Need plus nudge equals sustained change

Everyone loves a nudge! That’s because we’re addicted to stories of trivial (and cheap) business hacks which have caused major changes to the way staff or customers behave. New processes and technology sometimes seem easy in comparison to even small changes to human behaviour, but without these changes there is no point investing in any business transformation.

Ever since Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote Nudge in 2008, the term has been a popular adjunct to behavioural economics. It is amazing how many ways we can be influenced through small and often unexpected interventions.

Classic nudges include reducing litter by removing bins (getting people to take their rubbish with them), painting lines on a supermarket floor (to direct traffic to profitable items) or even just giving a lolly to a child to get them to do a swimming lesson.

The problem with most nudges is that they don’t last. Removing bins works initially, but after a while people get into the habit of littering. The supermarket lines encourage compliant behaviour until one hurried trip and the new norm is broken. The child who learns to expect a bribe for a swimming lesson will gradually increase the stakes demanding a treat before they’ll do anything.

Nudges create sustained change when paired with needs. A need plus a nudge equals a transformation.

No matter how much we love the hack of a nudge, needs are the big things that underpin everything we do. We need to be paid for our jobs. We need to eat. We need social interaction. But nudges can build on what we want. We want bonuses. We want sweet treats. We want to play games.

Not only do nudges on their own fail when not paired with a need, they can also cause lasting harm. For example, we have seen that bonuses (the nudge) that are outsized compared to the underlying pay (the need) cause poor, and sometimes outright corrupt, behaviour.

Social media understands the power of pairing needs and nudges well. We have a need to connect and communicate with the people we know. But when on the platform, we can be nudged to extend our network, read updates from people we don’t even know and create new content of our own.

The same challenges face organisations every day. Whether it is a government department or a private enterprise, there are backend systems that require accurate data entry, adherence to procedures and really only work if people collaborate.

Nudges to get people to do all of these things are notoriously fickle and short lived. The problem is that disciplines of data management require investment by people that aren’t the beneficiaries. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) only works if everyone who interacts with customers updates the system. Space management, reserving desks, meeting rooms and other resources, only works if people don’t just dump their stuff on any free table. Knowledge Management (KM) only adds value if the best intellectual property of the enterprise is collated for others to use.

The nudges we are looking for create altruistic collaboration, proper data management and properly maintained resources like email lists. Just asking others to “pay it forward” only goes so far.

We can learn a lot from commercial coworking spaces and startup hubs which work best when many needs are co-located and supported by nudges. Individuals working alone need social support and can be nudged by aligning with others of similar interests. Startups need funding, hence hubs often include investors, and can be nudged by the offer of pitch nights.

Organisations seeking to use office space to create an innovative, collaborative culture can do the same. No matter how cutting-edge the design, offices need to offer room for personal privacy, room for personal artefacts and access to resources (the needs). These same offices can borrow from coworking spaces by nudging beyond these needs with clever neighbourhoods of interesting colleagues, opportunities for projects to be seen by their stakeholders and celebrations of achievements.

In the same way as needs and nudges can be combined for the space in which we work, what we do can also benefit from the approach. Data management around CRM can be motivated by making the contact update screens the location where sales resources are found. Email distribution lists can be combined with the location where payroll details are maintained. Space management reservations can be treated like a coworking space with all the associated rewards.

With the basic needs met, any number of nudges can be invented with regular recognition for the best customer interactions, games accessible only to members of email lists and public celebration when knowledge assets are leveraged.

No organisation is static, with every approach needing constant reinvention. Perhaps a need and a nudge for the first of every month!

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Don’t underestimate your IP

Business is changing as a result of technology, new economic pressures and changes in society. That makes some form of transformation non-negotiable and it often requires new software, leading to build or buy decisions.

Off-the-shelf or packaged software has grown to dominate corporate information technology over the last thirty years. Cloud services are taking vendor capability to the next level. While it is usually clear-cut that it is better to leverage a third party’s product or solution, it is important not to lose sight of what makes each business unique.

The Renaissance genius, Michelangelo, is claimed to have said “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” Perhaps the same can be said of packaged software, you just have to remove the superfluous functionality and what you’re left with is your business need.

