Immersed in technology consulting over the last year, I have encountered a number of situations in which my clients have demonstrated an awareness that increased technology knowledge (on their part) might be beneficial. In short, they realize they don’t think like “technology-minded people,” and they want to know how. While their intentions are good, their questions are misguided. Questions like, “What should I read,” “what should I study…” and even “who should I hire?”
These questions reveal a deeper issue: someone not technology-minded often won’t know what technology mindedness looks like. “Technology acuity” is perceived as something that can be acquired through “old school” means if one simply had a list of the “correct” means. While I certainly don’t discount the value of multiple methods of learning, trying to “learn technology” like a historical subject — without understanding the nature of technology itself — is folly. “Technology” is (sorry to use a negative concept) like the cold virus. There isn’t just one. It can’t be memorized. The best in the field seek not to carve its traits in stone, but to understand its nature. The world we live in expects technology-knowledge to be increasing every day, so trying to “fake it” is self-defeating in the long-run. There’s a disparity in the two models of learning and understanding that can’t be reconciled.
I tried to think of a way to illustrate this for my clients, and I came up with a simple comparison test: two questions, asked of a set of technology-savvy individuals I know and then asked also of my clients. When compared, the differences in answers should stand out. Here’s the test:
Please provide short answers to the following:
If you encountered or overheard an unfamiliar term, please indicate the first action you would take.
(Here are a few examples to stimulate your thinking: “SIRDS” “hypervoxels” “funnel analytics”)
And if your first action didn’t help, what would you do next?
I have yet to gather more than a cursory collection of responses, but here’s what I expect to receive back consistently once broad results are in. My technology-minded colleagues will likely answer #1 with “Google search” and #2 with “Wikipedia search” or something similar. My clients, on the other hand, I expect to respond with “ask a colleague,” or “ask that really sharp guy down the hall,” followed by “call a friend”, or something equivalent.
What do I expect this will prove? That those who aren’t technology-minded don’t think to use technology to help themselves know more about technology. That may be obvious, but contrast it with the other group that constantly grows more aware of technology because they know to use it to continually learn more about it. In essence, the first is self-defeating — a sinking spiral — while the second is self-sustaining. Business has clearly become much more technology-driven, and so it is an advantage to be technology-minded for awareness, self-sufficiency and productivity. Those who aren’t technology-buoyant are sinking (or being kept afloat solely by others). The rest are keeping themselves afloat in a constantly shifting current, and often carrying the weight of the former. Maybe you’ve had some experiences with this personally. (Are you the person propping up the others?)
In my world, propping up doesn’t help for long, and while I love to explain, I hate to become a crutch. Since I’m chiefly interested in making technology users self-sufficient, here’s the challenging question I ponder out of all this: It is possible to take a person who is not technology-minded and train (or condition) them to become so, particularly to the point where they are independent and self-sufficient in answering their own technology questions, resulting in further technology-mindedness? (My apologies for the run-on sentence.) If the answer is yes, what’s the best approach for re-conditioning such a person? Is there a best method or set of exercises? And if a successful, repeatable formula for this could be achieved, would the net effect on a particular population have a cumulative effect as the newly self-sufficient begin to train those still relying on non-technology means for learning about technology? Could the technology-mindedness “cure” become self-propagating?
I don’t have a solid formula developed for this by any means, but it intrigues me enough to continue working on it. Your thoughts on this are certainly welcome.