Books about “the digital future” are everywhere. I would look at my bookshelf and name some that have affected my thinking in the last few years (actually decades now), but they are in my office on the campus that has been closed for 10 weeks now. The Technology Fallacy: How People are the Real Key to Digital Transformation (Kane, Phillips, Copulsky, & Andrus, 2019) is another yet another in that genre.
The inside of the dust jacket gives readers a sense of the thesis, “Digital technologies are disrupting organizations of every size and shape, leaving managers scrambling to find a technology fix that will help their organizations compete.” As an educator turned instructional technology leader, I conclude the verb “scrambling” is accurate (although I might add “chaotically”) to capture the true approach of educational leaders and leaders in other organizations. It is true that technology is transforming organizations. If it not doing so to yours, then it will.
The subtitle of the book does accurately capture the themes developed in the book as well. People are still is charge of the digital transformations, and both leaders and members of organizations have a clear role (at least in the short term) in driving, directing, and redirecting the role technology plays in our organizations. The long-term effects of the current disruptive technologies are uncertain. The authors make bleak observation in chapter on “The Future of Work.”
When technological disruption of human jobs happens, it will likely be in two stages—the first augmenting and enhancing the human worker, the replacing the human altogether. The implication of this perspective is that many jobs will become enhanced and improved by technology right before technology fully replaces them (p. 140).Kane et al. (2019)
Until we are all replaced—a prediction that seems to contradict trends identified by the Work Economic Forum (2020)—and in an effort to enjoy the predicted short-term “enhanced and improved” work and presumably to remain relevant longer and perhaps negotiate the terms by which we are replaced, the authors argue leaders seek to increase the technology maturity of the organizations. The model of technology maturity emerged out of extensive data collected by the authors (as this is not an academic work, the exact nature of the data and their analysis is not treated, but let’s assume it was credible).
The data support three levels of maturity: early, developing, and mature. Throughout the book, the authors detail the characteristics of technologically mature organizations as people within them (both members and leaders) adopt technology, assimilate it, and adapt their work to technology. These alliterative activities contribute to the “absorptive capacity” which is proposed early in the as the rate at which organizations learn about and respond to and create innovations.
Throughout the book, the Kane and colleagues use graphs that have similar appearance to capture the characteristics of technologically mature organizations. The shape is not surprising, and they are actually what we would expect from the cluster analysis identified by the authors as their method of analysis. Within each characteristic we see there is variation that is common in organizations that demonstrate early technology maturity and variation that is common in those that are maturing (see figure 1). These become indicators for leaders to understand their organizations as well as maps for becoming technologically mature.
Readers will not be surprised that there are many graphs throughout the book, and they describe diverse aspects of organizations. This can become problematic for leaders, as they must decide which will receive attention. In the chapter on “Moving Forward” the authors identify 23 characteristics of “digital DNA;” by moving these 23 characteristics organizations become technologically mature. (The cynic in me wonders about the choice to define organizations’ digital DNA with 23 items. It seems more than coincidental that this tallies that same a humans’ chromosomes in a book that argues “people are the real key to digital transformations.”) Conspiracy theories aside, the list does provide leaders an idea of how to proceed in deciding what gets attention.
I work at a small community college and will soon be starting my 33rd year working in education. The spring and summer of 2020 are changing (permanently) the nature of schooling. The Technology Fallacy provides an idea of where schools will be in the future. The list of 23 items for moving forward does appear to define the future of schools, but we cannot focus on all at once. The efficacious leader will find a way to reduce and combine those that are similar to that people are not replaced with technology in schools.
Kane, G., Phillips, A., Copulsky, J., & Andrus, G. (2019). The technology fallacy: How people are the real key to digital transformation. The MIT Press.
World Economic Forum. (2020). Jobs of tomorrow: Mapping opportunity in the new economy. Retrieved May 25, 2020 from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Jobs_of_Tomorrow_2020.pdf