduction of more flexible working arrangements. Everyone looks happy to her, so why make changes?

    The Chief Operating Officer that doesn't care that your compensation benchmarking data shows that you are trailing the market in some key areas and job roles - those same places and roles where your data also shows increased attrition and longer time-to-fill open roles than in less important areas. The COO just want to ensure that 'we pay just a little below market' to ensure stable and consistent gross margins. Peg everyone to '5% below market' and stop bugging me about this.

    I think you get the idea. But the trouble with these fact-resistant types is not identifying them, it is trying to figure out how to rebut them. Because your normal and expected recourse is to just present more facts. And by definition, this probably isn't going to help very much.

    Maybe appealing to the end results, the outcomes, instead of the math and data needed to get there is the best bet. Rather than hitting them with dashboards or spreadsheets that try to sell your idea, just go big on how you know how to fix the problem with X, Y, or Z, and how they will not only benefit, but also look like a hero in the process. 

    The fact-resistant types are tough though. I still think the Knicks are a title contender this year.

    I don't care what the numbers say.

    Have a great week!


    The Mindset List

    I am such a mark for Beloit College's annual Mindset List, a look at some of the important and sometimes really surprising changes that have occurred in the last 18 years or so, or expressed differently, just how much differently this year's crop of college freshmen have experienced and view the world compared to us older folks.

    Right off of the bat, Beloit reminds us that this new group of students, (mostly born in 1987), have never known a world where hybrid cars were not mass produced, South Park has not always been on TV, and among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

    The Mindset List is always an interesting read every year, but the odd thing about the list is that while it describes and highlights the world view and perspectives of 18 year olds, they are the ones who are likely the least interested in the actual contents of the list. Their world and world view is just what it is. They don't stop to try and think of or conjure up a time where free Wifi did not exist in every Starbucks in the world. It is the modern version of the classic 'I had it much worse than you' line that every parent in every generation for the entire history of time has at one point leveraged to try to make their children feel guilty about how good they have things.

    I am serious, the first evidence of this phenomenon in recorded history was from some primitive cave drawings and inscriptions found in France. Loosely translated, they read, 'Sure kid, it's so easy to kill that antelope with that accurate, sharpened spear. When I was your age, all we had to fight for our lives with was a big rock.'

    These kinds of admonitions have only weakened over time. I can recall on more that one occasion lamenting to my son that he did not understand how good he actually had things, since when I was his age my TV remote WAS ACTUALLY ATTACHED TO THE TV WITH A LONG CORD.

    Hard times for sure.

    There are some real gems on the Mindset List for this year of course, here are a couple of my personal favorites. Incoming college freshmen:

    They have never licked a postage stamp.

    When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.

    Their proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

    There are plenty more gems like that on the list, and I recommend taking a few minutes to take a look at the entire piece.

    I know it is a little obvious, and maybe seems kind of unimportant to most of us but it is really, really easy to lose sight of just how much the world and technology and society and work and everything else changes in a relatively short time. 

    It is good, no matter how old or young we are, to think about how folks not quite like us see and understand the world.


    Stable, but not still

    So this past Sunday morning I have to admit getting caught up in a several hour Law & Order marathon - that staple of American basic cable TV. To the unnamed friend of mine who got me hooked on these old dramas - thanks, I was probably watching too much English soccer anyway.

    On one of the episodes the District Attorney dropped a fascinating line about a theory of law that he subscribed to, something along the lines that while there always will be fundamental principles that form the foundation of law, (and right and wrong), that changes in society, technology, values, etc. over time, demanded that the law be flexible and changeable over time.

    This concept in law was first popularized (as far as my 8 minutes of extensive research was able to ascertain), by the American legal scholar Roscoe Pound, who said, famously, that "The law must be stable, but it must not stand still."

    Pound contended that the law should adapt, slowly, to changes in society, and argued against the idea that the law should try to force or influence society to change. Pound fought the notion of a largely unchanging Common Law, a position not always in the majority then as now.

    Why bring this up? 

    Because the Pound maxim, "The law must be stable, but it must not stand still" could just as easily apply to most of what we do in HR and talent management and in trying to lead in organizations today. It is really easy and fun and less restrictive to talk only about radical change and disruption and need to move 1,000 MPH in modern business, but the truth is very few organizations are architected to operate in that manner, and even the ones that do probably fail as often as not.

    Pound's take, that have a stable, (Note - 'stable' is not the same as 'rigid'), while simultaneously understanding the need to change, to evolve, to in his words, to not 'stand still', is about the most practical advice for the vast majority of organizations and settings today.

    Stable, but not still. I dig that. Nice, shot Roscoe.

    Now, back to the last hour of the Law & Order marathon...

    Have a great week!