You just started reading this. Chances are that, by the time you reach the end of these two-page article, you will have received an app-notification, a couple of emails and instant messages, as well as new content feed from your social media. Whether you will feel connected, busy, disrupted, or tempted to check your electronic device though, is a personal choice.
Technology is omnipresent in our life, suggesting new ways of interacting and doing business. Yet, the use of it to facilitate or condition our needs, opportunities, and interactions, still depends on us.
Many executives feel overwhelmed by the immediacy of demands and instant connectivity, the infinity of information and promising opportunities, and the need to keep pace with rapid technological changes. Some even feel anxious about their possible redundancy as expert decision-makers in the era of potent algorithms and artificial intelligence. If you identify with any of those concerns – while still reading these lines in spite of the familiar sound of your device requesting your attention – you are already on a good path towards putting technology to your service and not vice versa.
We, humans, have this paradoxical tendency to feel inherently attracted to, yet, at the same time threatened by, novelty and change. And our relationship with technology is not an exception. The key to managing this paradox is to accept rather than resolve it. And since this is easier said than done, here are some useful tips from experience.
- Mark your limits (it’s easier than you think)
However urgent or numerous requests your electronic device marks, you need to take your time to respond – and it is absolutely OK to do so. Whether you are in a meeting or in the movies this is because being in any of those places is important for you. At the same time, if you are responding to a message, a call, an email, those too are important for you. Then, give each of those important instances a chance: attend them sequentially, to attend them with the importance they deserve.
Should you detest the word “sequentially” or take special pride on your ability to do things “simultaneously”, please do a reality check by looking at your last thread of instant messages or emails. Did you respond quickly only to then realize you forgot to also mention/clarify/ask something? Did it take more time/confusion/back-and-forth replies to get everything resolved? If yes, then you know the value of attending requests sequentially. And, as managers, remember: if attending important requests sequentially is valuable for you, so it is for your collaborators!
- Take perspective
Most of us tend to think in an “if-then” mode – it is not a coincidence that we started constructing our algorithms this way.
Every time you stand before a technological novelty and find yourself defending either the virtues or downsides of it, check-out your train of thought – your “if-thens” – and re-conduce it. Take for example the massive sensation around the use of Chat GPT: some swear on its potential to answer practically any question and are very excited about the opportunities this presents; others are tremendously skeptical about this potential – where does human reasoning, expertise, or talent lie if this is true?
If you find yourself leaning towards one of these extremes, hold your horses and notice the flaw in both lines of thought: they both have very narrow “if-thens”. Does anyone have a magic ball to be so sure of their “if-thens”? Are those “if-thens” dictated by the nature of technology or by the use we, humans, make of it, or perhaps both?
- Think of how you want technology to work for you
Struggling with the last question above? Here is the last tip. Accept that you cannot have absolute control or definite answers; you can just shape your priorities and interests from the use of technology and revise those in the face of reality. This is where the value of human nature and managerial expertise come into focus.
Reflect, consult, discuss with your team, on how technological novelties can be relevant for you. And after this reflection, do not fall into the extremes trap discussed above. Instead of taking for granted any pros and cons of technology and its use, try and err, change your mind as you learn, keep open to new possibilities. If you want to embrace technological novelties – artificial intelligence, big data, you name it – do this with an open mind and approach it as a debate, as a dance. Come to this encounter with technology with your expectations but keep open to surprises – good and bad – to constantly reshape those expectations.
Technology, just like our human nature, is neither unconditionally good or bad, nor inherently helpful or threatening. Once you realize the power of shaping your own priorities and expectations from its use, and the necessity of revising those, you can be at peace and extract the most out of any human-technology interaction.