People First! Gerald Kane, "The Technology Fallacy"

Sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Gerald Kane talk about his book, The Technology Fallacy!

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!

So, sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Gerald Kane talk about his book, The Technology Fallacy!

Chapter Layout:
0:00 - Open
1:34 - Origin Story
4:40 - Fax Machines
8:25 - Knowing Doing Gap
11:02 - Successful Digital Transformation
13:35 - Golden Age of Corporate Leadership
19:04 - How Paranoid Do We Need To Be?
22:11 - Contact Info & Wrap


- [Intro] Welcome to Skye team's "People First" with Morag Barrett.

- Welcome to this week's episode of People First and my guest this week is Dr. Gerald Kane, who is a professor of information systems and faculty director of the Edmund H. Shea Jr Center for entrepreneurship at Boston College's, Carroll School of Management. Wow, I can only imagine the width of that business card.

- Yes absolutely.

- Jerry researches and teaches about how companies can understand and respond to digital disruption to undergraduate, graduate and executive education students worldwide. He's published more than a hundred papers, articles and reports on these topics. And today we're going to be talking about his book, "The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation". And you might also be getting a sneak peek of his upcoming book, "The Transformation Myth: Leading Your Organization through Uncertain Times". So Jerry welcome to "People First."

- And it's great to be here. Thank you for having me.

- All right. So as all of this, this is a podcast for leaders by leaders and it's exploring the journeys that we are all taking or have taken to get to where we are today. So I'm going to take you back. Flashback to elementary school. You're sitting there in class, your teacher has just asked you to draw a picture of what you want to be when you grow up? So when you were a wee lad, Jerry, what was your answer?

- Gosh, that's actually a hard question. Perhaps I will just answer it with what was I, when I grew up before I became a college professor. And for 10 years I was actually a United Methodist minister working at a large church in Atlanta. I really enjoyed my time there. It was a great experience but it was sort of like serving in the military. I did my tour of duty and I realized it was time to move on and went back to get my PhD. So I have two hats. One is the... I'm officially Reverend Dr. Kane, even though sort of my job is fully in academia now.

- Okay. Well, wow. I wonder so how has that informed the research and the work that you do now?

- In all sorts of different ways. So my early research was in social media. So the first day... My first day as a college professor was the day that Facebook launched this new feature called newsfeed. And all my students came into class mad because how dare they, this is an invasion of our privacy. We're going back to Myspace. And so my first day as a college professor I called an audible, and basically explained to them the business reasons why they wouldn't leave Facebook and lo and behold, 15 years later, that lesson proved right. As I got into social media there's a lot about working in a community-based organization where you don't have the traditional command and control structures of a traditional business that really aligns well with the sort of rough and tumble organic nature of the social media space. And I actually think informs very well many of the challenges that companies are facing as we move into a more digital world when you don't have all the bureaucracy and the level of control that you're used to because you need to empower people. You know, working with volunteers was a great way to learn those skills because if you can't fire people and you don't have a paycheck for them, you need to learn to motivate them and lead an organization in fundamentally different ways. And a lot of that experience actually informs sort of how I'm thinking about organizations transform in the 10 to 20, one year for the COVID and then five to 10 years beyond that.

- Essentially I'm looking forward to diving into your book and a reminder it's called "The Technology Fallacy: How People Are the Real Key to Digital Transformation." And two quick stories. Well, quickish, in terms of my own journey through that digital transformation. If I flashed back to my first career in banking, I remember the moment when a fax machine was delivered and installed in our branch. And we thought we had reached nirvana.

- The pinnacle of-

- The pinnacle-

- Of technological advancement.

- Now I realized this is not the main focus of your research but can you answer for me why is it that we still have fax numbers on business cards? I don't know the last time-

- I actually can answer that it's because we actually have this in the technology fallacy books that the real challenge is not that technology moves fast, it does. The challenge is there's differing rates of change between technologies, individuals, organizations and public policy. And there were some rules about fax machines, you could do things over fax that you still can't do over email. And so it's a lot of the regulatory stuff that hasn't caught up to the new environment.

