With all the technological resources we have now, the sky has become the limit to what we can do. But where do we put the breaks on what we can do? Just because you can do something, does it mean you should? In this episode, Ben Baker sits down with Germain St-Denis to discuss the challenges of technology for technology’s sake and the difference between technology and innovation. Germain is an accomplished Leader and Certified Management Consultant who always puts people first. Learn how technology is evolving and the dangers it can bring. After all, not all technology is good. Learn how to innovate properly and how technology can help facilitate that. And discover the value in it rather than looking at technology as a numbers game because that is where a lot of businesses get it wrong.
Welcome back, my wonderful audience. You are amazing. Every week, you tune in, you comment on LinkedIn, I love reading your comments and suggestions. I try to read them and bring you guests that answer the questions that you have. I have Germain St-Denis and we are going to talk of Just Because We Can, Should We? In other words, the challenges of technology for technology's sake. Germain, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Ben. I appreciate the opportunity to be on your show. I look forward to our discussion.
We are going to have a great conversation. You and I are old technology people. Before spending years in communication, I spent 10 or 15 years in high tech so I get it. We are going to get into technology and innovation. There is a difference. I want to start by letting the audience find out a little bit more about you. Tell me what brought you to this point. What brought you to think about human’s first approach to technology and innovation? Tell me about what brought you here, where you are, and then let's talk about where we are going.
Ben, I have had a very good career so far in technology most of my life. I started as a technologist but I quickly evolved to more about the application of it and what it means to people. I was in management roles but still always involved in what it means to people. What I do and what my why is if you want, is I'm passionate about people, teamwork, collaboration and human connection. I always want to make sure that whatever we do about technology and innovation feeds into that, which is why I say I'm the architect of people first because I always put people ahead of the technology.
That’s important because there is so much technology for technology’s sake. There's that twelve-slice toaster. Somebody thought it was a great idea to create a twelve-slice toaster because they saw a particular need for themselves or a specific application. They take it out and sit there going, “If one person wants this, millions of people are going to want the same thing.” It's not always true. We need to step back from technology, sit there and go, “Before we have innovation or technology, we have human beings. How do we help human beings through technology?” I want to get into that discussion and get your thoughts on that.
That could be more than our discussion because that's an interesting way to look at things. We could look a little bit at history and all of the innovation that's gone in. We are not part of the fourth industrial revolution. Before that, there was the introduction of steam engines, and then in the production of electricity, which made possible the assembly lines, that stuff. People may not realize but it was only in 1991 that the very first webpage came live on the internet. Everybody uses the internet now. Who thought we needed it? Probably nobody.
There were a few of us geeks in 1991 salivating over the World Wide Web on our 2,400 baud modems getting all excited but the majority of the world probably didn't even think about the World Wide Web for another five years.
It came out of a research project in Europe through something called the CERN, the European Research Organization. I was very fortunate. I met a gentleman a few times named Vint Cerf from the US. He was one of the grandfathers of the internet. It was amazing to see how he thought. When they started, it was more for military purposes. The same as Blackberry as a pager, which we knew before as RIM, Research In Motion. Blackberry came out as a military application.Not all innovation is due to technology or even related to technology. Click To Tweet
You remember some time ago, you would get on an airplane and they would say, “Please turn off your Blackberry.” It shows you that some of this does catch and gets implemented in technology because it's useful. The World Wide Web has proven to be useful and we are moving way beyond that with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Why was the World Wide Web created? It’s for military purposes and also research. It's great to research because you need to know what's possible, whether you should do it or not. Some of those things I don't like because maybe they are not ethical or don't fall under my beliefs but my beliefs are not one person driving these things. There are lots of factors that go into play as to what makes something beneficial to society and people like you and me.
Before we get into that, there’s the distinction that we need to make between innovation and technology. That's important because, in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, there were huge amounts of innovation but it was based on very little technology innovation. There was very little progression in technology but now it's technology advancement but there isn't as much innovation. I would like to hear what your definitions of innovation and technology are. How are they the same? How are they different? How do they drive each other?
I would first start by saying that not all innovation is due to technology or even related to technology. If you look at trying to make a better candle to get more light in the room, a better candle did not turn up to be a light bulb so they didn't improve the candle. They just came up with a light bulb. Some of the things that we are seeing like Zoom meetings and social media existed a long time ago. Even you had a laptop, I did, too.
