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The Case of Selective Technophobia

Director of Technology at HNI 

We’ve all heard it.  Maybe we’ve even said it ourselves.

“I’m too old to learn.”

“I’m not good at using technology.”

“The old way is better.”

Or my absolute favorite....

“I’m not technical.”

All of these translate into the same thing: “I ain’t even gonna try.”

One truth is constant.  The world is changing at a rapid pace, and it won’t stop any time soon.  Having this mindset toward technology (or allowing others in your organization to get away with it) is damaging and counterproductive.

Is it True that Some People Just Can't Learn?

I get it - in the workplace, sometimes it feels like having to keep up with technological changes adds to our workload.  But does technology really make our lives more difficult?  Are there people who just can't keep up?

For the most part, I would say the answer is “no”.  Consider the following:

  • Grandmas are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook.
  • When you are desperate to watch “Game of Thrones,” you will find a way make it happen. Setting up a TV recording is now a 1-2 step process (it used to require actual reading to figure out!)  
  • Over a billion people have figured out Facebook, the internet, GPS, Twitter and smart phone usage.  [And not all of them are 19 years old and in IT.]
  • Many of the young technical whippersnappers (Ike myself) have survived into “old age” in the industry and can still work well with new and old technology (big secret: it’s actually easier now.)

So what’s up? Why do we have selective technophobia?  If we can figure out the technology that makes our personal lives easier, what's the rub when it comes to adopting new technology from 9 to 5?

What the Doctor Ordered to Cure Selective Technophobia

TechnophobiaPeople are scared.  Scared of failing, scared of looking stupid, scared of change.  In some ways, technology has discouraged us from learning by making things VERY easy and at our fingertips (Siri, help me!)

How can you help change this attitude in your organization?  It won’t work with everyone, but you can make your culture more “technology ready.”

1) Make your environment a “safe place” to ask questions and share knowledge without criticism

Most people have the same questions, they just need someone to ask.

I like to brand myself as the dumbest person in the room because I ask of lot of seemingly "obvious" questions.  Yet I often have people thank me for doing so since they wanted to ask, but didn’t.

Your technical folks might actually be the worst offenders (assuming others know what is obvious to them).  Make sure to remind them they should never ridicule any question.  That being said, they should not encourage “learned helplessness” either.

2) Don’t allow people to commiserate and make excuses for not learning – it’s a time waster and self-defeating 

Learning actually keeps your brain young.  Allowing people to dismiss new ideas without even trying is a cancer for an organization, not just in technology either.

Deal with naysayers directly.  Make it clear that change is a part of life, inevitable and not going away.

3) Remind people that technology belongs to the business, not IT 

IT's role is to support the business and the people in it to help them drive performance. Technology decisions should be business decisions made for the ultimate success of the organization. 

And don’t allow your employees to blame IT for everything technology related.  [Your inability to format Excel is a job skill, not an IT skill.]

4) Provide a positive example

Create champions for technology who are outside of IT to encourage a positive attitude.  There are always some “techies” outside of IT willing spread the good word.

If you're a manager or a leader, walk the talk.  Don’t tell your employees they need to adapt while you get hand holding from IT or skirt the system. This sets the wrong tone for everyone else.

5) Create a feedback loop

Make sure you have a feedback mechanisms and address the constructive comments you get.  Make it clear that you want to be solution oriented (not just an outlet for complaining).

You might be surprised by the number of great ideas for improvement that come from team members who are immersed in business technology every day.

The Cost of the Status Quo 

Here’s the kicker.  Staying with old technology might make some employees happy, but there is a very real danger of not moving forward: your business survival.

For one, old systems tend to be less secure and paper based, increasing processing time and risk to your business.

I would posit that the employees who refuse to change are hurting your company and their own careers. Do you want employees who never question processes or look for efficiencies? Who are focused on never changing?

The modern world requires companies to be agile and shift directions quickly (and often).  Your ability to do so often hinges on technology capabilities and creativity.  Can you afford to stand still while the competition around you evolves and grows?


Related Content 

3 Steps to Actually Doing Something with Your Data

Leading vs Lagging Indicators: Using Data to Predict [& Shape] The Future

Setting Boundaries at Work With Technology

6 Ways to Weed Stress Out of Your Culture

Change has sent a friend request to all of us…do we ACCEPT or IGNORE?



Topics: Leadership / Strategy