As the Digital Era progresses, technological capabilities continue to outstrip our capacity to address the opportunities and challenges they present. We may be more willing to move forward in 2013, but we're not necessarily more able. In this post I reflect back on the changes that took place in 2012 and offer pragmatic thoughts for the year ahead.
In my first post of 2013 - Social and Digital Tech Trends: 9 Take-Aways for YOU – I shared a number of resources addressing technology trends for 2012 and 2013 and highlighted the implications of those trends for individuals and the organizations of which they're a part.
As I was working on that post, I decided to revisit a piece I wrote a year ago entitled 12 Hopes for 2012: Enhanced Adoption of Digital Technologies, to see how many of my hopes had been realized and how much the digital landscape had changed (or not, as the case may be), in the past 12 months.
In this post I reflect back on 2012 and offer some thoughts for the year ahead. My attitude going into 2013 is much more pragmatic, but my ideals and aspirations are unchanged. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next twelve months brings.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
- Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
Media hype and impassioned advocacy continue to mask the reality that the vast majority of working adults – particularly those in leadership positions at organizations of all types – are still sitting on the sidelines of the digital movement. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that we continue to be mired in an economic malaise that causes many people to be reluctant to take risks and/or venture into still mostly-uncharted waters.
Throughout the past year there were a number of discussions about the importance of socially (and digitally) savvy leaders, as well as a few related research studies and reports, but generally speaking there was much more talk than action. Toward the end of the year, however, I started getting a stronger sense that leaders recognized they couldn’t ignore the trends and/or put off action any longer. Interestingly, the continued integration of social media into modern life was unlikely to have influenced them much. From my perspective, in fact, I think the (perceived) dominance of social media has been one of the key factors holding them back. The rise of mobile technology and cloud computing, however, as well as growing talk about big data and analytics, has piqued their curiosity – and their appetites – and has probably been a much bigger factor in their changes of heart.
The vilification of social media has continued, but with less heat and volume, primarily because the honeymoon is effectively over. That doesn’t mean social media is going away. It just means that it’s now generally viewed more as a utility or a commodity than a novelty, much as we view other utilities like electricity and commodities like email. The fact that we no longer put Millennials/Digital Natives on super-high pedestals when it comes to new technology may be a result of this shift. We’ve come to realize that digital engagement is much more about hard work than fun, as well as something that requires a broader skill set and judgment that comes from years of experience. It’s much easier to learn the technical details of a technology tool than it is to gain wisdom and perspective…
But we’re still a long way away from “getting” what new technology is all about and realizing its potential benefits, especially in professional and organizational settings. More to the point, we haven’t made the necessary behavioral shifts. Old habits die hard – but it’s more than that. The gap between what technology can do and how humans can harness and leverage that technology continues to grow. The lack of knowledge and understanding, combined with critical deficiencies in digital competencies, is perhaps the biggest obstacle to moving forward. Without a significant shift in attitudes toward education and training, both generally and specifically in the area of digital literacy, it will become increasingly difficult to bridge that gap.
The ROI challenges continue (more on that in a future post), but they seem to have lessened as well, perhaps in part because of the shift toward viewing new technologies as utilities, and in part because of a growing recognition that the environment is too dynamic and evolving to apply specific metrics in any meaningful way. That’s not to say that return on investment is not important, but people seem to be slowing down and trying to address the question in more strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate ways. It's no longer just about "bang for the buck."
Although there hasn’t been an expressed movement toward private digital networks, there has been an increasing recognition that public platforms cannot be relied on as exclusive or even primary engagement channels, especially when it comes to internal and other private communication and collaboration. And as more software vendors and service providers adapt their offerings to include social elements, there will be an increasing number of viable options that help organizations reap the benefits of new 2.0 technologies while minimizing their risks. This shift can also be seen as an indicator that we’re maturing from an emphasis on splashy, disruptive technologies to those that can extend and enhance existing competencies.
Finally, when it comes to risk management, there doesn’t seem to have been much change on that front in 2012. Many organizations still lack adequate policies, procedures, training and guidelines to mitigate Digital Era risks.
All things considered I view 2012 as a mixed bag. There were lots of encouraging signs, especially toward the end of the year, but no real dramatic changes with respect to new technology adoption by professionals and in organizations.We are still far from the tipping point...
Although resistance to new technologies has lessened, that doesn’t mean we’ll see a dramatic increase in adoption any time soon. There are still a number of barriers to be overcome, including global economic challenges, limited resources, conflicting priorities, lack of time, relatively few success stories that leaders can relate to, and the general lack of a roadmap or established best practices. The journey ahead will continue to be long, slow and rough. But traverse it we must...
We must continue to pay attention to trends, watch industry titans, and listen to thought leaders, but we must remember that although what they do and say are extremely important, their actions and views are not necessarily representative of the world most of us live in. They are explorers, adventurers, and prospectors – and they occupy space on the leading edge of the digital movement. Most of the world, however, is comprised of people who have only just begun to think about leaving the comfort of a civilization they know to become pioneers, settlers, and immigrants in a world that seems as full of dangers as it is of possibilities.
WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) will remain a powerful motivator. No amount of reasoning, cajoling, selling, threatening or teasing can make someone change if they don’t want to. As we strive to find ways to move forward, this question must constantly be top of mind, regardless of what form it takes. It lies at the root of every challenge, every point of resistance, every criticism… and every advocate, proponent and change agent must be able to answer it – not from their own perspective, but from the perspective of others. Put another way, to help others think outside the box, champions must think inside the box.
But for me above all else, we must educate.