We were doing some basic forms of email so this is more evolution of the technology because we needed it, particularly in 2020 because the pandemic accelerated this type of innovation by many years. It wasn't because the CIO or CEO thought it was a good idea but it’s because we needed it. All of a sudden, people were forced to work differently like work from home so we needed tools. The tools that came up were not new. I have used WebEx conferences years ago so they are not new to us.
That's more evolution of the technology. When we start talking about AI, which is newer robotics, a lot of that is innovation because they are finding new ways of doing things and they are using technology to do it. Innovation is a different way to look at things, a different mindset. How do I solve this problem candle to light bulb thing? Technology can facilitate that.
If I'm understanding correctly and get me if I'm wrong, innovation is those quantum leaps, what people call disruptive, which is a word that I hate. Innovation is almost a quantum leap of saying, “We went from here, bypass three steps and went to the next logical step based on particular needs within society.” Different problems, ideas and philosophies. Skype existed for as long as I can remember. Nobody Skypes anymore. People Zoom.
The reason people Zoom, that's a technological difference is that it's a better technology. They were able to bring in the features and the ability to have better bandwidth. That's a technological change but the difference between the standard computer that's on my desk and a quantum computer, and what the quantum computer can do when it will be proven to be able to do it is good to be an innovative shift. It allows us to be able to do things that we have never been able to do before. Is that an accurate way of describing it?
I look at it that way, too. It's got to be quantum leaps. Quantum computing, I'm not following that as closely but it's going to open up huge opportunities. It’s totally different. It's also going to be a major leap like when computers were introduced. You went from mainframe to desktop and laptops. Our smartphone has got more technology than what a huge mainframe had back in the day but that's great.
I look at things like augmented reality. I don't know if you have seen some of those. You take your car in for service and there's a problem. The technician will put on the goggles and with augmented reality, they can see all the internals of your vehicle, the engine and everything else. It helps them learn what's going on and what's in there. They can use it for diagnosis and training. That's an innovative way to do training. It’s very different from before.
A technological shift has allowed that innovation to existing. That's an example of good. There's the good, the bad, and the ugly of technology. That's an important point for us to get to know. There's a good innovation. There's stuff that's bad and then downright ugly. We need somewhere in this discussion to get into all of those things because not all innovation is a good innovation. Not all technology is good technology.
Going back to that human-based approach that you are talking about, is innovation going to be good for society? Is technology innovation going to be good for humanity? We need to be able to look at that, sit there and say, “Are we advancing the world just because we can or are we advancing the world in a positive direction that is going to enable more people to succeed and do the things that they should do, and not have to be dealing with the industrial revolution, rote type experience, allow people to think and let computers do the basic mundane stuff?”
There's no question that we have to evolve. The world is evolving. We, as human beings are evolving. People are getting smarter and better all the time, which is great but not all technology or innovation is good, probably buzz down to their application. It's good to research something and see what can be done. I talked about augmented reality but years ago, there was this cool video and it's on YouTube, if anybody wants to find it. It's a fake President Obama.
It's a university that created this synthetic Obama by analyzing his voice pattern and using AI. They can make them say whatever they want. That is scary. It’s exciting for a techie but it's scary because what does that mean? What are you going to believe? It’s bad enough as it is that you have to check your sources when you read something. Am I talking to you, Ben, or who am I talking to? Who knows?
If I remember correctly, what they did is they analyzed fourteen hours of his voice. That's it. We are not talking hundreds, thousands or a lifetime's worth of analyzing his voice patterns. We are talking for fourteen hours. Over a day and a half worth of voice patterns and therefore they could create a believable video with believable audio to enable Barack Obama or anybody else that they choose to say what they want them to say.
Unless you are paying attention or part of that technological world that is sitting there and going, “That doesn't sound right.” Be able to go back and prove it, think of what that could do if that got onto the news or social media and all of a sudden, 1 million, 5 million, 10 million or 100 million people see this and they believe that the president of the United States or the ex-president of the United States said something that they didn't. That could create a worldwide catastrophe.Always put people ahead of technology. Be the architect of people first. Click To Tweet
Think of what it could do for the stock markets, wars or 100 different other things. That's just for one person. What if that same technology was used during elections, to manipulate the stock market or something else on those matters? It's amazing the technology that's out there. A lot of that stuff was built with maybe pure intentions in mind. However, there is always somebody that's going to be able to take that technology and go, “What can we do with it?” whether you like it or not, the porno industry drove the high-speed internet technology.
