As the Digital Era progresses, technological capabilities continue to outstrip our willingness and ability to address the opportunities and challenges they present. In this post I offer 12 hopes for 2012 that are rooted in the psychological challenges we face and are built on our willingness – both individually and collectively – to tackle them in thought, word, and deed.
It’s the time of year when people reflect back on 2011 and look forward to 2012. After reading a number of pieces that focus on predictions, prognostications, and anticipated trends in the technology space, particularly social media and 2.0 technologies, I was prompted to reflect on my own expectations for 2012.
To begin, I’ve learned my lesson – the hard way – about making predictions. Nearly three years ago, I decided to devote myself full time to expanding the use of social media and 2.0 technologies in organizations. I was incredibly naïve (as it turns out) about people’s willingness and ability to understand, let alone embrace, new digital approaches to pursuing their goals and objectives. Media hype and impassioned advocacy mask the reality that the vast majority of working adults – particularly those in leadership positions at organizations of all types – are still sitting on the sidelines of the digital movement.
There are many reasons for this, of course – some of them justified, some not so much. I’ve given a lot of thought to why there hasn’t been more progress, but in this post I want to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Specifically, I want to articulate my hopes for what might happen in 2012, which can in turn lay the foundation for what shouldhappen in the years ahead.
As always, I welcome input from others. What are your 2.0 hopes for the new year?
– Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
12 Hopes for 2012
My specific hopes below are predicated on a general hope – namely, that the global economy will stabilize enough to encourage people to focus on the future with a renewed sense of optimism and confidence. I also hope we will devote more energy to action than talk, working together to address the opportunities and challenges we face rather than bickering and playing the blame game. The realization of these hopes is critical to all kinds of advances and successes in 2012, not just the enhanced adoption of new technologies.
One of the paradoxes of technology adoption is that it is fundamentally a human endeavor. Creating the means to do things better, faster, cheaper is irrelevant if people don’t embrace the new tools and approaches. Throughout the early days of the Digital Era, our technological capabilities have generally exceeded the willingness and ability of people to leverage them. Jane Young summarizes the situation well in her comment on this Forbes piece:
Our biggest challenge isn’t keeping up with the latest in social media, it’s finding ways to get mindset to catch up with capabilities and new knowledge…. Companies who recognise we’re facing a psychological challenge rather than a technological one, will thrive.
My hopes for 2012 are rooted in the psychological challenges we face and are built on our willingness – both individually and collectively – to address them in thought, word, and deed.
Sort of in order (but not really), I hope that:
- People – especially organizational leaders – will recognize that we are fully in the Digital Era and will begin to explore more fully what that means for them as individuals and for their organizations. They will acknowledge they don’t understand new digital technologies as well as they could/should – and more importantly, they will make a real effort to educate themselves.
- More leaders will act like leaders – taking a broader view of their organization, industry, and the larger world in which both function; focusing on the future; engaging in strategic discussions; demonstrating a willingness to take risks. More specifically, they will recognize the transformative power of digital technology across multiple disciplines and will use their newly-acquired understanding to develop appropriate strategic priorities and objectives, and to allocate necessary human and other resources to pursue those objectives.
- We will stop sanctifying and vilifying social media, recognizing that it is neither “the cure for all that ails us” nor “the end of civilization as we know it.” Both things are true, but neither position represents the truth. We will move past unproductive, moot arguments and focus more on developing solutions for managing the new realities of our lives as effectively as possible.
- In a related vein, we will stop thinking of social media as a frivolous novelty and begin to take it and other digital technologies more seriously, recognizing that these technologies are necessary utilities for functioning in the 21st Century.
- We will understand that leveraging new digital technologies is at once both a (r)evolutionary step forward and a return to more natural ways of communicating, collaborating, and learning. We will realize that digital technology is most effectively viewed as a means to achieving our goals and objectives rather than an end unto itself.
- We will shift from a focus on external uses of social media – particularly in a BtoC (business-to-consumer) context – to recognize the greater need (and opportunity) to address internal and inter-organizational applications and implications of new technologies in organizations of all types and sizes. We will begin to integrate them into existing projects and operations in all functional areas.
- We will develop more thoughtful and strategic approaches to digital engagement that employ appropriate platforms and communication channels based on organizational characteristics, stakeholder demographics, and other factors. We will be less reactive, less likely to engage in copycat behavior, and less inclined to pursue a “one size fits all” model.
- The false assumption of the inherent superiority of “Digital Natives” and “Millennials” in leveraging new technologies will cease to dominate people’s thinking. We will realize that we all have the opportunity – and ability – to be as digitally proficient as we want to be. As we all become more digitally proficient, we will once again realize that substance (e.g., functional and organizational knowledge, experience, wisdom, emotional intelligence, communication skills) is much more important than form (i.e., specific digital skills) – and far more difficult to acquire!
- More high-quality formal education and training about social media and other new digital technologies will be available. And recognizing the need to make a lifelong investment in their own success, more people will take advantage of it to climb their short-term learning curves more efficiently and effectively – and to lay a strong foundation for continuous learning and improvement.
- Organizations of all types will shift from public social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn to private digital networks (PDNs) for internal communication and collaboration. The value of PDNs for inter-organizational communication and collaboration will also be realized and exploited more fully.
- Organizations will take appropriate action to manage their Digital Era risks by reviewing and updating their employee policies, creating social media policies/guidelines where necessary/appropriate, and providing ongoing training for both individual contributors and managers.
- Technology advocates will focus less on disruptive applications and more on how new technology can extend and enhance existing competencies rather than destroying them. And instead of primarily defining the success of technology companies – both start-ups and established firms – based on their splashy hits, we will place more value on incremental contributions and improvements that have a larger, albeit quieter, impacts.
Are my hopes a bit naïve and idealistic? Probably. Are they realistic? That’s up to all of us to determine. We’re really the only thing standing in the way of turning dreams into realities…