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Intended Workplace, Meaningful Impact

It’s not about the technology

Forget what you know about texting for a moment and try to think about it as a proposed technological solution. It was December, 3, 1992, when 22-year-old British engineer Neil Papworth used his computer to wish Richard Jarvis a Merry Christmas, sending the very first text to his Orbitel 901 mobile phone. A more clunky solution could hardly be imagined, anachronistic from the day of its birth. Today we see fat thumbs fumbling over a tiny keyboard, misspelling messages left and right. So cumbersome is the exercise that users are force to abbreviate words and create a whole new lexicon just to make the technology remotely functional. Any technologist recommending this as a communication solution would be laughed out of the room.

And yet, we can hardly imagine life without it.

So if texting is such a clunky medium, how has it taken such root in our collective culture? Because it’s not the technology that matters but the behavior it enables. We like the medium; not for how slick it is but for what it allows us to do. It can be both synchronous and asynchronous. It can be done in the open or under covers. It can include pictures, video, and sound. The list goes on. The point is this: It’s not about the technology; it’s about the behavior it enables.

I’m often struck by how often companies seem to forget this. Year after year we implement new technologies—solutions that promise new capabilities and increased functionality—then wonder why no one is adopting the new system. All too often our faith in technologists is absolute, while the care and attention we give the adoption side is relegated to that of a change management inconvenience.

The next time your company begins to explore a new technology, take the time to understand how it may or may not align with your organization’s culture and behavioral norms. You think changing technologies is hard? Wait until you try to change behaviors.

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