When new technologies become productive

Wired is my favorite work-related magazine by far. I read all editions from cover to cover (almost). Recently Wired celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special edition. Reading through that edition is a fascinating trip through history. And it's only been 20 years!

For their anniversary Wired also collected some of their most popular articles and bundled them into an ebook. One of the articles struck me. The article is titled: The Long Boom: A History of the Future, 1980 - 2020 and is written by Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden. I'm a sucker for these kind of articles. But I found this one intriguing because it was written some time ago. I was curious how well they predicted what was going to happen in the time we are living in now. Of course they got things wrong, but many predictions are quite correct. Go ahead, read the article and see for yourself.

But there's one part in this article that I wanted to share with you. It relates to all the posts that have been written about adoption of new (social) technologies and concepts. And whether social business has or hasn't caught in. The authors of this article point to some interesting research. They say:
Productivity, as it happens, becomes one of the great quandaries stumping economists throughout the 1990s. Despite billions invested in new technologies, traditional government economic statistics reflect little impact on productivity or growth. This is not an academic point - it drives to the heart of the new economy. Businesses invest in new technology to boost the productivity of their workers. That increased productivity is what adds value to the economy - it is the key to sustained economic growth.
Research by a few economists, like Stanford University's Paul Romer, suggests that fundamentally new technologies generally don't become productive until a generation after their introduction, the time it takes for people to really learn how to use them in new ways. Sure enough, about a generation after the introduction of personal computers in the workplace, work processes begin mutating enough to take full advantage of the tool. Soon after, economists figure out how to accurately measure the true gains in productivity - and take into account the nebulous concept of improvement in quality rather than just quantity.
I highlighted the core statement I wanted to share with you. One generation. That's a long time... And we've just started understanding, adopting and applying social concepts and tools to the enterprise, internally and externally. We all want change fast and in our lifetime. I can relate to that... But is it realistic? Does is really connect to the way the world, organizations and people work?

This statement, based on research by Paul Romer, makes me more modest about the things I would like to see happen and motivates me to continue to push on, evangelize, experiment, learn, etc. And I'm hoping it helps you too. Does it?

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