Some home truths about tech users

Jul 21 2010 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

I have a very tortured relationship with technology, so it's one of the great ironies of my life that I make a living and have established a pretty good reputation as someone who helps people and organizations use web presentation tools to communicate effectively.

The fact that I'm so resistant to change was brought home to me recently when I sat through a demo for a virtual world conferencing tool called Digitell. (This is not necessarily an endorsement of the product, just saying that there's a special place in heaven reserved for Jim who did the demo and didn't crawl through the wires to throttle me. The link is literally the least I can do repay him for his time).

While going through the demo, I had a number of strong - mostly negative - emotional reactions to the product and its use. These are the same reactions most people have when learning a new technology and it brought home to me why the majority of organizations struggle with rolling out software and equipment.

Our brains associate learning anything new with similar past experiences - and that's probably not a good thing. When I look at these virtual world platforms, all I see is a corporate version of the computer game, "The Sims" which, despite the best efforts of my daughter, I have neither mastered nor found the fun in.

The voices in my head (don't deny you have them in yours too) start shouting, "this is stupid", "that avatar is not a real person" (which goes hand in hand with "why is my avatar so much younger and better looking than I am?") and "Why do I want to fly at a conference?" so loudly that I get frustrated. And nobody learns anything when frustrated and angry.

I'm an auditory learner and a lousy typist. Pushing buttons or using a keyboard for commands is neither convenient, or fast or a shortcut. We all have preferred communication and learning styles. Very few of us have a natural affinity for interacting with technology . Of course this could partly be a function of age but that's a key problem for organizations.

Why? Because if managers, particularly senior managers, don't embrace a tool, why should their workers? Oh, and telling me "it's intuitive" is not helping. Making me feel stupid is not going to lessen the learning curve or endear you to me.

And speaking of age, we've seen this movie before. I don't know about you, but after converting all my LPs to cassette, then cassettes to CDs I'm taking my time converting all my CDs to MP3, especially since I know that the next big thing is only a COMDEX show or two away.

So you have a new tool you want me to use? Let's see if everyone else uses it first, gets all the software fixes, plug-ins and version upgrades - and then we'll get on the bandwagon.

The pay-off for the time spent learning is not apparent to us. By their own admission, the folks at Digitell admit it takes about 15-20 minutes to learn their product well enough to use it for full impact. That means that whatever is going to happen with it had better be worth that investment of my time.

If I'm going to be using the tool a lot, or there's a high-stakes event coming up I can see where the time is well spent. When learning a new technology, people need to understand what the tool can do, when is it used appropriately and what it will do for them when they do use it.

I'm not technophobic, I'm just not an early adopter - and neither is most of the human race. Let me explain something once and for all to early adopters. 10% of people are first out of the blocks to get a new gadget or software. 10% are beyond hope and will never get with the program. That means 80% of human beings do not rush into new technology for all the reasons we've already pointed out.

If you read the comments on my post a couple of months ago about the iPad, you'll see that people have strong emotions when it comes to technology. Early adopters think bludgeoning us with benefits will sway us. They're plain wrong. We Luddites are perfectly happy to plod along with the way things are and scoff at the new tools.

Even if we are willing to learn, we're usually not given real training or time to practice. I'll be honest, my business is built on a very simple principle. Companies invest in tools like webmeeting platforms, throw them at people and then are stunned when people don't take to them immediately or use them well.

A recent survey we did shows that less than 10% of people who use web presentations as part of their work received what they feel is "adequate" training and preparation. When the average person learns what a tool does, gets a chance to practice it, gets feedback on their performance and sees positive results, they will use it again and use it well.

Unfortunately not enough organizations build this into their rollout plans. So 80% of my business is remedial training - after they've wasted money and time they want to do it right. It's their choice, of course, but it wouldn't be mine.

Knowing my own ambivalence about technology allows me to understand my customers which, frankly , makes me pretty good at my job and different than a lot of my competition. It also makes me a real pain in the neck to vendors and enthusiasts who want to show me their goods.

To Jim and the rest of the people out there who have to show me their software, gadgets and wares: Just know that if you can get something through my thick noggin, you have a fighting chance with the rest of your prospects.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.