Panic + Cheap Tools = Tech Adoption

Last Updated Oct 22, 2010 4:13 PM EDT

The two things that make something, particularly technology, useful are panic and proximity. This is certainly the case when it comes to getting people and organizations to use communication tools. I heard a story today that proved the point.

A client of mine works for a health services company in Pennsylvania, and has beaten his head bloody against the wall trying to get the company to adopt remote communication tools like webinars and low-end video conferencing. "Our people don't like technology", they say. "We don't have the infrastructure or the budget". I have heard him complain endlessly about his frustration. But not too long ago, it seems, the company (or at least one small team) had a breakthrough.

The company had scheduled a workshop where each participant was supposed to do a role-play, and get feedback from two instructors. The problem was, one instructor called in sick. Another instructor was available, but there's no way she could get to the location in time. Instead of canceling, with its attendant costs and frustrations, my client used Google Chat so the instructor could watch the activity and give the employees real-life feedback.

It worked. The instructor saw and heard everything (to be fair the sound quality was iffy at times but good enough), the participants got the effective coaching they needed and, here's the important part, after some initial jitters this "technophobic" group was perfectly comfortable using the technology. It might not have been their preference, but the goal was accomplished and it was way better than canceling and trying to reschedule the training. Afterward, there were lots of questions about how the tool works and,more important, other parts of the organization heard about it and suddenly wanted to know more about what my client had nearly lost hope of ever getting them to care about.

People don't adopt technology because someone tells them to (sorry, IT and software vendors. Let the protesting comments begin).They use technology when it solves a problem they can't find a traditional solution for and it's close at hand and available when the time comes. Panic and proximity.

Panic, because until all existing solutions no longer work most humans would rather use what they know, even if it's imperfect. It's human nature. Proximity, because when you need to solve a problem in a hurry you have no time to get 3 vendor bids and a committee meeting,you need something that's at hand. My client's situation was the perfect pairing of Panic (no instructor, but we have to have someone watch these roleplays) and proximity (we have a laptop with a webcam, and GoogleChat is free and my client already had a personal account set up).

If you're trying to get your team to adopt tools like webchat, blogs or shared files quit telling them how good the tools are and how easy.You'll have better luck looking for times to use them when people will quit thinking of them as gadgets and start thinking of them as solutions to problems.

You also have to have the tools available when the need arises. If you can,avoid having one gatekeeper for the tool ("You have to get the password from Bob,he's the only one who knows how to schedule the webmeetings") and don't worry about usage. If you can get the license with unlimited usage, go for it. You don't want people worried about budget,you want them to use the darned tool.

This incident has slowly started to allow my client to make headway in his organization. After hearing of this success, people are more willing to listen to his crazy ideas about how to save money and limit travel through technology.

But it wasn't his silver tongue that convinced them, it was panic and proximity.

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photograph by Flickr User Kristen_N CC 2.0