Gabe Zichermann knows technology causes genuine anxiety.
Zichermann, an author and keynote speaker, delivered the keynote address at Lawn & Landscape’s Technology Conference. His speech, titled, “The Future of Technology is People,” updated attendees on the current state of technology.
The risk of automation is causing real harm to people. In areas where automation is removing jobs, Zichermann said that there is a demonstrable decrease in overall health metrics, according to research compiled by both Villanova University and Ball State University.
And yet, only a third of companies have been open with their employees on their intentions for technology in the future. He said we’re entering the fourth industrial revolution – the past revolutions included things like the internet and communication tools – but we’re still not sure what the end result of that revolution is yet. We know a lot is changing, but we’re not sure about the scope of that change.
“We don’t yet have a single unifying technology that we can point to and say that is the defining area of our revolution,” he said.
Zichermann said there are five primary technologies involved in this fourth industrial revolution: artificial intelligence, machine learning (where the machinery updates itself based on its interactions with its outside environment), robotics, quantum computing and blockchain (trust and verification of online transactions). He also pointed out that technologies like phone screens and social media algorithms have dominated our thinking and changed the way we interact with one another.
But how far will those technologies go? Zichermann’s guess is as good as yours.
“I have no idea where this is going either,” he said. “But what we have in our industry is this…belief that things are definitely going to get better. A rising tide lifts all ships.”
IT IS INEVITABLE. Zichermann believes this changing technology is inevitable, so the pressing question remains what companies will do strategically with this industrial revolution.
In order to have a strategy, you need to understand how people and technology affect one another. He pointed out that every single upsetting thing that ever happened to you with technology is the fault of the technology’s designer, a human being.
He urged attendees to understand what has influenced everybody’s perception of technology. First, technology moves fast. He showed viewers a video of a robot built by Boston Dynamics that can be knocked over and get back up on its own.
Additionally, missed expectations of technology set by media makes e. People are shown images of flying cars, colonized planets and human-like robots in shows or movies like the Jetsons, Star Trek and more. The whole industry has moved away from grand-scale advancements and instead invested in short-term technology.
What’s more, some interest in technology is simply powered by our desire in novelties. Take Google Glass for example: When it was announced as a new technology, it was exciting, but many asked themselves, “What’s the point?”
“What purpose does this technology serve?” Zichermann said. “But our instinct, our desire for something new, propels us forward.”
TECH AT WORK. People automatically assume technology being introduced to the workplace is simply for the benefit of leadership and the company itself. It will make the companies more money and won’t actually make their jobs any easier. There’s no consultation with the employees; it’s simply a directive from bosses to use the technology. As a result, the technology goes underused and the process of learning is made more difficult as employees grow stubborn.
“The cost of technology implementation in the workplace is much, much higher than the sticker price on the product and the service and the support,” he said. “At some point, the way people learn about the way to use this technology comes with an order.”
Zichermann said employers need to understand that learning is simply difficult. There’s an expert bias among people who can exercise that skill without even having to think about it. The problem with that skill level is that they have “trouble absorbing new realities.” In other words, they have a problem learning new ways of doing work.
“Many people are fundamentally bad at learning, so when presented with new information, they literally have trouble learning this new information,” Zichermann said. “As technology leaders, we need to take a step back and ask, ‘Do our teams have the underlying skills necessary not to use the technology, but to learn the technology.’”
THE BIG FIVE. Zichermann offered attendees five solutions that successful companies have used to implement new technology without creating a huge stir in the company culture.
1. Involve employees directly in the development in new technology so that they don't oppose you right from the onset.
2. Lying to employees or avoiding conversations about thinking about technology will make employees anxious and corrode their trust in you.
3. Don't assume that your employees should know better, and give them the chance and incentive to learn it.
4. Allow employees to be self-directed with technology and let them embrace the ideas head-on.
5. Don't just expect employees to simply fall in line and be passive about new technology. "Treat them like customers," he said. "Market to them, message to them, and persuade them to do things that are in their best interest."