It is my sad duty to report that technology–the delightfully multifaceted entity that I and so many others have come to revere over the past 20 years or so–may have fallen victim to the Peter Principle.
The concept of the Peter Principle was introduced some years ago by Canadian sociologist Dr. Laurence Johnston Peter in his book of the same title. According to Merriam Webster’s College Dictionary, the term refers to the observation that in a hierarchical work environment, employees tend to rise to the level of their incompetence. Now, incredibly, technology–in its service to humankind–also seems to be topping out in its ability to make life more productive for us.
Before you ask, no, I have not ingested any mind-altering substances before writing this, nor have I been paid off by the secret cabal of Luddites who even today seek to return us to the Dark Ages. Actually, these thoughts came to me as I listened to Daniel Burrus, a speaker at the recent ASCnet annual conference. Burrus, you should know, is not your ordinary motivational cheerleader. He is one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists, and the author of 6 books. Over the past 2 decades, he has established a worldwide reputation for accurately predicting technology-driven trends and their direct impact on the world of business–at least according to his website.
Once we said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but Burrus contends that in today’s breakneck-speed tech environment, the mantra could be, “If it works, it’s obsolete.” As a result, the tendency is to rush headlong into new technologies without regard to how well the old technologies are doing the job. “We haven’t exploited what we’ve already paid for,” says Burrus.
According to Carl Abrams, Financial Services Sector executive at IBM Research, Hawthorne, N.Y., “We have more computational power than we know how to apply. We’re just learning how to do it.”
As an example of the tremendous impact of technology today, Burrus cites the idea that new technology allows hospital critical care nurses to reduce their time on the phone with patients’ families from 4 hours a week to just 45 minutes. But is that a good thing?