Exploring the Ethics of Investing in Disruptive Technology

Just Because We Can, Does That Mean We Should?

A lot is being written about industry “disruption” nowadays, especially in the technology space. From artificial intelligence (AI) to blockchain to cryptocurrency, internet users are scouring the web for insight into today’s most disruptive technologies. Experts also suggest we’re in the middle of a vaguely titled “digital disruption,” and many influential figures have expounded on the impact of disruption as well.

But as we all sit in awe of solutions like AI, blockchain and even the next generation of smartphone, many of today’s most disruptive technologies are letting us down.

The Cost of Technology Disruption

It’s been foretold for decades: “Technology designed to bring us together will ultimately tear us apart.” And as much as it sounds like a septuagenarian yelling at kids to get off his lawn, it’s hard to disagree that there isn’t at least some truth to that statement. In light of Facebook’s unconscionable data breach and Uber’s tragic self-driving car fatality, it would seem that, in our efforts to push the limits of technology, we’re sacrificing our integrity and, at times, our humanity.

Interested in seeing how different generations are responding to disruptive technologies in the workplace? Explore the research.

The meltdown at last year’s Pokemon Go Fest is a fitting, albeit superficial, example of this trend. Pokemon Go players from around the world traveled to Chicago to attend the augmented reality game’s first-ever live event. And in game-maker Niantic’s effort to hold one of the largest, most groundbreaking celebrations of technology ever, the company produced what will go down as an expensive, high-profile flop. Why? Because the technology was flawed — servers crashed and bugs ran wild as roughly 20,000 players tried to use the app simultaneously. Niantic escaped after settling a $1.58 million lawsuit, but not before becoming a poster-child of our ambitious yet potentially misguided approach to technology advancement. We’re careening toward “bigger,” “faster” and “stronger” before checking the boxes of “smarter” and “safer.”

Perhaps this mindset is why so many of our technology pioneers, including Salesforce, Sprint and Tesla, aren’t profitable. Instead of prioritizing profitability, many of these disrupters focus on launching new products and grabbing market share, and the ensuing game of “Keeping up with the Joneses” is proving costly as businesses try to adopt the latest technologies. This year alone companies will shell out over a trillion dollars on digital transformation initiatives, and research reveals a shocking 50% of business leaders fear these investments won’t pan out.

So does this mean we’re all doomed, or can technology disruption coexist with smart, sensible advancement?

How to Approach Technology Disruption as a Business Leader

The reality is technology advancement is a good thing. Businesses need it to remain competitive and deliver the upmost support to their people in fast-changing environments. That being said, we must be aware of the dangers of investing in a disruptive or cutting-edge solution without the right knowledge and foresight.

In the face of technology disruption, here are three things to keep in mind while considering a potential investment:

1. Exercise Caution

No matter how disruptive a solution is hyped to be, everything has a downside. Team collaboration applications like Slack and Glip are taking the cloud communications space by storm as businesses move away from siloed, top-down collaboration tools like email. However, these apps can introduce numerous oft-overlooked challenges into your organization, so it’s important to understand potential drawbacks before forcing an entirely new tool or process on your team. Disruptive technologies certainly offer benefits, but that doesn’t mean the solutions are right for your business or your people.

2. Strong Leadership is Key

Implementing new and unfamiliar technologies can be jarring for your organization, so it’s essential that leadership is united in why they’re making the investment and what it’s ultimately designed to accomplish. Alignment at the top of the food chain can go a long way in helping users feel positive about a new tool or process, especially one they had previously been skeptical about.

Servant leadership” plays a key role in easing the transition to a new solution. Servant leaders take the time to understand the needs of their employees, then align efforts, decisions and tools to meet those needs. Instead of taking the leap to implement a new unified communications (UC) solution because he believes it’s the right move for his company, a servant leader identifies how UC can solve problems for employees, then communicates those benefits to his people to get their buy-in.

3. Focus on Users

No matter how disruptive a solution is, if your users don’t understand it or find it valuable, that investment is dead in the water. That’s why it’s your job as a business leader to get them on board with the technology and show them how to incorporate it into their workdays. Servant leadership can be key to getting user buy-in at the conceptual level, but your efforts need to carry over to the post-implementation process as well. Hold trainings, model best practices and institute a digital mentorship program. The more you can empower ownership and autonomy amongst your users, the better chance you have to fully capture the benefits of your technology.

Whether through collaboration technologies like UC or high-profile innovations like blockchain or AI, technology will continue to drive our workplaces. But as technology advances, missteps, debacles and, yes, tragedies will also continue to occur. This is the reality. While we can’t change this reality, you as a business leader can take the time to understand the positive and negative impacts of the technologies at your disposal.

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