Computers and high-speed bandwidth got faster because of the porno industry and their users need to be able to download stuff faster and quicker. I'm not casting a moral dispersion on this one way or another but there are a lot of truth to that matter. You look at places like Clubhouse, where it does a lot of good things.
There are lots of great discussions in there but in the fringes, there are lots of hate discussions that are going on in the quarters. We need to be able to have open and honest conversations about how is technology being used. I'm not asking for Big Brother to put their thumb down and put a stop to everything but we, as human beings, need to understand what's happening so we can make better decisions. How do we do that?
It always buzzed down to how is technology and innovation being used. The same probably could have been said when weapons are created. The fact that we are talking about now is good because awareness is the first thing. People have to be aware that not all new tech is good. Unfortunately, national or even international regulation never keeps up with the pace of innovation and technology. It's always very far behind and we see that in social media. There are a lot of hate going on in social media if you follow some of those discussions.
I'm very careful about what I engage in because I only want to portray and be me so, therefore, I don't get involved in those. For people like us who work in the business world, we have some amount of control of the decisions that are made but when it gets into the criminal world or the unethical use of technology or innovation, it's hard to control that. The governments and the authorities internationally and locally have to find a way to manage that. I don't know what that is.
I’m not sure either. Like everything else, it's evolving. The more people that are asking more questions, the better off we are going to be. People don't sweep it under the rug, sit there and say, “Is this something that's going to benefit society or not? Is this something that's going to be good for the majority of people or not?” There are always going to be detractors, challenges, and people that are going to use it but if we are aware of it, we can handle it. If we are more aware of things, we have more of an ability to either circumvent it, rise above it or do whatever we are going to do.
The next question I get down to and this is what's important to a lot of people in my audience is a technology for technology's sake in business. Let's take a look at the average business, the 50-person business, the 100-person business, small business, even 10% businesses. They are being told, “You have to upgrade your technology stack. You have to upgrade, change and do this regularly.” A consultant is banging on their door every fifteen minutes telling them that there's a new piece of technology that they need to do.
How does the average small business with far from unlimited budget and resources decide on what's going to allow them to be innovative and what's another piece of technology that’s nice to have but truly isn't going to move the needle? What are the questions that we should be asking ourselves to be able to put ourselves in a position where we can make those decisions?
The pace is so quick and it has been for years. Small and large companies have that challenge like also we do at home. You buy a laptop and six months later, it's outdated because that's the way it is. I have worked in very large and mid-size companies. There are too many applications. They don't need as many but for some reason, they get involved in many. They also get sold many that they don't need, frankly.
If you are a small business owner, number one is you have to figure out, “What is this technology going to do for me and my business in terms of the benefit? How am I going to be perceived?” Also at a small business, you are online. You have to be perceived as being current and fresh so you can't be seen as outdated. For example, if somebody doesn't have a website to do eCommerce, you are missing out, unfortunately. That's the way it is but it doesn't mean that you have to upgrade every six months or buy everything that comes along.
It has to boil down to what value it brings to me and my customers so that I can also pass on that value to my customers. Something I dislike about technology companies is that they push out updates way too frequently. Unless it's for a security flaw or to catch something like a recent hack, you don't need security updates so frequently. That was one of the issues. Not that I want to bash Apple but that's one of the reasons why I left Apple because my smartphone was being bombarded with updates that were not relevant because my old iPhone didn't have those features.
Why bug me to install something that my phone doesn't even support? You should know better. Don't offer it to me. I'm using that as an example because it's as frustrating for a small business owner if they are being told you've got to break through this and that. Maybe you do but like everything else, it has to be planned at value and fit into what you can integrate into your operations. I will relate this to something that I have talked about before. The whole pace of innovation, whether it's technological or not, adoption is a major challenge. Maybe we can come back to that whenever we get to that if we do in your intended discussion but that's a big factor.
