Archive: The Roots of Change – October 28, 2005

Be constantly aware of how technology fundamentally changes the nature of your business

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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In many businesses, technology is a two-headed beast. On the one side, it fosters innovation, productivity and income. On the other, it produces seismic change in business practices once thought stable, fosters discontent, and can even make a business obsolete.

Succeeding in your high-tech career, and helping your company to succeed, requires deft handling of both sides of this equation You need to be constantly applying technology without ignoring those facets that could change the world beneath your feet.

Putting down roots

As I was walking through my neighborhood the other day, I saw a very common sight. Along one street there are some very large, and very beautiful Ficus trees in the area between the sidewalk and the street. Despite their beauty, though, Ficus trees have very prominent and aggressive root systems. In several spots, these roots had disrupted the sidewalk cement, in some cases, lifting it up several inches and cracking it.

As I continued my walk, I began to see parallels between these roots and the way we deal with technology in our companies. We want the benefits of the trees and the beauty they bring to the street, just as we desire the benefits that technology brings to our businesses. Unfortunately, we seem determined to build our sidewalks up against the base of our trees, knowing full well what is going to happen. The roots will not stop and cannot be resisted, They will first raise the concrete and eventually destroy it, if allowed.

We often find the same problems in using technology in our businesses. We take wonderful new technology and saddle it with out-dated business practices, cumbersome bureaucracy and limited thinking. Just like the cement sidewalk, cracks soon appear. Left long enough, these cracks will lead to destruction…destruction of productivity and profits. Technology causes change as surely as the roots of a tree, slowly, day by day, week by week, it can crack apart your company, if you allow it.

Fighting the roots

Of course, many homeowners will try to fight the roots and the problems they cause. First, they might try to gloss over the problems with little ramps that attempt to prevent neighbors from tripping over the seams. Then they might become more aggressive and try to tear out the roots. Finally, they may remove the tree altogether. In extreme cases you will even see cities banning certain types of trees to prevent the problem from ever occurring. You will find the same types of battles being fought in corporate IT departments.

In some cases, companies try to ignore the fact that there is a problem altogether. You might hear them say, “That technology doesn’t apply to us” or “Our industry is different.” Meanwhile, their business is being destroyed beneath their feet. Technology can either destroy their business from within or without.

Perhaps a new piece of technology exposes inter-departmental squabbles or a new report shows up errors in accounting practices. Almost immediately, little fixes, like the ramps in the sidewalk, are thrown up to hide the problem, without truly solving it. In some extreme cases, a company might not recognize that a new technology is about to make them obsolete. They’ll attempt to tweak their services and product lines, without really addressing the true issues. It is only when they see the total destruction that they realize the true source of their problems.

Finally, some companies simply ban certain technologies outright. They are unable to see the benefits the technology might provide. They only see the problems. If a technology threatens to be disruptive, in any way, they ignore or dismiss its usefulness. This is akin to tearing out the tree, no matter how beautiful it might be.

A better solution, in all these cases, is to carefully evaluate the technologies you use, and those that might be effecting your business from the outside and then adapt to them. Build your “sidewalk” farther away… use different, more flexible materials…plant different trees and shrubs. Don’t ignore the problem; hoping it will go away, because I can guarantee that it will still be there, under your feet. waiting to crack and destroy everything you have so carefully constructed.

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