But in the twenty-first century, “every business is a software business” (as perfectly summed-up by software engineering guru Watts Humphrey). What Humphrey was really arguing was that the intellectual property (IP) of a company, where its value really sits, is increasingly codified in software.

In the past, too many business executives assumed software strategy was only a problem for their Chief Information Officer. The best CIOs, though, have been educating their executive peers and the last year or more has seen an awareness that the long-predicted shift of the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is well underway.

The fourth industrial revolution is a collection of technologies that have emerged to blend the physical and digital worlds. Ranging from autonomous vehicles through to the rise of artificial intelligence, there is a revolution that is changing everything all over again.

Rather than supporting the business, these technologies are codifying, automating and extending the business. Great examples are found across logistics, call centres, risk management, finance, advanced manufacturing and just about every other specialised aspect of business and government. They are realised through algorithms and data embedded in software.

Despite the opportunity, business has struggled to unlock the value. Market analysis and studies, such as Deloitte’s annual fourth industrial revolution business survey, show that there is still a way to go before business is ready. Ultimately, we are not yet seeing the digital dividends that we should.

What this means, is that the decision on whether to implement a software package, extend the capability of a vender or invest in an entirely bespoke solution requires more than a knowledge of technology. Maintaining success as an information-driven business requires something unique that is disruptive and proprietary.

To illustrate, you could argue that digital retail services such as Shopify, BigCommerce and a number of others exemplify and simplify online retailing. It wouldn’t, however, make sense for Amazon to abandon their proprietary software, despite the huge cost of maintaining it, and migrate to a third part service. Too much of Amazon’s differentiated retail IP is tied-up in the software they’ve built over many years including the patents they hold.

More controversially, perhaps the decline of Yahoo as a world-leading search engine could be traced back to the point where they decided to use third parties like Google and Microsoft for some of their searches rather than doubling down on their own unique IP.

When it was being developed, the build of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s “CommSee” customer relationship management system was one of the largest bespoke projects of its type in the world. It was a hugely courageous decision to build rather than buy but the bank clearly believed that the way they dealt with their customers was part of their unique IP.

For every genuinely different and valuable business capability there are a hundred processes which just need to be best practice. Increasingly the providers of packaged solutions are seeking to be the source of those best practices and offering, as far as possible, to provide their own bespoke coding platforms to build unique IP.

As the fourth industrial revolution encodes ever more business and government capability in software, the boundaries between the physical and virtual continue to recede. It is more important than ever to know what you have that is unique and to make sure your technology decisions don’t lead you to underestimate your IP.

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Purpose-driven business needs the right data

It seems like almost every organisation is thinking about its purpose statement. This comes at the same time as trust in business and institutions is hitting new lows. While for many, the impetus to redefine purpose is a response to public opinion, there is a longer-term trend which I think will be positive for both business and society.

Purpose statements come in many forms. Some are focused on the core business (for example, “to create a brilliant connected future for everyone” for a telco) while others pick up more lofty goals (like “to help shape a world where people and communities thrive” for a bank). Either way, this comes at a time when business is trying to be clearer about what they stand for.

These aren’t empty gestures with many businesses taking-on some challenging and progressive goals, on social justice, the environment and gender equality. While some authors, such as Colin Mayer in Prosperity (Oxford University Press 2018), argue that capitalism is fundamentally broken, I think what we are seeing is the evolution of business to create a more sophisticated approach to sustainable business models and profits.

In most jurisdictions, directors have a duty to act in the best interests of their company’s shareholders, typically to provide growth and a financial return. The challenge for directors, as stewards of their company, is to justify an organisational purpose that goes beyond the core profit-earning activities of the business. We see this in the political debate when businesses find their voice on more controversial issues such as marriage equality, gender parity or the environment.

The solution is to link organisational purpose, particularly higher purpose, with a sustainable business model. Except in very rare circumstances, organisations plan to manage risk to provide a return and sustain an ongoing business. Two things are critical to maintain a position in any market, permission to operate and the support of customers.

Permission comes in many forms. At the very least it is a government registration, for regulated entities it includes other forms of licensing. But for every organisation, there is also a social license, an implicit agreement between the community and the organisation that allows them to transact. Purpose talks directly to this relationship.