- And we'll talk about that later. 'cause there's the ethical piece too-

- Ooh absolutely

- That is gradually eating sometimes different pace. All right, so fax machine arrived, six months later it's catching dust. The other digital transformation that I remember seeing again in the nineties was smart boards and I remember all the companies that invested in these phenomenal white board kind of computer things that would download everything that you write. And they sat there like the white elephant, nobody dared use them in case that you use the wrong pen which brings me back to the subtitle of your book that people are the real key to digital transformation. You can buy the bells and whistles, but if I'm too afraid to use it, or I use it in appropriately that investment is going to be wasted. What are your thoughts?

- Yeah, and so as we research companies, really what the technology fallacy, we actually came up with a title last. So we never actually describe what it means in the book. But since then, I've come up with the definition which is basically the technology fallacy is this mistaken belief that just because an organization's challenges or problems are caused by digital technology that the solutions involve digital technology as well. Many of the biggest challenges were not technological. They were organizational, they were talent-based, they were leadership style based strategy. And those were much more of the challenges to get them up to speed, to working in a digital world. And I actually think COVID has basically proven our hypothesis true because the tech that, it's really been remarkable at how quickly organizations have been able to flip switches and adapt to, you know remote work, to all sorts of different approaches. And the technology has been strong. You know, I was a little nervous as we were flipping schools and everything to Zoom and online, and by and large the technology has been rock solid. So the technology has always been there. It's the people side that we haven't been sort of able to change as quickly as the technology and nothing like an existential event for organizations like COVID to get people willing to experiment and to learn new ways of working. And I think the real challenge is going to be what happens with the next disruption in September of 2021 or December of 2021 when we can start going back into the office. My real fear is that companies are going to say, "We've made it. Now we can go back to the way things were." Where I would argue where we were in 20, you know January of 2020 was already 10 to 15 years behind where we needed to be. And so by the challenge and that the message of this new book is how do you innovate through disruption? And when September 21, 2021 comes, resist that temptation to go back, lock in the gains, figure new ways to innovate because so many companies have made such progress and it's been really inspirational to research it. I just fear what's going to happen in the fall when people feel like, "Okay I can let my guard down now."

- So I'd love to hear some of those stores but let's go back to this whole knowing doing gap. Why is it so pernicious and sticky?

- Yeah, it's hard to say. I wish we could say we coined the knowing doing gap 'cause it comes back from some researchers in the 1980s. So this has been around, we all know some things that we should do but don't have the courage to do it or the will to do it. So the stat from our book was that something like 87% of our survey respondents said digital technologies are going to transform our industry to a moderate or a great extent in the coming years, yet less than half of those 44%, said my organization is doing enough about it. What we talk about this in terms of the new book is the difference between chronic and acute disruption. So digital transformation is a chronic, like a chronic or acute medical condition. Chronic conditions are slower. They happen over time. We can put it off and ignore it to a certain extent and still go on with our daily lives. And that's digital disruption. That's what we've been living through. And that knowing, doing gap is just saying, "Yeah I'm not ready for it today." I don't want to make that lifestyle change today. Whereas COVID has been that acute disruption where it's a heart attack where you have no choice but to deal with it. And actually why we think the technology fallacy, the lessons from the technology fallacy apply really well to a companies have been dealing with over this past year is there's really two sides of the same coin. It's both disruption, it's just the speed at which it's happening. And the bright, the silver lining has been, we've not been able to ignore it. Now we've had to collapse that knowing doing gap and what's really been surprising to me is the number of people we interviewed, digital leaders who said this has been the best months of my career dealing with the disruption because all of the organizational barriers that have kept them from pushing change and being innovative, fell away. And they were really able to accelerate in fact, you know decades worth of change over the past year. And there's actually some data that says, it has in fact been decades of change. If you look at certain adoption rates, et cetera, et cetera.

- Nothing like a good crisis to get-

- Absolutely.

- So in your research you've touched on there on the interviews. I know you surveyed like 16,000 leaders. You've done copious amounts of research and conversations with leaders at all levels in organizations. So as you think back to those which ones stand out that really personify the cultural the essential characteristics for successful digital transformation.

- Which specific people or just what characteristics?

- Both. So the characteristics, but then the people of the organizations that personify those and seem to be doing it right.

