Back to the Future is one of my favorite movies of all time.  Not the first one … the second one.  The one that depicts the fantasy of what life might be like in the tech-enabled future of 2015.

The movie was released in 1989 and, at that time, we saw technology as a pathway to a fantasy world where all our dreams could come true.  I still fantasize about one day being able to purchase a hoverboard.

It is now 2019 — 4 years beyond the future-land of Marty McFly and, in truth, our current-day technology has in many ways far surpassed what we dreamed might be possible in 1989.  Skateboards may not yet hover, but I did buy a self-propelling hoverboard “for my kids.”

This year is the also the 50th anniversary of the Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.  How did the world think about technology then?  It was a tool that would expand human capabilities and enable mankind to reach, quite literally, for moonshots.  Technology ignited hope and adjusted the trajectory of our dreams and aspirations.

But, today, people have started to feel that technology is not a tool to enable human capability, but is an inevitable inbound alien invasion.  Technology has gone from igniting the world with hope, to clouding it with fear and confusion.  Who can blame people for feeling that way?  The media and, indeed, the purveyors of the technology are telling us the same.  A Google search for “AI taking jobs” results in 420 million results!!  And, Elon Musk announced this year that AI is more dangerous than nuclear weapons.  Those kinds of pronouncements don’t exactly inspire us to reach for the stars.

Companies are told that they must “disrupt or die” — that a Mac truck is heading for them at 200 mph and that they’ll be roadkill soon unless they do something “disruptive.”  They are told that any inefficiency in their business is like blood in tech-shark infested waters.  So, what do companies do in response?  Well, it’s better to be the zombie than to be zombie food, so companies grasp frantically at technology as if it were their one possible lifeline.  In the finance world, we are told that we can no longer be a financial company; we must be a “technology company” first … that just happens to be in the finance space.  Trillions of dollars are invested in various technology and “digital transformation” efforts.  It seems that so much corporate strategy is based on the idea that the best way to ensure long term survival is just to spend more money on tech.

Yet, it seems to me that, for most people at these companies, their day-to-day work has largely remained the same.  Rather than feeling like they are gaining efficiency and productivity from these tech efforts, I think many employees feel that they are actually becoming less efficient as they are forced to use new systems that were clearly designed by people who did not understand their needs.  Or, perhaps they must now spend tens of hours in tech brainstorm meetings coming up with ideas that never come to fruition, and working with the countless consultants, developers, integration partners who tell companies that they can’t surmount the technology gap without their expensive services.  This is, of course, in addition to already spending 80% of their working day playing email whack-a-mole.

And, despite the frenetic pace of investment in technology, I think company owners still can’t shed the nagging question — is this actually a good investment of capital, or are we just pouring money down the drain?

While the idea of being a “technology company” first and relegating a company’s core competency to tertiary importance has become the norm, when you stop and think about it, it’s pretty crazy.

Think about giving the same advice to a child.  Would a parent ever say to their son or daughter — I know you’re showing a real talent for creative writing … but, you should really be a technology-focused child … who just happens to be in the creative writing space?  Obviously not — parents recognize that the key to a child’s success in life will be identifying and leveraging their core talents.  Why is it different for companies?

To consider this from a different perspective, imagine if during the industrial revolution, Goldman Sachs were to announce to the public — we are no longer a finance company; we are a manufacturing company that just happens to be in finance.  Would any rational shareholder support this absurd strategy?

So, what is different about technology that makes this type of strategy not only acceptable … but expected?

I think one of the problems is that people don’t understand technology and really don’t even know how to think about technology.

It was easier to grasp “industrialization.”  I can go on a factory floor and, within 15 minutes, probably have decent understanding of manufacturing, assembly lines, standardization, and other components of the industrial revolution.

But what is AI?  What is Big Data?  What is Machine Learning?  Can you show me what these things are so that I can understand them as tangibly as I understand what an assembly line is?

What people do see — because EVERY single presentation on technology tells us — is the cautionary tales of companies who were “disrupted” by technology.

(Side Rant: why is it that the SAME 7 companies are used in EVERY single tech disruption presentation — Blockbuster, Kodak, Xerox, Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Amazon.   If tech disruption was so rampant, shouldn’t there be 100’s of prominent examples.  How many years into the industrial revolution were consultants still showing power point presentations about the horse and buggy maker that failed to adapt?)

The experts warn us — don’t worry about understanding AI … just know that whatever you think you’re good at — AI can do it better.

We can hardly blame the CEO for throwing massive sums of money at tech investment in response — who would want to be the next cautionary tale example on a power point presentation!?

Is it possible, though, that all of your competition’s focus on technology has left a HUGE void for you to catapult your value proposition far beyond what anyone else is doing in your industry?

I am increasingly seeing that there is an alternative path.  A path that can provide a CEO with the confidence that they are investing in the right things.  A path that can show immediately measurable results.  A path that is likely tens of millions of dollars cheaper than the tech efforts you are currently considering to achieve the same results?

Are you interested?

Some of the topics I’ll discuss in upcoming blog posts  a) how to identify the problems that are worth trying to solve,  b) how to develop the most impactful strategies for solving these problems, and c) the right way and the wrong way to leverage technology as part of the solution.

My focus in this blog will be on maximizing the potential of individuals, teams, companies, organizations, etc. … but, I’ll also include other personal observations that will hopefully expand the aperture of your perspective on various other topics as well.