Measuring social license is difficult, but necessary if it is to be actively managed through tools like an explicit purpose. Media, particularly social media, political discourse and other activity can be analysed and represented as a scorecard. But simply being popular, or at least acceptable, in the community isn’t enough to evidence the social license, customers have to demonstrate their continued willingness to buy.

We’ve all seen businesses with great ethical objectives who have lost out through competitive pressures. While customers say they want to support the higher purpose, they often end-up choosing on price or convenience.

What does, make a huge difference, though is the staff that they deal with. Employees who are engaged are likely to provide better customer service and align to the strategic priorities of the organisation. Numerous studies have shown how important fulfilment at work and in life are to good phycological health and satisfaction. These staff do their jobs with enthusiasm even if their individual tasks are less than exciting.

Employees who only see their employment as a means to an income are unlikely to display an engaging passion for their customers. Those, on the other hand, who can see how their business contributes to the betterment of society as a whole are much more likely to care deeply about their role supporting the needs of their customer.

The link between purpose and profit is then easy to see. A purposeful organisation is more likely to engage its people who, in turn, are more likely to look after their customers which is where profits come from. There are, however, a number of points where this can go wrong.

Having a meaningful purpose is important for people to find meaning, but it has to be authentic and people have to believe in their leaders. Engaged staff are necessary but not sufficient to ensure good customer service, all the other elements of great training and a customer-centric environment are also equally important. Finally, customer loyalty is important but it needs to be the loyalty of the right, profitable, customers.

Each of these criteria are also able to be measured. Staff engagement through purpose can be tested with deliberate questions and customer loyalty can be monitored against the profitability of the products or services that they consume.

Doing the right thing is not only good for society, it is good for business. We shouldn’t, however, be guessing, we need the data.

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From a space industry to micro-robotics

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the first Space Development Summit held by the United Nations Association of Australia. I see the space sector as an enabler of many of our other industry, social and technical goals. In this speech, I tried to link a vision of the future of our mainstream industries, artificial intelligence, energy and robots with the opportunity that investment in the space sector is likely to provide.

I’ve spoken before about a space industry for Australia (for example, see this Sky News interview). The difference now is that this is a mainstream topic whereas in the past it might have been regarded as being on the fringe of matters that were in important to the nation.

As an Australian, I couldn’t be prouder that we are meeting today as the Australian space industry begins to seriously gain momentum. At Deloitte we’ve been talking about the opportunity for Australia in this sector for years.

The size of the global space economy, at around half a trillion dollars, is well understood by this room. The tiny proportion that earned in Australia is also well understood.

Often when we are looking to participate in lucrative sectors, Australia faces geographic disadvantage. In the space sector, we face substantial and immediate advantage thanks to our unique geography.

Most importantly this is the opportunity to inspire our country as a whole.

The time has come for Australia to be a full participant in one of humanity’s greatest dreams. We need to leverage our advantages to this common cause and become a disproportionate contributor to the global space effort rather than rely on the largesse of others.

Australians are great inventors and innovators, we have technical skills and we are problem solvers who think laterally. These are all things that the world needs. The future of space hasn’t been invented yet. We need new ideas and that is what Australians do best!

While it is hard to predict the future with certainty, there are trends that we can have confidence in. It will be no surprise, for example, that more of our lives will be automated than ever before or even ever imagined. We can also be confident that artificial intelligence will be central to that automation,

What will come as a surprise to many is that the energy requirement for the computing power required for the AI of the future is likely to be constrained by terrestrial limits. This is because computing requires more energy that most people appreciate. Recent estimates suggest that the AI necessary to run a car, with even the first generation of automation that we are looking for, could add as much as 20% to the energy consumption of that vehicle.

But it gets worse. It’s unlikely that we’ll want to just have large vehicles running autonomously. Robots are getting smaller, in fact most of the things we want to do in the future are ideally done at the micro or even smaller level and those robots cannot have enough computing power on-board to operate on their own. They require a network or a swarm.

The sum of the computing power required to run such a swarm would be an exponential increase to the requirements of autonomous vehicles. While Moore’s law may have given us access to exponential computing power, it has done little to reduce the corresponding exponential increase in energy requirements.

Some of the applications of technology that matter most to Australia include building and maintaining continent-wide infrastructure, accessing deep and difficult ore bodies and, most importantly for global interests, sustainable agriculture through an agtech revolution.