- Yeah. So pre COVID, I would have highlighted Walmart. So when I first was interviewing the chief human relations officer, chief people officer at Walmart in probably 2015 ish, I was like, why are we even talking to these people? There's no way that Walmart is going to be able to turn this behemoth of an organization to be able to compete with somebody like Amazon. And as we spoke to them, it really was clear that they were doing a lot of things right. In fact, one of the things that shocked me was in that interview or one of the interviews, they said, "When we look ahead 10 years and think about how our customers are going to be shopping. We're not the type of organization. We're not the type of company that they're going to want to be shopping at. So we need to make changes." And the fact that they were forward-looking enough, we really encourage people to look at that 10 year timeframe, because if you're not thinking at that scope, the technology is just moving too fast. So I was really surprised and they really got that, it wasn't just the technology they couldn't buy their way out of this problem. they had to change the culture and culture is critically important. A couple of other ones that we've seen since then. I interviewed Kristin Darby, who's the CIO of Envision Health. And they are the physician group that manages most of the ER's in New York and New Jersey. And so she was literally on the front line of COVID when it was hitting in March and the ability for them to pivot and innovate to meet this need. So they, over the course of a week I think put together a new app that allowed them in a HIPAA compliant way to turn tablets into monitoring devices. So one camera would monitor the patient. The other camera would monitor the devices. So the nurse didn't have to enter the room as frequently when we're lacking in PPE. And just the ability to sort of identify that need and boldly and move quickly to make that happen was just really inspiring and amazing. And there are so many of those stories that we ran across. I really call the past year as the golden age of corporate leadership because I think you've seen a number of executive leaders really step up with empathy, with boldness to really sort of lead their organizations into these unprecedented times. And there were story upon story about just inspirational types of leadership and visionary and bold.

- So, oh, thank goodness is my response to that as I think back to my banking career and being told you know, it's not personal, it's just business. And the concept of empathy was not something that entered into the lexicon, let alone the behavioral patterns of leaders at any time early in my career. Now it's forefront. So if you think this may bridge into your upcoming book, "The Transformation Myth: Leading Your Organization through Uncertain Times." How is leadership today then and for tomorrow different to what might have gone before?

- And so some of the things we've seen is that greater empathy, sort of the getting rid of the corporate speak, not being afraid to say when you don't know what the answer is. Many of the people we talk to is actually said it was a very refreshing change in their organization and they hope they wouldn't go back. Of course, we will go back to a certain extent but you know, if we can keep remembering these things because one of the themes of the new book and this was sort of eye-opening for me, we think of COVID as this, life altering experience. And it has been, but if you go back so many of our interview people were also talking about the financial crisis. We're talking about 2001 or talking about, you know all, we've been dealing with a lot of different crises and disruptions over the past 20 years. And many of the folks said, you know, it's because I lead through these other ones that I knew how to lead through this next one. And what we're trying to just say is, look disruption is the new normal, you know if you think it's all going to stop once COVID is done you know, it's not. And so how do we lead, and how do we sort of be these empathetic leaders? And I do hope we've see the next great generation of leaders emerge from this. And one of the things we're trying to do in this book is tell those stories. And in fact, in the Wall Street Journal, two of my co-authors are from Deloitte and they were able to secure many of the interviews. And we have a profiles in leadership series coming out in the Wall Street Journal because we had just too much good content that couldn't make it all into the book. And we're releasing the stories of these leaders we've interviewed, you know, every week or two because they're just so many good ones.

- So you're talking both about the future waves of disruption. What are you most excited for as you look to the future and this continual pace of innovation and change?

- So my kids are 14 and 16, and I had my son who's the 14 year old trained at an early age when they would be asked by a podcaster, what do they want to be when they grow up? He learned to say, "I don't know the job I'm going to have, hasn't been invented yet." And it's that sort of what gets me excited. There are some really amazing technological advances coming down the pipe, whether it's artificial intelligence, whether it's blockchain, whether it's autonomous vehicles, whether it's dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. I think the next 20 years are going to be more disruptive than the last 20. And if we can learn some of the lessons and not only try to, you know create great businesses that deliver real value to the customers, but also ones that end up creating a better society as well. And I'm hearing that more out of some of the people we've interviewed, it's not just what can I do with the technology but what is the world we're trying to build? And I think we need to have more of that conversation because we are at a real inflection point. Do we want to, you know, basically sell every moment of somebodies existence for ad space or do we want to design these technologies in a way that create more equitable society, create better quality of life for the individuals? And I'm seeing more of those conversations take place and more leaders approach it from a much more holistic perspective which I think is really exciting because it would be great if this technological change can sort of be a net positive not just for companies, but for society in general.

