Recent technological advances have only boosted existing processes. The next level of disruptive change will address the human problems that underlie today’s complex social challenges. A guest post by James R. Sisco, founder and President of ENODO Global, Inc.
Technology without the right process gets you to the wrong answer faster. But more importantly, technology is only as good as (1) the process it accelerates, (2) the people who design it, and (3) the data that supports it. Yet in today’s business environment, companies rely too heavily on data analytics, social media, and software tools to find solutions to their most complex problems. There is also a common misconception that innovation only comes from venture incubators and accelerators, disruptive technologies, and the next great app. While recent innovations are designed to accelerate the business cycle, connect with customers, and assist everyday activities, they have become considerably less disruptive.
Increased reliance on the Internet, communications technology, and raw computing power reinforce the belief that there is a tech solution for everything. The prevailing thought within the public and private sector is that any problem can be overcome through the brute force of technology. However, with improved technology comes increased reliance. Combined, this “tech phenomenon” has fundamentally transformed traditional business models and contemporary business culture. Historically, businesses invested in technology because there were huge potential returns, but today’s technological advances have diminishing returns.
Technology does not impact as much as it boasts
The search for the next disruptive technology has been replaced with finding the next Facebook, Uber, Twitter or Angry Birds. As a result, the latest revolutions in technology are not truly disruptive and have limited returns. Today’s tech trends include the Internet of things, 3-D printing, virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI), and crowd sourcing. Although novel concepts, they are designed to further advance existing processes and platforms or save time on everyday tasks. For example, the creator of Siri launched an AI platform that acts like a digital assistant. Dog Parker puts dog houses outside shops so pets are safe while their owners shop. The founders of Beam developed a platform where gamers can interact directly through crowd sourced controls. Similarly, Google recently announced plans to deliver virtual assistants and messaging apps that incorporate AI technology to compete with existing technologies from Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.
Technology alone does not solve problems that are fundamentally human in nature
The next disruptive technology must address human problems that underlie today’s complex social challenges. Social unrest — accelerated through unprecedented access to communications technology — is rapidly transforming economies, societies, and cultures. The frequency and magnitude of social unrest continues to escalate. Today’s technology enables people to share ideas, mobilize around common beliefs and ignite social movements. Examples are found in the news each day where protests, strikes, litigation, and cyber-attacks impact governments, companies, or investments domestically and internationally. The same technology used by firms to solve complex business problems enables individuals, communities, activist groups, and transnational criminal organizations to advance their objectives.
The business case for creating population-centric technology has never been more attractive. Incubators are not contained within walls, but in the real world where smart cities, global warming, pandemics, migration, and competition for scarce resources trigger underlying social tensions. Yet, investments in understanding human problems have not kept pace with investments in technology. Technology alone is no panacea; it simply accelerates the business process or innovation. Relying exclusively on technology without a population-centric approach limits a company’s potential to maximize investments in technology, communicate more effectively with customers, and impact societies in a positive way.
Today’s complex environments require human innovation to create truly disruptive technologies. The only way to increase technology’s impact and break the tech phenomenon is by leveraging human intelligence. Investing in human intelligence not only maximizes the impact of technology, it also opens new doors for innovation. By re-focusing on human innovation, firms can develop population-centric technology that provides greater social impact and superior financial upside.
James R. Sisco is the founder and President of ENODO Global, Inc., a risk advisory firm that conducts population-centric analysis to solve complex social problems in dynamic cultural environments. Jim draws upon a distinguished 23-year military career in Marine Corps Special Forces and Naval Intelligence to lead ENODO Global.
This article was published as part of the GRI Guest Post Series. GRI guest posts come from leading experts in business, government, and academia. The series strives to bring a diverse range of perspectives on the critical issues of our time. The views expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of GRI.