Why doesn’t technology live up to the hype?

Read the newspaper recently? By all accounts we are about to be overrun by a swarm of nano-drones controlled by machine learning robots as we mindlessly sit in our driverless cars access Facebook through Google Glass. Compared to that vision, our daily experience of technology may be considerably safer, though a little underwhelming. This is not a new phenomenon, since 1986 we’ve been waiting for our hover boards (at least ones that actually hover and don’t spontaneously combust), our self-lacing shoes and time travel…and none of these appear particularly close.

Jason Bardbury Hoverboard

 

So why is there consistently such a gap between the hype of technology and our reality?

 

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There are in fact two gaps: the Hype Gap and the Potential Gap. The Hype Gap is the gap between the hype of technology and its real life potential. Part of this gap has to do with overly inflated expectations we have when it comes to new technology as beautifully depicted in the Gartner Hype Cycle (according to Gartner we are close to peak hype for autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things and machine learning). A heady mix of sales pitches, misleading news stories, poor understanding and our general excitability we set our expectations a tad high and it is unsurprising that this is ultimately unachievable. According to Gartner, our expectations then drop into the trough of disillusionment before eventually moving towards the plateau of productivity.

The Potential Gap is the gap between what technology is capable of delivering and what we actually get out of it. Whereas the Hype Gap is when technology fails to live up to expectations, the Potential Gap is when we do. The Potential Gap is a combination of not using the digital tools that are potentially available to us and not using the digital tools we already have to their full potential.

I’m not singling you out specifically. The truth is that ALL of us fail to realise the full potential of digital technology. Though clearly there are some people and some organisations doing a better job of it than others…and the results can be significant. Research from Capgemini and MIT from a couple of years ago showed that digital leaders, the organisations that invested most heavily in both digital projects and digital capabilities, were 26% more profitable than their industry average. Conversely, the digital beginners were 24% less profitable.

So how can we close the Potential Gap? Firstly, we can invest in new digital tools. Secondly we can invest in developing technique. The maturing of mobile, cloud and social technologies over the last decade means there are thousands of new digital tools now at our disposal. Each might solve just a small business problem but added together they represent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in potential value. At the same time we have existing tools that we don’t use well. One of my good friends Dermot Crowley, author of Smart Work, runs Microsoft Outlook-based productivity training. The incredible demand for his training and the extraordinary results he achieves…using a set of digital tools we’ve had access to for near on two decades, highlights how lacking most people are when it comes to digital skills.

At the end of the day, the reality of technology will never live up to the hype, but there are still things we can do to realise its potential.

Image credit: Stephen Muchmore, Design Agency UK

Want help closing the potential gap? Once a month I host a net-together (like a meetup but without the travel time and parking hassles) for people who want to better understand digital disruption and the opportunities it is creating for businesses.