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The Technology Fallacy: A book review by Bob Morris

Contact: Nicholas DiSabatino <ndisabat@mit.edu>

The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation
Gerald C. Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky, and Garth R. Andrus
MIT Press (Aporil 2019)

How and why organizational challenges of digital disruption are on a par with technological ones

As Gerald Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan Copulsky, and Garth Andrus (KPC&A) explain, the primary focus of their book in Part I is on “the phenomenon of digital disruption and how companies should think of themselves as adapting to a changing environment…In the second part, we deal with the implications of digital maturity on leadership, talent, and the future of work…[and then in Part III] we address the conditions for successfully adapting to digital disruption that most organizations will need to create. Skip ahead if you like, but don’t quit reading before you get to this part!”

In essence, they focus on the people and organizational side of digital disruption. That is, efforts to manage disruption, adapt to it, and thrive in a world and at a time marked by disruption. “We leave guidance about technology stacks, architectures, and roadmaps to others.” It is a fallacy that technologies (however advanced) can do all or even most of what needs to be done in response to disruption that requires an organizational transformation.

I commend KPC&A on their clever use of the story of the Wizard of Oz which really isn’t about the cyclone. Rather, “the story is more about Dorothy making her way in this strange new world than it is about how she got there in the first place. In the same way, the story of digital disruption we explore here isn’t really about technology. Rather, it is about how companies navigate their way through the new competitive environment to which the technology has brought us. It is about learning to do business in different ways, restructuring organizations to enable them to respond more effectively to changes brought by an increasingly digital environment, and learning to adapt individual and institutional skill development and leadership style for the demands of this rapidly changing world.”

The information, insights, and suggestions KPC&A provide are research-driven, with some of the most valuable perspectives revealed during interviews of dozens of thought leaders. Most of the material is relevant to almost any organization (whatever its size and nature may be) because almost every organization is now struggling with what KPC&A characterize as a “Cyclone Disruption,” a force now having significant impact throughout a global marketplace that seems more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous now than at any prior time I can remember.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of KPC&A’s coverage:

o Digital disruption (Pages 1-4)
o The Wizard of Oz (2-4 and 237-238)
o Digital transformation (39-42, 55-57, and 238-240)
o Digital maturity (44-46, 217-219,and 227-232)
o Long-term thinking (61-62)

o Artificial intelligence (65-66 and 141-142
o Digital strategy and affordances (70-72)
o Digital literacy (101-102 and 242-244)
o Continuous learning (114-115, 127-129, and 240-241)
o Prasanna Tamble (120-121 and 133-134)

o Talent magnets (123-124 and 137-138)
o Full use of available talent (124-126)
o Talent leakage (126-130 and 136-137)
o Future of work (139-141)
o Digital cross-functional teams (172-175 and 195-196)

o Managing social networks (186-188)
o Collaboration beyond the enterprise (193-195)
o Experimentation (201-203 and 234-235
o Fast innovation (207-208, 210-215, and 235-236)
o Digital DNA traits (220-225)

KPC&A make skillful use of several reader-friendly devices, notably a “Takeaways from Chapter X” section at the conclusion of Chapters 1-14. Also, mini-commentaries (e.g. ); micro-“snapshots” of real situations in real companies (e.g. John Hancock, Adobe, Walmart, The Atlantic Monthly Group, MetLife, Cisco, and KLM in Chapters 1-5); and dozens of “Figures” that also highlight important information (e.g. “Talent needs vs. ability to attract,” Figure 9.6 on Page 132). This material will certainly facilitate, indeed, expedite frequent review of key points later.

Just as Dorothy’s ultimate destination was her home in Kansas, not the Emerald City, the ultimate objective for most companies today is to achieve and then sustain a competitive advantage, not merely survive a “cyclone of disruption.” With all due respect to the importance of digital technologies, they alone cannot achieve that advantage. Keep in mind that most of the companies annually ranked among those highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those that are most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. Their people give them a competitive advantage.

In Future Shock (1984), Alvin Toffler offers this prediction: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” People have always been the key to any transformation and they always will be. That is why Gerald C. Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky, and Garth R. Andrus devote so much attention to personal growth and professional development in their brilliant book.

In my opinion, it is a must-read for all C-level executives, to be sure, but also for anyone else who is results-driven, thrives on challenges, embraces collaboration, and sees each crisis as an opportunity, not a threat.

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2 Comments

  1. Geoffrey Cann on April 28, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Please add me to the subscriber list

    • bobmorris on April 29, 2019 at 3:20 pm

      Done. Thank you for the request. Best regards.

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