CEOs, Forget “Technology” and Start Talking “People”

By CEOs, Forget “Technology” and Start Talking “People” Holger Reisinger

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. 
CEOs, Forget “Technology” and Start Talking “People”
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!

1 Response

  1. Louise Harder May 30, 2014 / 09:10

    IT is behavior. And new IT is new behavior, hence new working habits. This is why new technology is so difficult to implement from a top-down or an out-side-in point of view. “Decision makers in many companies think their selection process does not work well, that IT purchases are not well-aligned with business needs, and that a large fraction of IT spending is wasted. A major reason for this dissatisfaction (…) is that many companies have a predominantly ‘outside-in’ approach to IT selection. They start outside the company by scanning the landscape of available technologies, then decide which of them to bring in. (McAfee) advocate the opposite – an ‘inside-out’ approach in which companies start inside by understanding what they need IT to do, then look out at the IT landscape” (McAfee, 2006). An in-side out approach in 2014 would be for IT-departments to look, listen and understand the end-users – because they are the ones bringing in new devices hence new behavior aka BOYD/BOYB (Gunnarsson, 2012). Have a certain focus on the innovators, who very often are the young, educated, well-networked, exploratory and chancy type of people in your organization – the millenials – they will be the ones testing, designing and tuning the Organizational IT in to an agile system set-up. If this doesn’t give you enough incentive to try to turn away from the out-side-in approach commanding change of behavior that will not happen, then read how extraordinary bosses have a view on technology: “Average bosses adhere to the old IT-centric view that technology is primarily a way to strengthen management control and increase predictability. They install centralized computer systems that dehumanize and antagonize employees. Extraordinary bosses see technology as a way to free human beings to be creative and to build better relationships. They adapt their back-office systems to the tools, like smartphones and tablets, that people actually want to use” (James, 2013).

    Who do you want to be?

    As allways I have quoted other sources:
    James, 2013!/1

    McAfee, 2006
    Gunnarsson, 2012

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