- And that's an interesting concept because I think if you read the headlines, there's a lot of scaremongering going on about the future of work and how AI and robots are going to replace us. And yes, I think there is going to be a seismic shift in terms of the skill sets that are going to be needed. But it's also shortsighted to think that we're all going to get laid off. And it's all going to be robots because if I'm not earning money, I'm not going to be able to purchase the services or the products that the robots are making. And in your first book, The Technology Fallacy you quote Andrew Grove, one of the founders of Intel who says only the paranoid survive. And then I immediately flashed to the pictures of Boston Dynamics. I love those videos, but they also terrify me because they are, you know, "Oh, cute doggy. Oh, look, the robot can dance." And we lose sight of what else can that robot do. So in your research, how paranoid do we need to be?

- I mean a lot, but I also, I would turn it on its head and say, "You know, the super power for the next 20 years is going to be continual learning." You know, there's a downside to being locked into a job at 25 and going through that career your entire life. I mean, there are plenty of people who in their forties and fifties and sixties feel burned out and trapped in their job because they can't do anything else. Whereas with all of these changes, if we can embrace a spirit of continual learning, and growth mindset, which we talk about considerably in the book, I think it creates opportunities for us. Now it's incumbent upon us to be continual learners but there are so many opportunities out there. I tell my students, you know, anything I could teach you in this class is going to be obsolete by the time you get out and can actually put it into practice. So the main lesson I'm trying to teach you is how to how to keep learning, how to use all these technological tools to keep growing and expanding your skillset. And I think for those sorts of people who are willing to continue learning and willing to continue growing and recognize that they can, and I think everybody can, I think the future is going to be a really exciting time. At the same time, we are seeing some societal exacerbating some societal gaps for the people who don't have the equipment, who don't have the background to learn. And certainly that's a problem, you know that we need to address. I'm not sure technology will address it but you'll find ways to make sure it's a society where everybody can participate.

- I love that. And that almost brings us full circle because whilst that educational gap or access gap isn't necessarily indicative of the knowing doing gap, it is indicative of the knowledge doing gap that we need to close so that as human race, we can move forward together and continue to keep up, but also accelerate this change.

- Yes, and my hope is a lot of the silver lining from this pandemic will be that people recognize that they can do these things, that they can change, that they can learn. Their students are going to say, "Ah so my son has decided he wants to learn Python." The programming language Python, he's in seventh grade. And he has just picked it up, and he's gone to some of the online platforms, and he's just teaching himself how to do it. And he's gone a little bit insane with it that, you know there's so many resources out there for learning that my hope is that this pandemic has opened many more people's eyes to what's possible and they will get out there and do it.

- Okay, well, Gerald Kane thank you for sharing a few of the insights from your two books. How can our listeners get ahold of you, learn more

- Well, so both are available on Amazon. One is for pre-order. You can find me on my website, www.profKane, We have the whole Wall Street Journal series there, leader series. Had some videos of talks I've given out of the book, links for the book, et cetera, et cetera. So it's a great place to find everything you want to know about me, but were always afraid to ask.

- I love it. And we'll make sure all of that information is in the show notes around this episode. If you've enjoyed this episode, then make sure that you subscribe, hit that button, and then you won't miss future episodes with great thought leaders like Gerald Kane who are helping you to invest in your own leadership journey.

- [Narrator] Thank you so much for joining Morag today. If you enjoyed the show, please like, and subscribe so you don't miss a thing. If you learned something worth sharing, share it. Cultivate your relationships today when you don't need anything before you need something. Be sure to follow Skye Team and Morag on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you have any ideas about topics we should tackle, interviews, we should do or if you yourself would like to be on the show drop us a line at That's S-K-Y-E Thanks again for joining us today and remember businesses is personal and relationships matter. We are your allies.

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