From the early days of technological innovation, people have struggled to adapt. We tend to think of this as a relatively new trend that began with the advent of the computer, but it really began much earlier. Recently, while watching the first season of Downton Abbey, I was struck by how the characters struggle to adapt to technologies such as the Electric Light and the Telephone. One of the lead characters, a Butler named Carson, even spends time practicing how he will answer the phone.

In the early 1900’s, often there were years between the introduction of disruptive innovations, such as electricity and the telephone. This length of time combined with the fact that the distribution was slow and adoption was simple, flipping a light switch or picking up a telephone for example, made for a relatively smooth transition and less social and business disruption.

Fast forward to modern times: the fundamentals are much the same, and yet, much more disruptive. The reason is that today innovations are introduced at a blistering pace and are not only more complex, but are distributed in what seems like an instant. The combination of accelerating innovation, complexity, and instant distribution represent a significant hurdle for the Audiovisual Industry as it strives to successfully implement broad scale adoption of collaborative solutions. In short, there is a gap in our “Innovation to Aptitude” ratio.

Two Trends and A Hockey StickThis is all about to change…

Trend 1Complexity is trending toward simplicity

Manufacturers have understood the complexity-adoption dilemma for a long time and as a result are now focusing heavily on “ease-of-use”. This is not only a competitive advantage, but also a fundamental requirement to build new markets.

Up until recent years, everything digital was a new and foreign experience to users, because most people were not natively digital like the children of today. Far from being intuitive, innovations not only had to be learned, but their possibilities, potential, and even risks needed to be understood and evaluated.

In my view, these challenges represented the biggest barrier to the growth of the commercial videoconference industry. While the technology worked, it was perceived as awkward and was socially uncomfortable for many decision-makers who were ultimately reluctant to implement it in a business setting. From a value standpoint, the reward did not justify the risk. In the Downton Abbey example, the Grandmother shields her eyes from the “artificial” (electric) light for fear of its unknown and potentially negative effects. This seems silly to us now, but she could not envision the benefits associated with electric light.

Trend 2The rise of the Collaborative “Digital Native

In the year 2000, I sold and installed my first SMART® interactive whiteboard into a 7th Grade classroom filled with students that were approximately twelve-years old. Those students, who are now approaching twenty-seven years of age and grew-up with collaborative technologies at their finger-tips, are now moving into key decision-making positions within their respective organizations.

Furthermore, the iPhone was invented in 2007, with the iPad following promptly in 2010. Eight years from now young adults who have never known life without a smart phone will be entering college and the workforce. Within thirteen years, an eighteen-year-old will have never known life without an iPad and FaceTime (videoconferencing). I could continue with numerous examples, but I am sure you get the point – our workforce is quickly becoming natively digital.

The Hockey Stick – Intersecting trends drive mass adoption

There are two trends which, individually, will increase adoption rates, however, when combined will act as a catalyst for mass adoption; the hockey stick effect.

  • Manufacturers continue to focus on ease of use, driving down operational complexity, and
  • The technical aptitude of the user entering the workforce is increasing with each passing year and graduating class.

The resulting business and social impact from the intersection, and ultimate alignment, of these two trends cannot be overstated. With the “Innovation to Aptitude” Ratio in balance, the Digital Native leader will substantially accelerate the adoption of collaborative technologies and their use in meeting spaces and among distributed teams.

Now, take a moment and think about your organization’s meeting spaces and group collaboration technologies; is the 7th grade classroom from 15 years ago (referenced above) better equipped?

Related Links:

Technology – The Leadership Conundrum

Keeping Up 2.0 – It’s about recruiting the best staff!


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