Is our obsession with digital technology coming in the way of innovation?

10 US Navy sailors died when the destroyer USS John McCain crashed into an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore. This was in 2017. Investigation showed that an overly complex touchscreen system used for throttle control had contributed to a loss of control of the ship. The US Navy is now replacing it’s touch screens with mechanical controls.

Touchscreens are assumed to provide the best user interface even when obviously dangerous (e.g. cars) or bordering on the ridiculous (e.g. smart fridges).

Have we become so obsessed with shiny new technology that we are replacing what works with what does not?

Digital technology has led to enormous increases in efficiency across industries. Digital innovations (where digital technology and innovation intersect) have enabled new opportunities for growth through digital products or services and furthermore contributed to the emergence of entirely new markets and business models. Innovation - a field as old as humanity - has existed long before the digital age (and will exist after).

How do digital and innovation relate to each other? Is digital driving innovation or is it an enabler or accelerator for innovation? Is there a place for non-digital innovation in the digital age?

Looking at the touchscreen-related tanker accident, questionable product innovations like digital wine bottles for 700$, and digitally-enabled services that are convenience innovations at best, it seems that we have reached a point where we apply digital technologies just for the sake of it.

Our obsession with digital does not stop at products or services. Organisations from all sectors are investing in digital platform business models even if they have proven to be unprofitable within certain industries. Uber, Lyft, and Lime report losses in the hundreds of millions year after year. Some players like Bosch owned scooter sharing provider Coup have shut down operations as they found the business model not to be viable.

Startups like WeWork have fabricated the illusion of being a tech company to appeal to investors and to justify their billion-dollar valuation - even if they are just subletting office spaces.

Increasingly, digital-led innovations prove underwhelming and fail to produce the expected commercial benefits.

At Hacking Cultural Beliefs, we have come to realise that many organisations are simply trying to find implementations for digital technology rather than identifying genuine new ideas.

We need to update the ‘digital-first’ mindset many of us have internalised. We need to ‘innovate how we innovate’ in order to create meaningful products, services ,and business models that serve a real purpose instead of producing more digital convenience gadgets.

Hacked Beliefs:

  • What digital can do is what defines innovation opportunities

  • Every new technological possibility represents a commercial opportunity

  • Consumers are on a never-ending quest for more digital lives

  • Just because technology can, it doesn’t mean it should

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