Mon | Jan 17, 2022

Francis Wade | The unending new-tech learning curve

Published:Sunday | August 8, 2021 | 12:06 AM

Have you wondered if you’ll ever get to the point where your conflicts with new technology will be over? Consider the opposite: these challenges may never end, and, in fact, they shouldn’t.

Some can remember what it was like to sit in a workshop to learn ‘how to use the computer’. Others may recall 3-day classes to pick up the skills required to adopt Microsoft Windows or Excel.

The promise of such training was that, once it was over, you’d never need more. These lessons were supposed to be final.

Little did we know that the challenge actually didn’t end there. In fact, it was just the start of a journey to competence. Furthermore, the fact that such classroom training is almost obsolete today tells us that the job of learning new technology requires a different mindset. Here’s why.

Simple technologies belie complexity. The most comprehensive technology training often turns out to be just the beginning. Why? Technologies are evolving rapidly, adding new features but also becoming interconnected with other technologies to stay relevant. As such, these changes introduce a fresh level of complexity. So, as the software grows, so should you.

This fundamentally transforms the core objective from the realm of simple tool learning. Now, you must master the ecosystem around the new technology because it’s a fast-moving target.

Take the example of Android apps. As a user, you won’t ever ‘catch up’ with all the latest programs. It’s impossible. The best you can hope to do is maintain a continual effort to stay within striking distance, that is, to prevent yourself from falling too far behind. The goal here is to retain functionality by learning a little at a time.

This is a job you can’t delegate to an assistant if you intend to be effective. Those who try this trick end up getting lost, being forced to make decisions they hardly understand. This is a sure way for your company to go out of business, one poor tactic after another.

Tech know-how

Instead, as a leader of an organisation, you must maintain an up-to-date understanding.

You can’t depend on classes. Even if you had all the time in the world, you can’t rely on the old model of instructor-led learning to grasp the technologies you must master. The fact is, the training you need hardly exists; it’s just not being offered in the traditional format.

Instead, look to the modern methods people use to master tens of new apps each year. They survey a melange of YouTube videos, webinars, FAQs or frequently asked questions, and online chats. And, in doing so, they don’t wait for someone knowledgeable to lead them along.

They have learned to teach themselves, and can’t imagine sitting in a classroom to learn how to use an app. Are they smarter than those who took formal classes in the 1990s? Were they born with computer-ready genes?

No. With a blend of fearless courage and a trial-and-error approach, they search for what they need and experiment their way to mastery. It sounds like a disorganised mess, but this chaotic method of learning works.

Back in 1982, my father said: “When I get back from work we’ll sit down and go through the new mini-computer instructions before turning it on.” By the time he arrived, his kids were already using the device, playing games, without the instructions. Something had begun to shift.

Embrace the struggle

I can share from personal experience that picking up a brand-new app is often a struggle.

But the tussle is not a sign of failure, but of growth. In fact, if you aren’t fighting with some technology, you are already in trouble. You may not be growing fast enough to keep up.

As you probably realise, people who fall behind in learning the latest tools of their trade may hide it for a while. But, eventually, they turn into a problem others find ways to work around. Over time, they become too hard to teach and are just left out.

Don’t turn into a dinosaur. Accept that, as long as you stay in the workforce, there will always be unfamiliar technologies to add to your repertoire, and an uphill journey to learn them. There is no class to take that will handle this problem. The best you can hope for is a mastery of this new style of self-learning.

Instead, give up your resistance and become someone who says “yes” to new opportunities that require fresh tools. Over time, you’ll learn to trust your ability to teach yourself whatever new technologies are needed.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: