April 28, 2005

culturalists vs technologists

A recent thought:

There can be no technological solution without a cultural solution. Cultural solutions are more valuable and profitable than technological solutions.

[Random Question to The Scobleizer:] Hey Robert, what big cultural problem is Microsoft trying to solve these days? Just curious.

[SYMBIOSIS:] You can't build a Trojan Horse without Trojans. The Greeks may be signing your paycheck, but the Trojans are also your friends.

[NOTE TO SELF:] Morph technological products into cultural products, and vice versa?

Posted by hugh macleod at April 28, 2005 1:54 PM | TrackBack

I agree partial.

It seems that neither of them on their own can mean anything, only a combined solution is really worth something.

Posted by: Misja at April 28, 2005 2:01 PM

And I agree partially with you, Misja. I just think the supply of tech solutions is more crowded at the top end of the market than the supply of cultural solutions.

Posted by: hugh macleod at April 28, 2005 2:03 PM

And I think it sounds great, even if it might not mean anything. No technology without culture! Death to the autonomous robot hordes! :-)

Posted by: frosty at April 28, 2005 2:12 PM

I think technological solutions without cultural preparedness are Teflon coated. They're too slick and slide off.

Cultural solutions without technological reinforcement are inadequately watered vegetables. They're puny and don't flourish as they should.

Posted by: Tom Guarriello at April 28, 2005 2:28 PM

Tom, your comment is spot on in my mind, love it.

Posted by: sig at April 28, 2005 2:36 PM

One is not more important than the other, as has already been pointed out here.

I think a major part of the problem is that for people to learn the technology, they basically have to learn how to work within one set of parameters, as the technology is (almost) always the same.

However, if someone is going to focus on the cultural side of things, there is an ever changing set of parameters as one moves from company to company, even depatment to depatment.

Only the cleverest and highly motivated people seem to be able to handle dealing with the continual cultural changes, and is why they usually get paid the big bucks.

I often see this with software, especially CRM in the SME market. Companies spend much on the software, little on the implementation and end up regretting doing in the first place. If the companies selling the solution would actively try to sell a smoother implementation, there is then not only room to make more money, but to also have a satisfied client. Isn't that what it is all about?

Posted by: Stephen at April 28, 2005 2:59 PM

"You can't build a Trojan Horse without Trojans. The Greeks may be signing your paycheck, but the Trojans are also your friends."

Um, You can't build a Trojan Horse without Trojans to take it. You have to fill the horse with G(r)eeks who will, in the dead of night, open the gates to massive change, the likes of which the Trojans saw coming.

Posted by: Ryan Greene at April 28, 2005 3:01 PM

MP3 players have been in the market for a long time. Technological solution. Nothing changed.

Apple invented I-pod. Nothing new in terms of technology. Cultural solution.

I totally agree.

Posted by: Can at April 28, 2005 3:24 PM

I definitely agree. Most of the major revolutionary changes to our society are usually credited to new technologies (like the industrial revolution and and the birth of computers). However, these technologies would never have been as popular if they didn't provide major cultural solutions.

Posted by: Nick at April 28, 2005 3:41 PM

Hmmmm... Depends on the problem. Eventually, for successful technology companies they become engineering cultures. Early NASA, SAP in the 1990's, Boeing in the 1960's.

The culture needs to come in when either the technology is sufficiently mass market that you cannot get away with assuming the other person is a geek, or that the product becomes commoditised and you need a personal angle. The PC has failed completely in this case, Apple has suceeded. Cars are another good example. Ever since the Model T made it a mass market item, the appeal had to be broader than just the technical early adopters.

On the other hand nobody ever went shopping for Lunar Landing Modules, so they never really improved. Aircraft are an interesting middle point. Why did the Airbus launch yesterday create a frisson? National (European) pride? Or the desperate fear that one day me and 880 other farting stinking human beings are going to be squished in and forced to fly around the world in one....

Posted by: Hamish at April 28, 2005 3:56 PM

I was going to say the iPod, but as I think about it I'm not so sure. My indecision arises because in a lot of ways, the iPod encourages isolation and I don't think culture emerges from separation. Avid iPodders might look out on the sea of little white earbuds and think they're in a group, but all I see are people who don't want to engage.

Posted by: Tom at April 28, 2005 4:12 PM

Agreed. It's all about the culture, perhaps supported by technology, but the big ideas need to break the old cultural "rules."


Posted by: Frank Patrick at April 28, 2005 4:17 PM

I agree - although I might rephrase your statement as "There can be no MEANINGFUL technological solution without a cultural PROBLEM (or need)". Technology's purpose is essentially to solve problems or address needs, be they business, cultural or otherwise in nature.

That doesn't stop people creating technology solutions that don't have a problem or need (witness the Segway) or from people adapting technologies in response to cultural needs. For example SMS/Text messaging was designed into mobile networks purely for network signalling purposes but consumers latched on to it as a new way of communicating and connecting with others.

Posted by: Paul at April 28, 2005 5:29 PM

Culture trumps technology. There is a culture of technology that is well represented in the blogosphere. It has had its impact, but it is still is in its infancy.

I'm no early adopter of technology. I'm an early adopter of utilitarian tools that serve my needs, like the computer, internet, blogs, etc. I'm not convinced that an I-Pod will advance the quality of my life or work any more than a WalkMan could ten years ago.

The vast majority of the people I work with everyday are minimalist users of technology. They are smart, savy, successful people who use only as much technology as they need. For most of them, they only need it when it makes their work and life easier, more efficient, and more productive.

The challenge for technologists is not to create the most innovative new gadgets imaginable. Rather, they need to craw into the lives of people and figure out how to solve the human problems that afflict them. In some cases, the answer is less technology.

The rise of the personal computer, followed by the internet and enhanced by the blogosphere has had a lasting impact upon society because it simply fits into the lives of people. It makes things easier in some ways, and expands the horizons of people in another.

For this reason, technology is always the handmaiden to culture. With a culture, there is no reason for the technology to be produced, once it is has been invente.d

Posted by: Ed Brenegar at April 29, 2005 3:33 AM

This works inside corporations too - I've been part of several implementations of whiz-bang (some of it seriously good) technology - the failures (often the 'better' technology) have been where there was insufficient notice taken of the cultural implications. The successes have ALL been where the 'victims are willing' - culturally prepared for the change, and given ownership of the changes. This means that sometimes the technically inferior system can be the most successful (of course in theory that means the gee-whiz stuff can be successful too, but often we are over-enthused by the eye-candy ....).

Posted by: Ric at April 29, 2005 12:41 PM

Totally agree. I somehow I find this related to what Kathy Sierra at HeadRush wrote about the best advice for software developers... "genuinely caring about improving the life of your users... ". In terms of software development, addressing users needs should always be on top of the list. Figuring and analyzing users needs (cultural solution) has nothing to do with anything technological at all. Having cultural solution, at this point, only you can start designing and implementing the most efficient and elegant technological solution.

Posted by: Diong at April 29, 2005 5:29 PM

Let's try this anecdotally with some cultures and the successful technologies that serve them:

1. Culture: Hopelessly broken business teams trying to find ways to pretend they are collaborating, but they don't want to move beyond the limited intimacy of sending email and scheduling meetings...by email. The technology: Microsoft Office.

2. Culture: Young people and wannabe youngsters trying desparately to express themselves through their selection of music. But only they can hear the earphones, so it's really about LOOKING like they're expressing themselves. The technology: iPod.

3. The Culture: People who are curious and focused on finding what they want. The Technology: Google Search

4. The Culture: Beaten down by the world, those who finally think they've found a way to be heard. The Technology: Blogging

5. The Culture: I want people to know that I've made it and to be my friends when the game is on. The Technology: Wide screen TVs.

Help me out here...

Posted by: Brian Massey at April 30, 2005 8:16 AM

You guys are funny without realizing it

Posted by: Jim at April 30, 2005 12:45 PM