Change the Conversation: Technology as the only “solution”?
As the world becomes more and more complicated, the battle between those on both sides of the functional knowledge gape becomes more vital. The need to constantly update your world view; the speed of change and the need to move past no longer relevant concepts leaves many people struggling to keep up and far more willing to listen to any offer to lighten their burden. When people do not know what they do not know, anything sounds like an oasis in the desert. To make up for this, there is a massive amount of groups who promise “solutions” to this fundamental problem, providing an answer of technology as the sole means to to make up for this fundamental inability to adapt to the constantly changing word. The problem comes not from this challenge, but from mistaking the solution being suggested for the sole requirement to the desired end result. Technology is part of a solution, but without understanding that your people must change; no technology will ever provide its promised value and very little will ever be achieved. When we fail to understand that change starts with how you think, not with what you purchase, we lose the ability to gain value from any “solution” that we can ever acquire.
The same cycle plays out time and time again. Senior executive defines a “problem”, such as a lack of clean data or ease of deployment of technology or the need to create a personalized experience. People proceed down a path of trying to both be the one to find a “solution” while at the same time finding ways to pass blame for the current state onto another party, be it internal or external, as any new solution must replace the prior “solution” that did not in fact solve all the world’s problems. They reach out and research and find a provider to give them a solution that makes the largest promise about “ease” or “functionality”, or the one that they have a prior relationship with. From there, it is a process of discover, promises, and then acquisition. The tool then gets shared to all the other groups, and the individuals who now find themselves with the task of trying to get this installed, also must make sure that their boss does not upset others in the company by instituting a change in the status quo. Each group provides “needs” in a one way direction that become part of a massive deployment project road-map. Groups continue to get buy-in and then try resources to deploy, each time acquiescing a little bit to each group they work with. Eventually the solution goes live, activities and tasks enacted, and everyone moves forward. The same problems arise a year or two down the line, agendas get forgotten, and large presentations are held to try and find a positive outcome for all that was invested. Very little has changed, very little has really improved for the organization, just a new piece of technology has been invested in to replace the old technology that went out the door.
I am in no way saying that technology is a bad thing, I work for the top marketing suite in the world, and wouldn’t if I did not feel that the tools themselves were best in class. Technology is simply a magnifying lens, increasing the impact of what your organization does great, but also where it fails. The reality is though that few companies get anywhere close to the value they should from the tools, and often that lack of value is accompanied by magnitudes of increased effort. If groups would start with a real honest change in how they understand the world around them based on each tool, they would find that they are wasting almost all their efforts in the vein attempt to justify their prior actions. Each tool is an opportunity to change and improve the efficiency of your organization, yet in almost all cases this vital task is talked about or ignored, and never enacted in a meaningful way. If you do not start your time with a tool with a discussion around what disciplines define success and failure for that specific tool, than no tool will ever do more than just be window dressing on bad organizational dynamics.
One of the first things I try to teach new analysts and consultants is that there is no such thing as a technical solution. All problems are strategic, they may have a technical solution, but they are truly strategic in nature. It is far easier to find a massively technical work around to do the one thing that senior VP X is asking for then it is to take the time to discover if that effort is needed or if it will provide any actual ROI. The unfortunate truth is that for a vast majority of the “problems” that are being identified, a successful or non-successful answer to that stated problem would have no change in the fact that they are not going to receive value. Slick interfaces don’t make up for poor strategy, integrations between platforms do not make up for not understanding your data. The truth is that in almost all cases the real problems are the ones that we are turning a eye from; they are the elephants sitting in the rooms that we refuse to talk about, so instead we make excuses and sacrifice outcomes in the name of taking credit for change.
This is the nature of confusing the “solution” for the desired outcome. Solutions are a means to an end, not the end itself. Never confuse the need to add functionality with the goal of that functionality. you are not just adding testing to someone’s day to day job, you are asking your entire organization to discover what the value of its own actions are. You do not just find a tag solution for the fun of it, you do it to save resources so that you can then spend them on valuable actions. You do not just start a personalization project from the goodness of your heart; you do it because you believe it will increase revenue. As soon as you keep the conversation about the end result, then you can have a functional conversation about the efficiencies of various paths to arrive at that point. Do you really need 90+ targets active, or would 15 give you a higher lift and much lower costs?
The cycle that technology gets brought into is the problem, as are the egos of those that own that purchase. Like most real world situations, it is far easier to make promises then to fix real problems or to deal with other groups and how they think about and tackle their own problems. Analytics, testing, and marketing are not things that are just done, even if your job is often times just a series of repeat activities. These actions are done to improve performance, which means that the change has to happen with which actions you are taking the resources to do, not just changing technology providers. If more time is not spent on reforming the enviroment around the technology, then all time will end up wasted. Never get caught up in the cycle and the can questions, without constantly keeping a vigilant eye on the should questions of all actions.
No matter if an idea is good or bad, it is always going to be easier to just do what your boss asks, and even easier to find a way to convince yourself that it is somehow valuable. We convince ourselves as others convince us that we are doing the right thing. We do not want to take the time to think about our opportunities to do things in a different way. Sadly most actions commonly done in our world are not valuable or efficient, and in all cases can and should be improved. You must first get over your own fear of doing the right thing before you can ever try and get those above you to do the same. The battles worth fighting when you bring in a piece of technology are not about how many developers can you get to deploy a solution, or how can you get an agency to run it for you, but in how do we find ways to fundamentally change current practices to learn and grow with the technology.
There is no shortage of people who are willing to promise that you don’t need to really look inwards to get value, and in some cases they are able to provide some momentary glimpses of value. Great tools offer you the chance to succeed, but do not guarantee that outcome. No tool will ever be able to make up for the incorrect application of its features, just as no organization will truly change unless change is more important than task. In the end though, every success I have ever seen or had with an organization comes from fundamentally challenging and changing existing practices and in creating simpler ways to get more value. Change is hard, most can not achieve it in a meaningful way, but all value comes from change. Not from creating complex ways to accomplish a task. Complicated will never mean valuable, complicated will always simply mean complicated. Never forget that a solution is a promise as a means to an end, and that the real ability to achieve that end, or more, comes from action, not from just a tag or from a solution being deployed.