Workplace Technology and Innovation: BFFs?

Technology and innovation. How do these terms fit together in your mind?

If you’re like me, you tend to lump them into a fuzzy “whole.” Yet in today’s fluid world of work, each plays a distinctive role.

How do they differ? Why does it matter? And how can they co-exist in ways that add value in modern organizations?

Technology vs. Innovation — Revolution or Evolution?

Some people define technology by focusing on tools and machines. But there’s a deeper view. Technology is based on processes and skills that we mobilize to control and transform our lives. Our goal is to create and manipulate physical objects, symbols and norms. It starts with cultures that are seeking pathways to progress, but ends with solutions that are, in a sense, forced. In this regard, technology seems “revolutionary.”

Innovation, on the other hand, has been described as a better solution that is readily available to society. On the surface, innovation may seem revolutionary. But the process of innovation is more natural than contrived. So perhaps it’s more “evolutionary.”

Regardless, there clearly is an intersection between these two concepts — a symbiotic sweet spot. Therefore, it makes sense to look at them in tandem, respecting the fact that neither can exist without benefit of the other.

Do We “Like” Innovation More Than Technology?

I find it curious that people from all walks of life tend to embrace and support the concept of innovation as a beneficial part of what keeps our world turning. Yet technology often is not as well received. In fact, in some circles, technology is feared and loathed so much, it’s considered a demonic presence that requires experts to eliminate it from existence!

While technology is often equated with concrete mechanisms, innovation is more abstract — and therefore perhaps more approachable. Innovation doesn’t require advanced design, engineering or scientific proof, but can simply be a clever idea that makes life easier or more satisfying. For example, this video demonstrates how innovative ideas can add value without necessarily requiring sophisticated technology:

Change Is Good. Maybe. Sometimes. Sort of.

For some people, technology may symbolize fear of the future. The element of uncertainty can be deeply disturbing to the human psyche. Perhaps reinforced by exaggerated imagery from powerful Hollywood icons, fear surrounding the “dark side” of technology seems to persist. Of course, pop culture isn’t the only reason why our society tends to be apprehensive about accepting technology.

Why do many of us struggle with actually translating an idea from concept to application? And what keeps us from seeing the direct connection between innovation and technology? Some people claim that innovation and its outcomes are driven by a basic human urge to continue learning and expanding our understanding of ourselves and our surroundings. And yet, we all know people who defy that rule — people who never seem interested in learning anything new.

So, why do people perceive innovation and technology so differently? They could be considered two “stops” along the same path — innovation is thinking “outside the box,” while technology is the result of putting those thoughts into action. Technology is what we “make” from our ideas. And sometimes in the space between thought and result, we find resistance that can derail our progress. But the process isn’t necessarily sequential. It’s the result of continuous and sometimes nonlinear inspiration and feedback loops. We can’t dismiss how previous and existing technology and innovation lead to advanced thinking, learning and ideation.

Innovation and Technology at Work

Despite natural human resistance to change, technology solutions increasingly define the world of work. Sparked by innovative ideas, we discover and develop new ways to streamline processes, improve efficiency, speed communications, and stretch the physical and cultural boundaries that previously limited organizational performance. Since Americans work such long hours each week, don’t we owe it to ourselves to create a work culture that is not only more productive, but also connects us in ways we previously never imagined, and encourages us to dream of how we might improve tomorrow’s workplace?

If we don’t dream it, we can’t do it. Without innovation to ignite the imagination, and without technology to power these thoughts, silos can isolate and stifle us from advancing our quality of life, and our pursuit of happiness. So let’s honor both as we look to the future of work.

Image Credit: Pixabay