The promise of the internet (and the lie)

Technology has built a new breed of businesses. But its advantages are not automatic.


I remember looking in my rear view mirror and seeing a medley of flashing blue and red lights. It felt like my life was over. At least my birthday dinner was that night.

Back when I had an M3 — my favorite car I’ve ever owned — speed was easy. Driving to my birthday dinner to meet my friends that night, I jumped on the I4 onramp, safely merged into the fast lane and topped out at 88MPH before I knew it. Someone noticed. That was an expensive dinner.

I wish going fast was always easy in business. But it has changed drastically with the internet and technology in general. My friend owns a business where he designed a spreadsheet that allows him to quote complex custom print jobs in seconds. I watched him use it and was amazed. He can literally have a new employee send quotes within hours on their first day.

“It’s not in the cloud, though,” he sighed.

“Bummer,” I told him. “When you get it there, you can manage sales from Costa Rica.”

I’m not sure he even likes to surf. But Costa Rica is as good a place as any.

That day it struck me. Yes, we’re all connected now and we have access to endless information. But the end result of technology is that we’re able to do what we’ve always done — faster.

You might think that’s obvious. But it feels like it’s taken for granted today.

Remember hand writing letters to your friends and family? Yes, people used to do that. You might include a polaroid of your two year old daughter eating soft serve ice cream for the first time. My two year old is adorable. But an email is faster. Facebook is even faster than email.

You could drive to the library and check out the latest Seth Godin book. He’s my favorite author. But Kindle is faster. I might be done with the book before you get back.

Remember calling for a cab? Who does that anymore? Uber is faster. And I’m not just talking about the speed in which I perform the operation of requesting transportation. Technology has made becoming a driver for Uber faster, too.

Speed and technology are heavily linked. Many of the factors that have disrupted entire industries were built on the speed technology offers. And when things are fast, they feel easier than when they are slow.

Technology has all but eliminated the mundane, menial, and slow parts of life. I can’t wait to read a book while driving to work (without a chauffeur). It does the same for people inside a business, too.

To break this down, I came up with an equation.

The speed of your business = Technological capability x Ease of use / Learning curve.

Technological capability — What does your technology systems allow you to do? Once I showed a client how they could send highly personalized email responses that carried a high-touch narrative without lifting a finger. That’s called marketing automation. It’s going to enable them to do more with less. Win.

Ease of use — Until robots use the technology systems we build, these systems still need to be designed for people. That means they need to be designed to do very complex operations with little effort. That takes someone with a particular set of design skills. The system should figure out what you need before you have to think about it.

My two year old tries to move things on our TV screen with her finger. I tried to explain to her that Apple hasn’t created a TV yet. She didn’t understand. I don’t either.

Learning curve — Complex systems become easy to use over time, especially as users memorize interfaces and steps in a process. In your business, time to ramp up and continual training decelerate your team. The more intuitive the technology is, the smaller the learning curve, the faster you’ll achieve higher velocity.

Technology can solve for slow, mundane, and repetitive parts of business, too. That’s the promise of it. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t automatic.

Here’s the lie.

If you integrate your business with any technology, you’ll automatically become faster. The design of your technology is critical to increase velocity.

Your technology needs to be designed for your people and tuned to your business. I know that sounds obvious, but I’m continually surprised at the amount of cookie-cutter, overly complex technology systems that exist and are used today. We use our design framework, Active Design, to ensure people are empowered by their technology and able to use intuition to complete tasks efficiently.

So what should you optimize for when designing technology for your business?

Here’s what you should ask when you’re considering technology to make your business faster.

  • What processes could I speed up?
  • How much is the extra time costing me today?
  • What could I do with the time saved and energy?
  • What must be true in order for an increase in velocity to happen?

How will this make my people faster?

Overall, this is the most important question. To answer it, you’ll be forced to include your people in the design process. If you don’t, you might be in for a bumpy ride.

It’s like riding my 2 year old daughter’s tricycle. Yes, it has wheels. I can certainly reach the pedals. But I’d probably be able to go faster walking backwards.

/////

It means a lot to me that you took the time to read this. If you want to hear more from me on this topic, hit that like button above or leave a comment below and share your thoughts. Also, signup to my email list to get more delivered via email.

See how what we do at Second Form. Download our agency overview (PDF)