Don’t Count ‘Em Out Yet: How To Be a “Survival Technology”

Reporter Steve Lahor deals a blow to technological determinism and speaks to the importance of managing change well in an interesting, and, I think, hopeful article in the New York Times today.

Pointing to mainframe computers and radio as examples of “survival technologies” that have lasted long past their predicted demise, Lahor writes:

“It is the business decisions that matter most: investing to retool the traditional technology, adopting a new business model and nurturing a support network of loyal customers, industry partners and skilled workers.

The unfulfilled predictions of demise, experts say, tend to overestimate the importance of pure technical innovation and underestimate the role of business judgment. “The rise and fall of technologies is mainly about business and not technological determinism,” said Richard S. Tedlow, a business historian at the Harvard Business School.”

In other words, news organizations that invest time in creating a strategic plan and following through on it, rather than muddling along simply grasping at “change” without really defining what that means, are more likely to succeed.

Notice also a key word above: Investing. IBM invested in its mainframe to lower costs to consumers and improve performance, and is now over 10 years past one expert’s predicted expiration date. Instead of cutting staff and resources, newsrooms should seriously consider making the kinds of investments that other businesses routinely make when faced with challenges.

I also love this quote:

“The survivors also build on their own technical foundations as well as the human legacy of people skilled in the use of a technology and the business culture and habits that surround it. “

This lesson is strongly reflected in academic research on organizational change as well. It’s not just a matter of figuring how what bells and whistles you can add to your Website to attract readers, but building on the talents of your staff and the strengths of your culture that will predict success.


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Filed under Real Live Changing Newsrooms, Research on Newsroom Change

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