Are You Trying to “Keep Up” with Technology, or Ride It?

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Across my 40-year career in technology, I have increasingly heard clients and others express to me their greatest fear, which is that they are not “keeping up” with technology. 20 years ago, I would hear that worry expressed a few times a year. Now I hear it a few times a week.

Honestly, at first I wrote it off. I thought that it was just a few Luddites who didn’t want to put in the effort to stay with the pace of change. But then I started to experience that feeling myself, so it became personal. And uncomfortable. I wasn’t “keeping up.”

And, it wasn’t just a feeling. It couldn’t be explained away that I felt like I wasn’t keeping up, but in actuality, I was doing just fine. No, I was convinced that I was in fact not keeping up. Technology was passing me by. And it started feeling worse than uncomfortable. It started to feel downright scary, because my business was about technology. I started thinking about how I rarely saw any 50-year-old programmers. And I started hearing about how venture capitalists would pour millions into a company founded by a 20-year-old, while companies were laying off middle-aged technologists left and right.

No, this wasn’t my imagination. There was a popular perception out their that technology was a young person’s game, and that most people can’t keep up. And the older you get, the more it’s true.

So, I started thinking about this attitude, and I began to realize that it doesn’t actually make any sense to try to “keep up” with technology. No one tries to “keep up” with a car or an airplane. People can’t do what those technologies do. You don’t need to keep up with them–you need to ride them. Technology is a tool that makes you better, not something you need to outdo, like some kind of modern-day John Henry hammering spikes.

That change in attitude changed the way I approached my job. I no longer cared whether I kept up with all the changes. I just focused on a constant search for tools–things that multiplied my effectiveness, making me better. When I found them, I rode them. And I ignored everything else, reasoning that if whatever I was currently ignoring in fact turned out to be important, then they would be brought to my attention again soon enough, and I could ride them then.

That change in focus also changed who I thought I was. In my first few years as a digital marketing consultant, I was named to a couple of lists as one of the “100 Best Internet Marketers” or some such monicker. And then they stopped naming me, which should have been upsetting, but it wasn’t, because my focus had changed.

I no longer wanted to play the game of keeping up and proving that I was keeping up by speaking on every new development or coming out with a new book that “explained everything you need to know” about some new development. Instead, I wanted to find the most important things to ride and teach my clients how to ride them, too. It was at that point that I changed my focus from consulting to software. Instead of manually analyzing problems and telling clients what to do, I started to develop techniques that automatically collected data and analyzed it, eventually using Artificial Intelligence techniques, because AI was the best technology to ride for the problems that I am trying to solve.

And I don’t worry whether I am keeping up with 5G or IoT or blockchain. They might be very important technologies for me to ride someday, but, for the moment, I am ignoring them, because I don’t judge them to be important technologies to ride in pursuit of the problems I am solving. At some point, I might change my mind because i can see how useful they are for the problems I am trying to solve then. And you know what? They will still be there waiting for me.

The truth is that human beings didn’t evolve at the pace that technology evolves, so none of us are designed to keep up. But the entire history of humans show that we invent tools to solve problems, and if you treat everything in technology as a tool that you should evaluate to see if it is interesting as a solution to a problem you have, suddenly it stops being scary and starts being fun.

I hope you go out and have fun with technology. Go for a ride.

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