Organization follows Technology? LO13332

Bill Mitchell (
Mon, 21 Apr 1997 17:03:44 -0500

Replying to LO13177 --

The thread of this topic is where I live on a daily basis so I have some
opinions, but I also am very interested in learning from outside people. I
would like to offer a couple of thoughts:

The grouping of technology and organization may be too high level of
grouping. Dividing the changes into two rough categories, incremental
change and radical change may help. Incremental changes are small in
nature and have little impact on the culture/va lue system of the
organization. For example, the addition of a spell checker to a word
processor could be considered an incremental change. Such changes are
quickly adopted and in general are even suggested by the organization.
Historically the organizational impact is the automation of a previously
manual task. In such cases "organization" could be said to be driving
"technology" because the "organization" says, "If only I could..." and
technology is created that meets the organizational need. (A balancing
loop of sor ts that has technology responding to organizational change

Much more interesting is the case of radical change. In the case of
radical change technology has become an "enabler". But my current view is
that "what" technology enables is the challenging of assumptions that
implicitly underlie the organization. For e xample, historically there has
been an implicit assumption of the need for geographic proximity in order
to accomplish a business process. That is, I need to be able to be near
the people in the process to accomplish "my work". Example: The customer
must come to the teller to get money or make a deposit. Technology has
progressively made this assumption more and more invalid. Today geographic
proximity is not a requirement and so we have virtual companies. Similar
thought processes could be used to examin e implicit organizational
assumptions regarding the sharing of information (Need to know vs Need to
limit access), the value of momentum vs agility, and other assumptions.

Note: I am using "assumption" as a broad term to include implicit
values, beliefs, etc. that would be found in the second loop of double
loop learning.

So what I see is technology bringing unstated organizational assumptions
to the point where they are potentially invalid. During this stage some
new organizations develop that determine what an organization will look
like with the new assumption(s). Then, over time, other organizations
either accept the new assumption(s) or continue to maintain their
traditional assumption(s). Of course, recent observations indicate that
success is going to the organizations that embrace the new assumptions. So
technology does enable radical change, but only at the rate the
organization can adapt. Which is one reason why there has been such a
growth in the concept of learning organizations. Radical change exposes
our implicit assumptions. Technology is enabling us to chan ge things that
previously were unchangeable. So now we need to understand more about how
we think and learn because the organization which understands it
assumptions will be in position to: 1) Take advantage of technology
changes and/or 2) To drive radical technology changes by saying, "If I
didn't have to assume ...".

In summary, technology drives organization when the organization is forced
to confront previously implicit assumptions, but organization can drive
technology when the technology does not cause a change in fundamental
(critical) assumptions. The learning p rocess helps us to understand our
assumptions and to identify our critical or fundamental assumptions. The
leverage point is therefore our learning process, and not the technology,
since the learning process is the independent variable.


Bill Mitchell

"The opinions expressed herein are solely the author's and are not necessarily the opinion of USAA."

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