Tech Fluency – The Super Skill

While 93% of Chief Strategy Officers say new technologies will rapidly change their company’s industry, only 3% of companies have completed true digital transformation programs and some 54% of companies have no programs in place to build the skills of the future.1

In this time where everything is a Google search away, why are so many senior executives and professionals still not conversant in digital technologies?

We have found two reasons:

1) The time horizons people are paid to think in focus on short-term gains, not the transformational longer-term gains that can be achieved by applying digital technologies. Combine that with the siloed organizational structures that keep people far away from the customer, and it becomes clear that the ways of work are not helping. Employees are not positioned to think like owners.

2) The way we think about technology is often quite simplistic. Many people still think of technology as a mobile app, a silicon chip or a magic black box. Technology has a long history of being abdicated to the IT division or the techies, when in fact it has become a critical business skill. Every professional has to build Tech Fluency.

Our article on thinking horizons explores the first reason, and this article the latter.

There is a lot wrong about how we think about technology. That it’s magic or that it doesn’t have a silicon chip it’s not technology. Corporate innovation theatre where you set up nice labs with expensive equipment and weekend hackathons, but don’t actually sell anything, hasn’t helped either. You don’t have to be able to code, but everyone must have tech fluency.

Let’s get past the smokescreens and get to the core. Technology is fundamentally any kind of a method or technique, that solves an existing problem, by breaking a trade-off or constraint. A good example without a silicon chip, would be the mass production of Ford Model T. What constraint was it breaking? Before mass adoption automotives, the primary way to get around was to walk, and for those who could afford it, ride horses. Assuming the best-case scenario of riding a horse, this put a limit on the maximum speed and distance one could cover in a day. This hugely impacted how we organised our lives given the limited movement that could be achieved. Assuming a maximum riding speed of 5km/h, the Ford Model T increased this to 50km/h, some 10 times faster. The lifting of this constraint changed how we organise our towns and cities and opened the door for wider freedom of movement.

It’s obvious to see the constraint people faced then. But the smarter question to ask yourself is, if you were living in those times, would you have known that you were constrained? Or would you, like most people did, have accepted the status quo as just ‘how things are’ or assumed this ‘how the world works’. Herein likes the first step of Tech Fluency (which actually has nothing to do with technology but rather our minds) – the ability to recognize and suspend assumptions. Jolts like Covid shatter long held beliefs like how we work or how we serve our customers, and help cultivate our minds to perceive our false sense of fixed, certain reality.

Digital technology is a type of technology that expresses information in zeros and ones or discrete signals, but still solves an existing problem by breaking a trade-off or constraint. This leads us to the second part of Tech Fluency – understanding digital technology in a way you can meaningfully apply in your work and life. Buzzwords like 4IR, big data and AI don’t help with this understanding. We find that is better to think about the underlying capabilities of digital technologies, and what constraints those capabilities are able to solve.

Simple capabilities of information storage and high-performance computation have broken constraints in how much data we can keep and how fast we can process it, which has made WhatsApp and YouTube possible. Imagine still being constrained by the amount of books the Citadel can hold and having to be Maester to understand it! The capability to curate information according to highest interest and relevance, is what the best executive assistants have been doing for decades. But even the best has limits in how much they can do and well they can curate large volumes of information. Curation is a capability that has broken such limits in our Google searches, news feeds and music playlists. Human beings have marvellous senses through which we can perceive information, our senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch etc. But even there, there are constraints in how quickly and how much information we can consume, and the geographic limitation of needing to be in close proximity to be able to see and hear for example. Smart sensors, cameras and devices have broken that constraint and expanded our capacity to perceive our environments.

The final step in Tech Fluency is being able to apply technology capabilities to address business and socio-economic challenges: the need for better decision making, greater productivity, lower operating costs, better customer experiences, increased trade, safer transactions, good health, rapid upskilling, cheaper and cleaner energy, amongst others.

Every successful professional today, whether or not they are ‘technical’, will have to be able to:

  • develop their levels of awareness around the unwritten rules and habits that govern our lives
  • build their confidence in their knowledge technology capabilities (not buzzwords) to break constraints
  • combine their domain expertise with technology capabilities to address business and social problems in a way that adds value.

Develop your teams’ Tech Fluency through our masterclasses and reinforce those learnings through our digital learning journeys.

Rapelang Rabana

Rapelang Rabana

Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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