Upgrade Like the Amish

amish-0616Quick! Pull up a mental picture of the Amish. Now think about what kinds of technology they might be using. “That’s crazy talk, Hope,” you might be thinking right about now, “the Amish are practically synonymous with horse and buggies and the near total rejection of modern technology.” Actually, dear readers, the Amish view of modern technology is far more nuanced. We could learn a lot from them when it comes to adopting new tech, both for ourselves and our clients.

When a new piece of tech comes along, the Amish examine it carefully with one goal firmly in mind: Is this going to be good for our community? Unlike the tech industry, they’re not looking for disruption. They only want to adopt new tech that will have a net benefit on their lives without bringing in too much of the outside world or interrupting community life.

So, battery-powered lights for their buggies are in. Smart phones for their teenagers are out.

How many of us have been tempted to buy some new gadget more because it’s shiny and less because we think it will make our lives better (I stand guilty as charged on that one)? How many of us have had clients request a particular TV for the wow factor, but which might actually give a less than optimal viewing experience? How many of us have seen our companies adopt some new piece of software that’s supposed to do everything but make us breakfast in the morning… but ends up being a net drain on our productivity?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think “because it looks really freaking cool” is a perfectly valid answer to the question of: “Why should I buy this?” Our industry has done very well with, “it looks really freaking cool.” Most of us have clients who go to us specifically for that “looking really freaking cool” factor. They also come to us, however, because they trust us to do something really freaking cool that also really freaking works. That means that a statement TV should still be sized appropriately for the room it’s installed in, and mounted so that it provides a good viewing angle for everyone who will be watching it. That means that you might want to gently suggest to your client that likes to watch movies with their six kids that a curved TV might not be the best idea.

When it comes to things like collaboration software, the feature set matters far less than one fundamental question: Will this help my clients work together and improve their work flow? It’s fairly easy to show off some software trick that looks pretty nifty. It’s far more challenging to look at how a company works and communicates and then make recommendations for improving that process. That hard work should pay off, however, in the form of a happy customer who trusts you to have their best interests at heart.

As an example: Slack is an amazing tool for collaboration, but its target demographic is people who are working together spontaneously. I wouldn’t recommend it for a company like, say, my own, where we are doing detailed work that requires extended periods of intense concentration. That constant ping of Slack alerts would require me to context shift in a way that would bring my productivity to a grinding halt. If I did recommend a product like Slack, it would only be with the simultaneous introduction of a calendaring method that would let knowledge workers block out extended period of “Maker Time” where they could automatically set themselves as unavailable so that they could concentrate on some tricky programming logic.

All in all, I’d say that technology has been a net benefit for our society. Let’s all do our part to keep it that way.