My thought process with this is that we need to talk about goals. We need to talk about communication both inside the company with customers and vendors. What are we, as a company, trying to achieve? Forget the pithy words that are on a wall, the mission and vision value statements. What are we trying to achieve? What is going to help us as a company be better than what it is?
Let's take a CRM, Contact Relational Management, for example. 9 times out of 10, it's some technology geek within the company that buys this thing because they think it's great but they don't sit there and say, “How can we get all the information out of this so the sales, marketing, finance team, customers services, and customer support gets what they need? Do we have a piece of technology that's going to allow different people to integrate and be able to pull the information out of there that’s going to make them better, help them serve their clients better, and be able to provide more intelligent solutions for our clients?” That conversation very rarely happens.
A major challenge is that people fall in love with the bright, shiny penny. They sit there and say, “If I buy this bright, shiny penny, people are going to think we are a cool company, innovative, and a bleeding-edge because we bought the latest and greatest thing.” Do you know how to use it? Do your people know how to use it?
Somebody told me that the average person knows how to use less than 10% of Microsoft Word. Ten percent of the actual capabilities of what Microsoft Word is truly capable of doing, the average user probably knows 8% or 10% of what it is. I want to hear your thoughts on that. How do we get people beyond the bright, shiny penny and start asking the right questions to be able to move forward?Innovation is just a different way to look at things, and technology can facilitate that Click To Tweet
That still remains a challenge, Ben. It's not a new challenge. I agree with you. You have to set goals. What do you want to get out of it? What values are they going to bring? Part of it is that there is too much focus on the technology or the numbers in terms of how it can benefit the company and not enough focus on the people. That's where adoption comes into play. Technology or any other innovation is only as good as the extent to which people will adopt it.
I have been through this many times that I can give you examples even in 2020. I was working for a fairly large payroll and workforce company. I heard this again and again. Number one, a new client is coming in. You start working with the new client. The first thing you find out is that the client is not ready because they are not quite sure how they want to use this technology. It has been sold and signed. The deal is done. Let's put it in but the client is not ready. That's an issue.
Secondly, as you move along, the client doesn't have test cases or any scenarios for you to run through. That's another issue but the technology and implementation keep going. You get to the end result. We are going to put all of this in production and pass you on to support but the client hasn't been trained. They don't know how to use it so what good is that? It’s not this particular company that I'm pointing out but I have seen this over and over again in my career.
The success is only as good as the people who adopt it. To be able to adopt it successfully, it's a whole change leadership challenge. I don't mean doing all the right steps from change management, project management, all these things that we all do well. Change leadership means that from the beginning if the organization implements a new system, new technology or some innovative way of doing business, whether it's technical or not, they have to have an objective on it. If the goal is to improve customer service, then that's got to be the focus.
If the goal is to reduce cost, sometimes you can do all of the above but not all the time. Do things more cheaply but it has always got to be that. doption is the biggest challenge that all of the companies have, which is why you read over and over that some 70% of major transformation initiatives fail and it's because of the adoption. It's not because there's anything wrong with what they are doing per se.
The technology on its own may be solid but it may not work because of specific client needs. It may not integrate with their particular needs and workflow. It's the change. People are terrified of change. People hate thinking about what's around the corner. How's it going to affect me? How's it going to change my life? How is it going to affect my family? How is it going to affect the way that I do my job daily? Am I going to have a job when this technology gets implemented?
You will have a bunch of people that if they are not communicated to effectively through the change, they don't have buy-in, the training, the coaching, and everything that goes with it is going to sabotage that change. That’s it. It's all about adoption. How do we get people to realize that the change is good for them? How and why that change is good for them? How it's going to enable them to be better? If we don't do that, then it's a technology for technology’s sake.
It's putting in a bigger server, a new CRM or ERP. The majority of the people in the company don't even know why they have done it. All they are doing is frustrated because it doesn't work the old way did. How do we enable leaders to communicate that change, get people to understand why that change is important, how it's going to affect them, and be able to make them more successful long-term?
The leadership has to be behind it 100%. Number one, they have to have an open mind as to what this can do for them but they also have to realize that it's going to be complex. They can't just say, “Let's make this happen,” which is often the case or they pass it down. The whole thing trickles down and it’s like, “We are introducing this.” You pass it on to your people. All of a sudden, in terms of a plan, they realized something because of it. The people who are responsible for the decision are very smart people but sometimes they forget how this will relate to the person in the field. That's the main thing I would tell them. Think about your people in the field and how will it impact them.
