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The Leader as Chief Luddite

Ned Lud.  Not a name most of us are familiar with.  But his name – and his response to circumstances around him – created a movement.  And a term.  The Leader as Chief Luddite is my recognition that Ned Lud may still have some things to teach us as leaders.

A brief history lesson

In the late 1700s, as the Industrial Revolution increasingly automated jobs in factories and warehouses, a violent movement of laborers intent on “destroying the new machines to save their jobs” spread from Great Britain across Europe and into the United States.  Ultimately a failed understanding of the risks of “new technology,” this movement had a hero, Ned Lud, who supposedly destroyed several new machines at a textile mill in Nottingham, England, where he worked in 1779. His simple act of rebellion spread, and by the early 1800s, the term “Luddite” referred to anyone who was opposed to advancing technology and what it represented.

Today, the term “Luddite” refers to anyone who is opposed to new technology.  Why do I maintain that the leader of an organization should be the “Chief Luddite” at times?

The Leader as Chief Luddite

I saw an article in the news recently about a murder investigation where the court is expecting Amazon to provide the audio feed from one of the Amazon Echo devices that was in use in a murder suspect’s home.  It seems that since the Amazon Echo is “always on and listening”, it may have recorded conversations between the suspect and the victim. While that seems like a cool way to solve a crime, at some level I find the reality that this device is “always on” a troubling one.

Not all technology is beneficial

It happened again yesterday.  I was walking briskly through a crowded area when someone walked right into me.  The reason they walked right into me?  They had their head down, looking at their smartphone.

Leaders should always be one generation behind

Here’s the point I’m trying to get to:  leaders, let’s be very careful to not get caught up in the latest technology craze.  At a national conference I attended last year, several of the senior leaders were promoting Periscope as the next combination of Facebook, YouTube and Ted Talks.  We were made to feel that we had to get on it immediately if we were going to remain relevant and up-to-date.  Whatever happened to Periscope?  It is still around, but it hasn’t become the “next great thing.”

Similarly, one of our businesses has some competitors who are moving customer registration to an entirely tablet-based application.  I’ve reviewed the application.  It is still first generation, it isn’t as user-friendly as promised, and it ultimately leads to more questions and a less intimate experience for new customers.  We won’t be adopting this approach until the experience is upgraded.

The 3-Values Test

Advances in technology should serve our mission, our team members and our customers first.  If they streamline efficiencies, if they allow team members to do their jobs better, if they elevate the customer experience – then and only then should they be incorporated into our organizations.  Upgrading for the “cool factor” or to be on the cutting edge typically doesn’t elevate your customer satisfaction scores or net profit.

Leader, are you – or some of your team members – being tempted to jump on the latest technology bandwagon?  Don’t be afraid to be a Luddite!  Until this “upgrade” can elevate mission, team members or the customer experience, wait.  A better upgrade is coming, and in the meantime you didn’t waste time and money on a frustrating distraction.