How Technology Harms Innovation
Provocative as this might sound, many innovation or transformation projects meet with complete or partial failure. So why does this happen? Is technology itself to blame?
THE SHINY NEW TOY EFFECT
Technology can be exciting: the ‘shiny new toy’ that will solve all problems. There is some truth to this idea, but it should probably come with a warning sign – it is all too easy to let the technology itself steal the focus, whilst overlooking the wider picture.
Keeping the spotlight only on the technology improvements often means less attention is paid to the impact these technologies will have upon a company’s existing processes, or ways or working. This can lead to a lack of adoption of the technology by end users, preventing the full value from being achieved. Any past such failures can have an implication on future efforts – a lack of trust in the usefulness or efficiency of technology solutions mean that team or board buy-in is even harder to obtain for future attempts at innovation.
ORDER FROM CHAOS
A period of chaos is inevitable for any innovation or change project, and this should be factored into any innovation strategy. The promise of technology can mean that the sacrifices required to achieve the innovation are often overlooked. Following a business transformation, it is highly unlikely that all business areas will find themselves immediately and noticeably ‘better off’, and more often this begins to be felt over time. However once a ‘tech-ready’ infrastructure is in place, this can provide a means to innovate more quickly and uniformly in the future.
The very concept of innovation introduces a foreign element to existing ways of working. It can also mean more work initially, getting teams to understand what works, what isn’t working, and new methods or approaches. A new status quo can only emerge once these solutions are bedded in and become standard practice.
THE PEOPLE ELEMENT
People generally do not like change. Any kind of innovation or transformation is about change, and any change naturally affects the people within an organisation. Based on Edgar Schein’s model, there are two main factors that drive this reluctance – learning anxiety and survival anxiety.
It is vital that there is understanding across an organisation of the reasons behind any innovation. Usually the driving forces for a change project are to make teams more efficient, but there can be the perception that changes will mean team members are left behind or made redundant in a role. This is rarely the case! Teams also need to be comfortable that they know how to use a tool before they can accept it as an improvement.
THE PRICE TAG
The common misconception is that any new technology will come with an astronomical price tag. Whilst this can sometimes be the case, an initial investment generally means that costs are lower over time. Businesses must be prepared for this initial outlay, as this is then realised over longer periods of time in costs and efficiency savings.
SO, DOES TECHNOLOGY HARM INNOVATION?
Well, not exactly. The technology itself does not pose the problem, rather the successful adoption of a new solution (processes or technology), is the result of different and complimentary disciplines:
- Deploying new technology, and
- Changing people’s behaviours.
Real, effective transformation has a great deal to do with people, and the way in which a technology is adopted into an organisation. This resistance to change and the time required to address it is usually underestimated, and rarely considered when embarking upon an innovation project. This is where past experience of innovation and transformation, and an external viewpoint into an organisation can be vital.