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  • Writer's pictureOliver Nowak

Become a People Expert, not a Technology Expert

Technology has become an integral part of our lives, but why do we buy technology? The simple answer is: to solve people problems.

In other words, people always need to come first. What do they need? How can we make their lives better?

The most successful technology companies of the last few decades have become experts at this. They aren’t technology experts, they’re people experts.

Perhaps the greatest advocate of this approach has been Apple.

Apple iTunes was released in January 2001, and shortly afterwards, the iPod followed. It was an immediate hit. Without a doubt, the iPod was a great product, it had all the features to make it one of the most technologically advanced MP3 players of the time. However, this wasn’t the key reason as to why it was so popular. Most of the credit has to go to how it was marketed - “1,000 songs in your pocket”.

In one sentence, Steve Jobs summarised how the iPod revolutionised how people consumed and experienced music. Sure, there were a whole list of features which made this possible, but what really bought people in was the visual this created. They could see themselves, with an iPod in their pocket and could almost tangibly feel how it was going to enhance their lives. Suddenly, people had an experience they quickly found they couldn’t live without.

Now, interestingly, what most people don’t know is how significant this was for Apple at the time. By 2001, they were facing bankruptcy and the launch of the iPod was essentially their last hope. How different the world would be today if it had failed.

Of course, we all know now, the iPod has become obsolete and rather than purchase and download songs individually, we instead rely on music subscription services like Spotify, or, Apple’s version, Apple Music. But what matters, is that it was the beginning of an approach that would ultimately make Apple not only one of the defining tech companies of our time, but one of THE defining companies. They’re almost thought of as a lifestyle company, rather than a tech company. Why? - because they focus on people. On the experience, not on features.

It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes by Henry Ford:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

The same goes for the technology we use in our businesses. Technology is all about solving people problems. People need to be at the forefront of everything we do from the first to the last moment. When you start by saying you want to transform the services you deliver your employees by building a portal that does XYZ, you’re already enclosing yourself into a box. You’re making certain assumptions. What if a portal isn’t the right way to go? Is that transformative?

If I asked someone in IT to build me the perfect service portal, they would probably all come up with something reasonably similar. It would include a Knowledge Base, a service catalogue, integrate with a chatbot etc etc. But what if instead I asked you to transform the employee experience to empower productivity & increase employee satisfaction, the possibilities are endless. In fact, you may come up with the iPhone.

It’s a lot less specific. In fact, in many ways it’s frustratingly general. But it opens up possibilities for innovation. And most importantly of all, it puts the people this transformation is targeted at, at the centre. Now it’s a proper design problem with all realms of creative possibilities.

When we focus too much on features, it puts blinders on and prevents us from digging deeper into the heart of the problem.

So what can you take away from this and start applying in your organisation?

Technology is bought to solve people problems, so find out what problems your people are facing. Choose whatever medium you think is best for this be it through interview, surveys, creating ideation portals, and so on…

Successful technology companies are people experts, not technology experts. Take a moment and look around your organisation. Forget about technology and think only about the people experience. How can people’s experience be improved for the better? Be creative. Only then do you think about the technology as a source of these creative solutions.

Put innovation first. Excite people. Bring people together in new ways to drive innovation. You can do this through hackathons, innovation challenges to get the competitive juices flowing, run design thinking workshops to facilitate structured brainstorming or open innovation labs to give people a dedicated space to work on new ideas/projects. Whatever works for your organisation.

Start small and see where you go from there. Who knows, you might become one of the defining organisations of this generation.

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