That's always why I say people first. If it's going to impact your people in the field and therefore your clients most likely, you better be sure that they will understand, agree, anxious to do it or if they are not, you’ve got to work with them or convince them. You've got to do something but you have to be aware that the end goal will have you realized unless the adoption is there all around. Sometimes it's a small point in the chain but the small point in the chain can hijack the whole thing very easily, either 1 person, 1 process or something that's neglected. Hijacked purposely can make all the difference.
I want to take the complete opposite approach to that as well. It’s sometimes by not innovating or not upgrading your technology. In fact, in a lot of cases, you are also putting yourself behind the eight ball because your salesforce has outdated and outmoded information-gathering systems. Their laptops may be outdated or outmoded. They could be sitting there with old flip phones where everybody else is sitting there with a smartphone.
There are lots of different times where it's sitting there and going, “This is going to cost us $50,000, $100,000, $200,000, $300,000.” The question is, “What is it going to make us in the long-term? What is it going to cost us because those three great salespeople we have, quit?” If those three great salespeople quit because they are not being given the tools that they need to succeed, that could cost you millions of dollars.
That potentially could cost you tens of millions of dollars. We need to take a look at it from both sides to say, “Sometimes we need to innovate.” Sometimes we need to sit there and say, “Now is the time to put the money forward.” Sometimes we have to sit there and put the brakes on and go, “Are we doing this because it makes sense?”
There's no doubt that every organization and every person has to evolve. There's no doubt about that in my mind. Organizations that don't change, if you fall behind, you are dead in the water. It's not a choice. It's how you can do it, how well you can do it, and understand what you will get out of it. There are many other things that we could discuss maybe for a further discussion but it’s implications of innovation and technology around privacy and security, all this stuff. I'm always interested in vehicles because I'm a car buff but connected autonomous vehicles, that's going to introduce a whole new level of opportunity but also of concern when accidents happen, this and that, who's liable and who's not. That could be an interesting discussion.
That's a discussion on its own. Autonomous vehicles scare the bejeebers out of me where other people can't wait for them to show up. What is your level of comfort in putting technology in the driver's seat? Excuse the pun. I don't like giving my entire soul over to somebody else and giving them the total ability to be able to control my actions. That's me, personally.
I had this discussion with a former client. If you are going to start relying on AI-based recommendations, that means you have the system making decisions for you. Robotic process automation, are you comfortable with that? The key thing there is that it has to be explainable. It goes back to the people. If the people understand how AI is going to make the decision based on the data and algorithms, then you can be comfortable with it. The same will apply to the autonomous vehicle when we get there. There are still some challenges to be resolved but you are giving up control to technology or to another innovative way of doing things.Innovation is only as good as the extent to which people will adopt it. Click To Tweet
Before I let you go, I have one last question to ask you but I want to make sure the best way for people to get in touch with you is through LinkedIn, correct?
Yes, primarily through LinkedIn. For this audience, most definitely. I'm fairly active. I love to post, connect and interact with people. I love to work. Thank you, Ben. I appreciate you having me on your show. It has been fabulous. We have run out of time probably because it has been a good discussion.
It's Germain St-Denis at LinkedIn. The last question I will ask you is the question I ask everybody. When you leave a meeting, you get in your car and drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you are not in the room?
I would like people to think that I'm genuine. That the discussion we had reflects my beliefs, who I am, what I stand for and what I work for. I'm very passionate about people and teamwork, which is why I love work. I would like people to remember that.
I have loved this conversation. I found it extremely valuable. Germain, thank you for being on the show, for adding so much to the audience and for being you.
As an accomplished Leader and Certified Management Consultant, I offer the benefit of my experience during the ongoing covid-19 pandemic as well as prior leadership roles effectively leading remote teams with diverse skill sets across a wide geography helping Commercial and Public Sector clients with varied technologies.
I’m passionate about teamwork and helping create high performance teams to deliver strong results.
My practical experience, collaborative approach and coaching can help bring things into clear focus and help your team manifest its full potential, work around obstacles and help remove them.
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