Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Be Good with Tech - Part 3

This is the third article in my series about how successful people think differently about technology than those who struggle with it.

In the first article, I addressed the myth that technology is difficult to learn and use.

In the second, I offered a tip: Step by step thinking is not a good way to learn new tools. Instead, we should try a “big picture” approach. I didn’t give much advice on how to do that, but it’s coming.

I just need to get one last obstacle out of the way first:

Myth #2: It should be easier than this.

But didn’t you say…

I originally said it’s a myth that tech is hard. Now it might seem like I’m contradicting myself, but that first article was about tech in general. That addressed the people who stay at a distance because it looks difficult. Others apparently make it work with ease, so they figure they just don’t have what it takes.

Now I’m talking about that moment when you try to learn something new and it’s more than you care to deal with.

I am often told it should be easier when I teach someone how to do a specific task. At that time, we’re more or less past Myth #1. They accept that maybe they can do this. But eventually they conclude the process is hard to remember, it has too many steps or something isn’t working exactly as it should.

We’ve all had that feeling. Certainly it should be easier than this, right?

To move past this we have to look at two factors--our expectations and our goals.

Our expectations

This is first a matter of having accurate expectations, and accurate expectations will come with experience. It’s toughest when you’re getting started because inexperience is the very thing making it seem harder than it should be.

Just remember that the required effort is what it is. Like anything in life, there are parts I wish were easier. My body requires sleep and regular trips to the restroom. Age is frustrating. Raising my two teenagers is a chore beyond what I anticipated. Heck, even the limits of time and space can still feel constraining after all these years.

I'm exaggerating, but like anything requiring work, there will be obstacles that we could point to in hopes of avoiding it. But with technology, just look at how many people just do it regularly. It can be done. If we have some ideal in our minds that it should be easier, where did that come from?* Probably not from successful experiences or trustworthy sources.

Don't let wishful thinking hold you back.

Some people are successful with new tools or challenges because they have developed an accurate feel for what to expect. They have a pretty good idea upfront (without even thinking about it) what will be required, whether it will be counted in minutes, hours or days. These accurate expectations give them the edge for success.

If they don’t seem to mind a process that looks too long or hard to remember, be assured they’ve wrestled with far worse. All of us who are good with tech have struggled with it at one time or another. I usually do my struggling alone--me against the computer, for hours--trying to make things work. Most people I train never see those times. New equipment, new programs and updates pose problems for everyone. After working through a few of those tough challenges, we can take the routine obstacles in stride.

On the other hand, when you’re unfamiliar with most programs and processes, every step is something to remember. Every procedure can seem too long and every obstacle looks like a mountain. Experience is the key to accurate expectations and in the early stages you’ll just have to remind yourself of that regularly.

The real goal 

Along with accurate expectations, people do what it takes to use tech because they know the goal is worth it. The harder the task, the more important it is to know the importance of the goal.

This reminds me of teaching math. Whenever the work got hard, I could count on someone to ask the big question: When are we going to need this?

So, with technology, why are we doing this? What is the overall goal? We could be specific if I knew your job and the tasks before you, but let’s start very general. What’s the purpose of technology?

When I ask students that, I am almost always told it is to make things easier. That is partly true. Certainly every technological advance from the wheel to the microwave oven to the mobile phone could be viewed as making some task easier. But it is dangerous to stop there. Easier shouldn’t be the final goal.

I talked to a farmer once and was surprised by how far their tools have advanced. He told me his newest tractor used GPS technology to steer itself in perfect rows across his fields. Just the tractor alone makes it far easier than trying to drive a team of horses to pull a plow, but now he doesn’t even have to steer?! While that part of the job takes far less effort due to advances, I’d be a fool to walk away thinking farming is easy.

This is true in any area of work. Some tasks become easier with new tools, but it doesn’t stop at easy. Overall we still work hard because we’re expected to get more impressive results.

Sure, some people make easier the goal, but in the big picture success comes from using the tools to increase productivity and quality. That’s the real purpose of technology.

It's huge to see this difference in thinking. Because of or in conjuction with this myth of “tech should be easier than this”, too many people spiral down this train of thought:

  1. Technology should make a job easier. 
  2. For guys like Mike, tech is easy. It probably does make work easier for him.
  3. When I try to learn it, it’s sure not easy for me. 
  4. To each his own. I don’t mind a little work. 
  5. I’d rather do it the old way.

But contrast that conclusion with this fact that some of us live daily:
Every step you take toward using digital tools more effectively will increase the quality and quantity of the work you are meant to do.

I am convinced of the truth of that. No matter what you do, the best tools for the job will help you do it better.

In most cases, at least some of those tools will be digital and the skills you need will be tech skills. Helping people increase and achieve their potential in this way is exciting to me. I am grateful for the chance to do it daily.

We aim too low when we approach technology as a source of entertainment, just another thing for the job or a way to make things easier. Instead, think of it as a way to do incredible things you didn’t think were possible.

Dream big!

Here is one of my most popular images I created this past school year. It resonated with a lot of teachers, but the truth goes well beyond just a classroom setting. It's not about the tools or just getting something done. Let’s make amazing the goal!

The bottom line

Technology is changing rapidly. For any of us, it takes time and effort to learn what we need to do our best work. If anyone promises a different formula than time and effort, they’re lying. If anyone is waiting for an easier approach, they’re foolishly letting more opportunities slip by week after week.

Start with the goal of improving the quality or quantity of your most important work. Find the tools that can help you do that and set some realistic goals for learning to use them. That will require a commitment of time, but realistic goals will require only reasonable commitments. I’m not suggesting loads of hours in the weeks ahead.

Putting in the time and effort will do more than just help with the tools at hand. You’ll also quickly develop more accurate expectations. You’ll even find it will help you pick up other new tools faster too. Every step is an investment that pays off later.

Coming up

With a couple myths out of the way, an accurate picture of what success will require and some goals in mind, now we are ready to get practical. My next articles will point out specific ways some of us think about tech tools that give us an edge over those who find them challenging.

*As one who works in education, dealing daily with the process of learning new things, I find this to be a fascinating question. Where do we get this idea of how hard things should be? When do we allow the obstacle to become an excuse so we can stop? Who have we listened to and allowed to shape our ideas of what success requires? Almost anything we would call too difficult, there is someone who does it regularly without complaint. How we view the tasks before us determines how far we go. 

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