Swarms of insects and birds have impact at the scale we need. It is likely that we will look to mimic nature and have micro-robotics do the same for our cities, roads, mines and farms of the future.

This vision cannot be realised from sea level or even from within our atmosphere.

In fact, this vision of the future is part of a wider trend where everything operates as a network, manufacturing and product are tightly coupled and infrastructure is inherently smart. Smart cities, roads, farms, mines and more.

We call this the fourth industrial revolution. Not only is the space sector essential to operate the world of the future, it also encourages us to build the right capabilities in Australia that we are going to need to participate in this future.

Excitingly, the move onshore of more highly advanced technology requirements will have a massive benefit for our researchers as they seek to commercialise research and move through the funding “valley of death” that so many great ideas fail to navigate.

In particular, the renaissance of manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, will lean heavily on research that is well advanced or ready for commercialisation today

These technologies are central to the space industry. Advanced manufacturing describes a collection of technologies that include 3D printing and robotic assembly. Ideally suited to short run, highly customised, highly sophisticated items that you don’t want to be transporting all over the world. Ideally suited to an Australian space industry.

Advanced manufacturing is central to the economic future as laid-out by a number of Australian state governments. The space industry provides a wonderful customer that will create capability that will be used by a range of other industries. These are jobs for the future.

To realise these jobs we need industry policy that sees space as an enabler of a wide range of opportunities across many sectors. Such an industry policy needs to pick winners where we are going to direct national effort.

We also need our business sector to leverage the fourth industrial revolution. Deloitte recently asked CEOs globally and in Australia about the changes that were advancing on us quickly. We wanted to know if they understood how technology was going to revolutionise almost every aspect of our lives once again.

Only 2% of Australian CEOs felt they had enough of an understanding of what the fourth industrial revolution meant to them. To weather the changes that are coming, let alone benefit from them, change is needed across the Australian business world.

In the nineteenth century the then colonies of Australia could not agree on a railway gauge, nor could we even agree on where the capital of a future nation should reside. Squabbling over the little things has cost us dearly in the past. Worrying today about the home of the Australian space agency is the same, it is worth cents on dollar.

We should not have a single centre or geography for space. We can’t when the impact we’re looking for is nationwide. We need many centres of excellence, each with their own specialisation but also each tightly coupled as a network. Perhaps even, as a swarm!

To me, we will be successful if we develop a vibrant space industry that is integrated with much of our business community and triggering the change that is going to be so badly needed if Australia is to realise the potential that the coming decades could bring.

The Australian space industry is already helping to lift the eyes of many and will help Australia to make this transition.

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What is a consultant?

I’ve been a consultant for twenty years and have heard every variation of the joke about borrowing a client’s watch to tell the time. Like many, I didn’t start out intending to be a professional consultant and yet it has become my vocation and passion. I see consultants as a critical part of the business ecosystem.

Terms like “professional services”, “contracting”, “consulting” and “management consulting” are often used interchangeably which creates confusion. Sometimes it feels like everyone’s LinkedIn profile says they are a consultant. I am proud to have this title but feel as a cohort we haven’t done enough to describe what it is we do.

Maybe the term “consultant” itself doesn’t help, drawing from the Latin “consultare” or “to deliberate”. It implies that we are abstract and theoretical whereas the best of consulting should be immediately applicable and provide practical results. What a consultant does for their client should inspire confidence to do something that they can’t do on their own and leave them with a new capability.

Great consulting should be trusted, transformative and transferable. Trusted: consulting only works if there is a close relationship with the client. Transformative: consulting needs to change something about an organisation. Transferable: consulting should leave capability behind.

Just because someone is an expert doesn’t automatically qualify them to be a consultant. There is a process to achieving the trusted, transformative and transferable goals. Too many experts fall into the trap of providing absolute answers to complex questions. Whether it is a technology architecture, approach to management structures or establishing a negotiating position, individual experts often have fixed opinions (albeit they may be well-founded) that all too often get presented as a statement of fact.

While there are occasions when decisions have a clear right and wrong answer, they are few and far between. More often than not, there are trade-offs. As an expert, there are patterns that we have seen succeed and we tend to lean on. A consultant needs to understand those patterns, codify their experience and put appropriate weight on each perspective.

