Technology -Leaving people behind?

Do you sometimes feel you are not keeping up with the digital revolution? Do you think your colleagues are not keeping up with you in the pace of change?

Keeping up with galloping innovation.

Following my recent article about innovation (Global Focus Encourages Innovation Priority) I found myself in some interesting conversations with colleagues about technology in the workplace and the issue or whether galloping innovation runs the risk of leaving valuable people behind.

A recent article in The Australian newspaper on 20 June 2013 by Adam Shand raised some interesting questions, although partly tongue in cheek I suspect, about the capacity of people today to absorb and analyse, retain and process the huge amount of information presented to us. Just keeping track of new language was given as an example with the English language lexicon thought to extend now to 1.02 million words and continuing to expand at what is thought to be about 15 new words each day.

NeuralsOf course, many of these new words are technology-based and quite different to our traditional word forming structure. Shand quoted futurist Ray Kurzwell as visioning a time when we will need to augment our brains with neural implants to be able to function in a high-tech world – a bit like having an external hard drive for your brain.

In my experience I am finding more and more colleagues and acquaintances are beginning to feel that they are not coping with information overload. More and more managers, particularly those with a wide span of control and functional breadth, feel that they cannot maintain the intimacy with practical and technical knowledge they once did and are more reliant on their direct reports to maintain specific knowledge. For some managers, having grown up in an era where specific personal knowledge was the key to controlling the performance of others, the new paradigm creates discomfort and stress.

Shand’s article goes on to highlight the growing problem caused by the rapidly increasing pace of technological change, particularly in relation to personal access to information and its evolving technological base. Other recent press offerings have identified the “hand me up” nature of telephone and data technology, where parents are bequeathed the older technology superseded when their children upgrade to the new version of their smart phone.

The growing gap between the younger tech-savvy and the more mature generations (which in some cases may mean only an age differential of 20 years) may well grow even wider as the pace of invention increases and the view develops that the age gap equates to a lesser capacity to engage with current and emerging technology. This is all the more reason to encourage the senior ranks of organisations to continue their exploration and understanding of new technology. Some organisations are experimenting with Pairing or Buddying younger and more experienced staff to provide the balance where the old hands provide the business mentoring and the young guns provide technology coaching.


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Ageism and misconceptions about mature worth in the workplace.

In the same edition of the Australian as Shand’s piece was an article by Patricia Karvelas about ageism, reporting that “more than a third of people over 45 have experienced discrimination looking for a job and 13 per cent have been excluded within the workplace because of age.” The research indicated that at a “certain age” employers stopped investing in training older employees. No doubt part of the rationale is that there is a perceived shorter time available in their working life to realise the return on that investment. But at the same time lack of such investment almost guarantees a shorter period of skills relevance, especially in an environment of accelerating information and technology.

For those forced out of the mainstream of employment or finding themselves “retired” too early there is a need to feel that theirEinstein capabilities and experience are still valued. A great initiative in this regard is provided by organisations like Mal Walker’s Grey-Haired Alchemy which promotes experienced older professionals as available to assist organisations through applying their many years of experience.

After all, some people did their best work when their hair was grey.

As fast as an organisation goes forward there is need to be vigilant to see that valued people do not fall overboard or get left bobbing around without a lifeline in the wake as the technology ship steams on.

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