I have a confession: I got up at 3:00 AM Eastern on April 10th to be among the first to preorder an Apple Watch. Earlier in the year I thought I’d skip the first generation and allow others to live on the bleeding edge, but by the time pre-orders were announced I was desperate for one. Despite not typically wearing a watch, during the weeks leading up to April 24th (release day!) my left wrist felt naked and uncomfortable. Needless to say I no longer wanted to wait for an Apple Watch 2.
So, what changed? For me, it was the identification of a problem that needed a solution. I hated fishing my phone out of my pocket to determine if my buzzing phone had anything important to tell me. Did I have an important message from a family member or just a spam text? I wanted a way to quickly determine who was trying to get my attention and respond accordingly. The Apple Watch seemed to be the best way to make that happen. And, as it turns out, it was. Its killer benefit is less interruption and it works as well as I’d hoped. The problem I identified has been solved!
The Internet of Things
The Apple Watch is one of many devices that make up the broader category known as the Internet of Things (IoT). The Nest Thermostat, the Progressive Snapshot, and garage door openers that you can activate from your smartphone are all common examples of consumer IoT devices. Despite being an early adopter of most technology, I’ve been apprehensive of consumer IoT devices, particularly around home automation. As one of my colleagues explored, there are privacy, security and general creepiness factors at play. For me, it’s basic economics: the value I’d get from the home automation capability is lower than the discomfort I would have about security and privacy. For me, it’s a solution looking for a problem.
Looking more broadly, IoT devices are everywhere and have been around for years. Sensors to track the wear of parts in machinery, air quality sensors, and networked traffic light controllers are all common. However, the boom of consumer oriented IoT devices has brought them into the light, and businesses are feeling pressured to figure out what IoT can do for them. Like Big Data and Mobile before it, IoT is the hot topic technology leaders are being asking about.
“What are we doing about [INSERT TECH TREND HERE]?”
Are technology leaders being pushed into a “solution looking for a problem” way of thinking? It certainly can feel that way. Business leaders don’t want to miss out on these potentially transformational technologies. At the same time, digging into these subjects can be time consuming, and experimenting can be expensive. What’s a technology leader to do?
- Accept it – Part of the role of a technology leader is to be on top of these trends and to advise the business on their potential impacts. Reading about how new technology is being used is a good use of time. Learn about what companies in your industry and adjacent industries are doing with that technology. You will have the background needed to discuss the topic with your peers, and it may spark ideas. Only in the rarest cases though, will it help you identify an urgent, previously unknown business problem to solve.
- Flip it – Instead of talking about the latest technology trend, move the conversation to one about the biggest problems facing the business. Ask business partners, “What is the one business problem we could solve that would have the biggest impact on the business?” Once these most urgent needs are identified, then use your knowledge of technology to offer some solutions.
- Get ahead of it – The best way to avoid being pushed into a “solution looking for a problem” mentality is to keep your peers informed. Regularly be the one to bring up and educate business partners on the hot new technology trends. Also, be the one that encourages discussion of the big business problems. The more of these problems you can surface, the better position you will be in to push them towards the right solution.
Remember, it’s important to keep up with the technology trends of the day. However, when it comes to how these trends can be applied to your business, start by identifying the big problems first and only then consider solutions.