The best consultant does not talk in absolutes, but rather lays out the options, supporting facts and explains the trade-offs in such a way that their client can easily make the most appropriate decision for their circumstances. They avoid caveating every option to such a degree that it appears the client is shouldering an excess burden, yet clients need to understand the consequences of the choices they make.

It is this combination of facts, experience and communication that characterises the best of consulting as a subset of general professional services and differentiates it from “gun for hire” contracting.

One of the most effective ways that consulting firms achieve this important combination is by working in teams. The consulting process often has a more senior practitioner providing context and leadership to a junior team which they also leverage for research, analysis and delivery. This association does more than simply enable the work to get done, it also results in a better outcome. I’ve explained this “teaching hospital” phenomenon before, see Experts make better decisions with an understudy.

Arguably, the pinnacle of the consulting profession is “management consulting. This is because, no matter how far or wide you look, no innovation has changed the world without a significant innovation in the management operating system supporting it. The industrial revolution, the twenty-first century manufacturing production line or today’s emergence of an information-centric technology revolution have all been underpinned by radically different approaches to management.

Consulting is not immune from the changing face of business wrought by technology and innovation. A myriad of digitally enabled competitors have entered the space, challenging the incumbent consulting firms to think again about how they add value and manage themselves. Clients now have access to very specialised information through a few clicks online which means consultants cannot get by through simply having access to privileged knowledge. Similarly, it is easier than ever before for clients to find a standalone expert and approach them for one-off assistance.

The disintermediation of knowledge and expertise has been a good thing. It has discouraged lazy consulting which depended on obscure knowledge rather than the application of consulting skills. More than ever, consulting requires the application of trusted skills to transform the operation of a business and transferring the capability to a client. What consultants provided a decade ago is common knowledge today. That was also true in the decades before and will be true a decade from now. The only constant in a consultant’s career is change. The consultant’s job is to bring something new to the table in every engagement.

There is little that is more satisfying than enabling change by applying consulting skills. Consultants can be proud of the transformation they bring to their clients, but perhaps there needs to be just as much focus on better explaining what it is that a consultant really does.

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Deliberate design

Organisations evolve and, with so many people spending less and less time in any one job, managing that evolution is more important than ever. At the same time the huge changes being wrought by technology combined with new global dynamics are making understanding what has evolved, and what is in place simply because it has always been so, a priority. For me, the importance of finding out why things are as they are hit home when I was helping a client who was collecting data which seemed to have no purpose. It turned out their predecessors had started collecting the data during the Second World War when it was needed in case of invasion!

To understand why organisations hold onto the past so readily, it’s tempting to repeat the famous “five monkeys” experiment. To paraphrase the telling of the story, a group of monkeys is in a cage with a ladder supporting a banana. The first monkey that climbs the ladder to get the banana triggers all the monkeys to be hosed down. This is repeated until the lesson is learnt: “don’t climb the ladder”. More monkeys are added to the enclosure and they try the ladder, before the hose can be used the other monkeys pull them off. Over time, all the “old” monkeys are removed until only monkeys who joined after the last hosing are present. These “new” monkeys still stop each other and any additional newcomers from climbing the ladder, they do so only as a cultural norm rather than any direct knowledge of why the ladder is bad.

I wanted to use the monkey story in a speech about transformation and began researching its origins. What I found was that the experiment is a myth and the story allegorical. It seems to originate from a management book in the 1990s and gained further credibility through retelling in magazines and social media.

Rather than fake experiments, behavioural economics gives us the best insight into why people hold onto the past and resist change. I recommend Dan Ariely’s excellent Predictably Irrational. Ariely uses a series of (academically sound) experiments to show that as humans we have a loss aversion. In particular, he shows we prefer “free” products and services even when we know they really have a hidden cost. We are so afraid of wasting money, in even trivial amounts, we will often make inferior choices.

This is never more so than when executives make “no regrets” investments. This is a nice way of saying that they are giving in to their loss aversion over rational risk taking. Usually these decisions involve minimal upfront cost and attempt to avoid risking a loss through a wrong decision. There are four categories of investment that are most often candidates for these “no regrets” decisions: technology, workforce skills, supplier selection and acquisitions.

