Is Technology the Key to Success in the 21st Century?


Technology advances by leaps and bounds. It seems like we’re always fighting to stay current on tech trends. Consumers aren’t alone in this race for the hottest products and services on the market. Many businesses are also eager to jump on the tech bandwagon.

Sometimes companies don’t do well on the cutting edge. The Daily, a digital newspaper that sought to ride the wave of success caused by the iPad, is a classic example. This e-newspaper showed promise, but wound up being a colossal flop.1

Today, reading a newspaper on a tablet requires no stretch of the imagination. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other major papers offer e-subscriptions. If The Daily had the right idea, why did it fail?

It wasn’t that the idea of an e-paper was bad. The combination of a clunky interface, a bad business model, an unclear mission, and high overhead made the paper unsustainable.2

The Daily led with technology. They didn’t put as much focus on developing a user-friendly paper as they should have. They were trying to operate in a digital age with an analog mindset. They saw the importance of using tech to publish their stories, but they didn’t understand how to do that.

What We Think Technology Can Do

Using technology doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be successful, but many feel that tech holds the key to success. Technology has always defined our culture. From the invention of the wheel to the 21st century marvels of information technology, our way of life is tied to innovation.

We see success stories from wealthy public figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos. All eyes are on Silicon Valley, and we’re all waiting to see what’s going to change our world next.

Upload a viral YouTube video, make a Facebook page that people like, become famous on Instagram, or build your own app, and you, too, can have the power and influence of someone like Steve Jobs. This flawed thinking gives people the idea that technology is the way to be successful.

Since so many people believe that anyone can achieve success through technology, tech has become step one in solving problems–whether or not it’s appropriate.

What Technology Can Actually Do

Using technology for the sake of using technology doesn’t work.

When people grapple with technology without a plan, they fail miserably. Tech doesn’t guarantee greatness. Good ideas stick around, and poorly executed ideas die. Thoughtlessly relying on technology is a liability, not an asset.

Maybe it’s because so much of what makes technology work is unknown to the average person. Perhaps we’ve seen the successes of greats like Mark Zuckerberg without recognizing their struggles. Whatever the case, many of us believe that using technology is the easy answer.

Without having a deep understanding of technology and how it can address a clearly-defined question, the idea will fail every time. Look at The Daily. They knew they wanted to created a newspaper available on the iPad, but they didn’t understand the technology. They created a substandard product that didn’t solve any problems.

Ideas First, Technology Second

Reaching for technology without a clear purpose isn’t going to get you anywhere. Come up with an idea first. Then, if technology is the best way to solve the problem or answer the question, use it.

Technology makes it possible for us to do much more than we could do without it, but it can’t help us decide what to do. It can’t teach us how to ask great research questions. Technology is the tool that you use to solve the problem, but it isn’t the thing that creates the solution.

As long as you get the order right—idea first and tech second— you can achieve success. When you have a clearly-defined issue or concept, then you can adapt technology to accelerate progress.

As you’re coming up with ideas, stay away from using technology just because it’s there. Remember, lead with a great idea, and then follow with technology. Think about the following questions to stay true to your purpose:

What do you want to achieve?

You should have a clear question or goal in mind before you even think about how an app or piece of tech could solve it. For example, imagine you are tired of paying high rates for taxis or chasing down inconvenient public transportation. You need to come up with a better way to get around.

How do you think you can solve the problem without technology?

Does the problem exist because non-tech solutions aren’t helping? In many cases, it’s logical to jump to technology because non-tech solutions haven’t solved the problem. You won’t know unless you do some thinking and research.

When you consider your transportation problem, think about possible solutions. Shuttles, public transportation, and bothering your friends for rides are either inconvenient or expensive. Besides building a more efficient public transportation system, which would require billions in infrastructure, you can’t imagine a solution to this transportation issue without technology.

Focus on the why and how of the problem.

The problem exists because there’s a gap in the service that’s currently available. You have to think about why the gap exists and how you might be able to navigate around it.

Thinking about the transportation issue, you realize that cab companies are subject to lots of regulations. State and local governments may not be able to fund better public transportation. Your friends have better things to do than pick you up all the time. You have to get around the issue somehow.

In this case technology has the power to close the gap. It connects people willing to drive with those who needed rides for a fraction of the cost of a cab. This is how Uber and Lyft came to be.

Technology Is Not the Answer to All

Technology can’t come into play until you’ve thought about your problem from every angle. If you’ve tried other approaches, and they don’t seem to work, then you can think about how to accelerate the process.

Only then is it appropriate to turn to technology. By defining your purpose first, you ensure that you aren’t just reaching for technology because it seems sleek and shiny. It’s actually going to make it easier for you to solve the problem. The tech isn’t the solution. Your ideas bring about the solution. Technology just makes it easier.

Tech is reshaping our world every day. It makes our lives easier and opens possibilities for us. Just because you can use technology doesn’t mean you should turn to it first. Start with your ideas and use technology to support your efforts.



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