Curiosity And Change: A Never-Ending Conundrum

Kerry Brown

Do you have uncontainable curiosity? In a recent interview about Stephen Hawking, well-known author Walter Isaacson cited that as the mark of a genius. Other qualities he mentioned are a sense of observation, wonder, and an interest in collaboration and discovery.

I believe we all have these qualities to varying degrees. Isaacson, who has written about many significant figures, says, “When you write biographies, whether it’s about Ben Franklin or Einstein, you discover something amazing: They are all human.” For sure, we all have that in common.

The second blog in our series, “Human Is the Next Big Thing,” explored the rise of the computer and the change in jobs. The question now is: How does user adoption change, given the rise in technology with machine learning, AI, robotics, and the like, while keeping the human factor in mind?

Consider the areas to focus on: digital leadership, digital fluency, digital mindset, digital skills…if you remove the word “digital,” it’s not like these are new things for us to ponder. The shift is the pace and agility to transform into a real-time digital workplace and manage through new business models while we navigate the “messy human stuff.” Employees need to get accustomed to digital tools as early as possible so realistic expectations can contribute to building trust and reducing fears and resistance.

So, what’s really different? The who, where, what, and how are all shifting—technology allows people to work from almost anywhere. Workers may rarely go into an office or meet their managers in person, and collaboration may be with people in different countries.

Connecting and feeling connected are essential to employee engagement—with it, they feel valued. Connection drives performance and retention and builds change adaptability in the workforce. With the consumerization of IT, we have all learned new ways to connect on social media in our personal lives to stay in touch with friends and family. Using technology to connect in the workplace provides the same linkages and touch points. One of the challenges is that this doesn’t “look” or “feel” like work in a more traditional culture. As we consider the basic elements of driving change—communication, learning, involvement, leadership—these new ways to involve and drive engagement will become more meaningful and necessary. For example, digital connection to smaller audiences allows for a more targeted pull and push of communications and learning that has the same personalized factor as the Amazon shopping experience we have all come to expect.

At its simplest, change management = expectations + accountabilities. If there is a miss on either side of this equation, then there is a gap in managing change. No one likes to be surprised in the workplace, so give everyone a chance to prepare and engage. Some specific considerations regarding change as digital gets ever closer:

  • Use digital technology to experiment with new communication formats: short, brief videos, chats…bring personal social behavior patterns into the workplace.
  • Plan for an iterative, incremental approach to change—technology will not change business all at once, rather in pockets and parts, sometimes leaps and bounds. Be prepared for an app or innovation to go “viral” but like the open marketplace, you need followers to find the tipping point.
  • Keep your eye on business benefits as the catalyst for change. New solutions (like AI) are not just shiny toys with fancy names; they should be an integral part of business outcomes.
  • Availability of technology in the cloud allows the business to select solutions directly and bypass IT, it is important for these two groups to collaborate ensuring an integrated business experience.
  • Simplicity is everything. Make sure user experience is exceptionally simple and requires minimal handholding.  We all expect work to provide the beautiful experience we have as consumers.

Personalization is something we have come to appreciate; cyber and job security are things we have come to fear.  In a recent study from Oxford Economics, 50% of employees are concerned their skills will no longer be adequate to perform their job in three years. Take the example of Schindler elevators: By capturing the data on the movement of elevators worldwide, they could better manage the maintenance and work needed in the field. Using data, Schindler created a new business by sharing the movement of people on elevators with communities and businesses to influence city planning for bus routes and business locations for coffee shops, dry cleaners, etc. What does this mean for Schindler employees?  Reducing inefficiency streamlined work while cross-industry innovation created new business models and job opportunities.

Stephen Hawking was curious, persistent, and courageous, characteristics that seem to be just what we all need to face the changes coming our way personally and professionally. When faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, he created and navigated a path for himself and others that allowed for expansion, growth, and change.

It seems to me like Stephen Hawking had a lot of user adoption on his mind! That the universe is constantly changing and requiring learning and adaptation, for example, and that we can’t know everything.

But we can try.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.  Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.  Be curious.  And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at it.  It matters that you don’t just give up.”
– Stephen Hawking

For more insight on emerging technology, see “Alexa, What Will Be Your Impact On E-Commerce?”


About Kerry Brown

Kerry Brown is the VP of User Adoption at SAP. She is an international speaker on change management, learning, talent and organizational development, social and collaboration, interacting with diverse global occupational cultures and industries, including many Fortune customers.