The top 1,500 CEOs of the world have named technology as the top factor impacting their businesses. I believe that people shaping the technology – and the way they behave – are much more interesting.
It was all over the news – and with good reason. For the first time ever, the 1,500 top dogs in IBM’s annual CEO survey chose “technology” as the most important external factor that will impact organizations and businesses in the coming years.
As far back as anyone can remember, the two top spots on the official CEO horror list have always been “market factors” and “people skills”; the classical duo straight out of the Harvard Business School curriculum. Suddenly, after five years of financial crisis, globalization, major changes in the workforce, and plummeting revenues, the majority of the CEOs name “technology” as the top driver of their business decisions in the coming years.
It’s easy to understand why. New advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and IT have revolutionized, and will continue to revolutionize, the way that we work, live, and play. The new networked social economy with its smart mobile devices, wearable gadgets, Big Data, and new democratized communications platforms have revolutionized products, operations, and business models within less than a decade.
Back to the future
So there you have it: the top echelons of the business society are back on track, looking the future straight in the eye and are already planning how to cope with – and profit on – this new and challenging “über-technologized” world. Still, I have this strange feeling inside. I may be committing the sin of hubris, but I am not convinced that technology is the real challenge – it’s what technology does to people!
No matter the grandeur of our technological advances, new technology can never be better than the people using it. It’s not until they adapt to the technology and behave as intended that we have actual progress. Technology is about human behavior – not nuts, bolts, bits, or bytes.
We’ve seen major technological advances many times before. Just think of the IT bubble in the late 90s. The technology companies all went bankrupt, and most of the inventions became redundant and disappeared. They’re long gone, but the mindset lived on, and business was never the same again.
I believe the same thing is happening again. Facebook may be worth trillions on the stock exchange, but my kids are already looking for other ways of expressing themselves.
Technology is about behavior
My point is this: technology is just…technology. And what we are seeing now is not a technological advancement – it’s the birth of an entirely new generation of people with exceptional skills of adaptation, multitasking talent, and a completely new and open way of engaging with people, companies, and brands. It’s not the technology that should concern CEOs, it’s the new breed of homo sapiens called the Generation M (for Millennials or Mobile), that should be on the top of IBM’s CEO focus list.
The challenge is two-fold. First, the CEO must bridge the ever widening gap between the adaptation skills of Generation M and the rest of the workforce, while they all wait for us old-timers to retire and leave the world (and, I guess, also the space) to the fittest.
And, after that, the smartest CEOs will redesign their workstreams, create new workspaces (not places…) and define the new social norms that will fit with the super workers of Generation M. The companies that adapt to the Generation M mindset first will be the ones to rule their industries and beat all of the competition.
A piece of advice from me to the CEOs of the world: free, of course, in the spirit of the young, ultra-sharing Generation M’ers. And a plea to the young people who will revolutionize the world (and pay for my pension). Please take me along for the ride. I know I’m only in adaptability mode 2.0, but I would really like to be part of the spectacle. It’s going to be grand!