The organisation that fears loss over opportunity puts off major technology investments in favour of tactical fixes in case vendor products change, uses contractors to avoid investing in skills in case future growth doesn’t come, buys only from major suppliers in case the more innovative alternatives don’t survive and shies away from business acquisitions for fear that they dilute shareholder value. By comparison, the most valuable and successful businesses have taken bold positions in all four categories. Interestingly, these same successful companies have made expensive errors and learnt from then, they aren’t afraid of risk.

A good way to overcome a fear of making mistakes is to be deliberate in designing the future in the full knowledge that every decision, or avoidance of a decision, carries risk. This is “deliberate design”. So often we just accept that a new approach isn’t possible in our own organisations. The deliberate design of technology plans for the long-term future even if it means making existing investments redundant. The deliberate design of workforce actively trains staff, often using a “train the trainer” approach, and hires for the workforce five years hence. The deliberate design of the supplier and alliance ecosystem seeks out innovative startups and makes informed bets knowing that they will learn more than they will lose in the long-term. The deliberate design of additions through acquisition looks to make bets based on the best knowledge of today, knowing that shareholder value may be destroyed in the short-term but growth without the injection of new capability is almost impossible to sustain.

A great metaphor which helps maintain the positive momentum of deliberate design and counter our negative fears is “dancing”. Mike Lipkin has done this best in his book Dancing with Disruption which focuses on maintaining momentum in the face of disruption: knowing the context, dreaming big, being analytical, being prolific, communicating, collaborating and, above all, remaining unconditionally enthusiastic.

Understanding our tendency to hold onto the past and fear change, I’ve concluded that we should stop worrying about digital disruption and pivot to a more positive frame of understanding uncertainty. With the knowledge that this uncertainty means we will sometimes make wasteful investments, but almost always gain more than we lose, we can have the confidence to embrace deliberate design for the future.

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I often get asked whether I support or oppose the intrusion of technology into every nook and cranny of our working and personal lives. The best way I can express how I feel is by drawing an analogy with the alcohol prohibition debate in the United States during the twentieth century.

Over many decades, the US struggled with public policy to manage the production and consumption of alcohol. My favourite speech of the long debate was by Noah S. Sweat in 1952:

You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

This is exactly how I feel about the threat of Big Brother (see Living as far from 1984 as Orwell). Technology is the monster that undermines the innocence of children through exposure to horrific material. It is the informer that allows governments to track our every movement. It is the temptation that distracts families from spending time with each other.

But, technology also means access to information that simplifies our every day. It is the source of entertainment that our families can share. It has opened up new shared resources like holiday houses that were never previously available to rent. On a good day, I am grateful for the public safety benefits of the monitoring of our city streets, convenience of digital maps and learning support of electronic tutoring. With so much to gain, how could I possible not be in favour?

Either way, it is the reality of the world we live in (see Living without a trace of Big Data). While I’ve argued in the past for greater regulation (see The internet was a mistake, now let’s fix it), it is too late to debate whether we accept or reject technology. Rather, we need to navigate the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personas of the machines that we’ve created.

The analogy with alcohol gives us some reason for optimism. While prohibition didn’t work in the US, and we are yet to solve the scourge of alcoholism, consumption is dropping in many countries, particularly amongst younger people. It’s possible to conclude that society does learn over time from the mistakes of the past.

Like the trends in alcohol, will we start to see greater moderation in the use of technology in society? If so, rather than try to come-up with permanent solutions we should try to minimise harm to the current generation and have more confidence in the future. This suggests more regulation, oversight and education is needed and some members of society will always need support to use technology for their own benefit.

The issue today is that smartphones and tablets have suddenly exploded into the market with no context and with users having little to help them manage the new temptations. This is similar to the worries our parents and grandparents had about the introduction of television and the influence of advertising. It seems ridiculous today, when we worry about social media’s influence on elections, that only a few decades ago many of the same concerns were being raised about political advertising on television.

I remain in favour of technology. I know that too many controls on data privacy will diminish its power. However, I worry that not every ill will get sorted out through the market over time and much damage could be done in the meantime. We need a deliberate approach to minimise the harm of technology and allow society time to adapt and adopt approaches for everyone’s benefit.

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