"Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons." - R. Buckminster Fuller
Why do we create technology? Why do we innovate? What’s the point of constantly pushing ourselves to discover new, faster, more effective, and cheaper ways to do things?
This quote by the inventor R. Buckminster Fuller really got me thinking. We’re in the business of creating and selling technology. But we don’t like to call it that. We prefer to say we create and sell solutions. Technology just happens to be the way we’re solving problems. I think a lot of companies see it that way, to be honest. And just as many, or more, don’t.
Why Customers Buy Technology
When we, as an industry, are listing the benefits of our technology, excuse me, solution, one of the first things we talk about is ROI. It’s money. Buy our product or service and it will help you: Save money. Cut costs. Produce more. Earn more. We emphasize the money side of the solution because that’s the customer’s priority. Or at least, that’s what we think it is.
There’s nothing inherently bad about that. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Most companies don’t have bottomless pockets. We’re all out here in the same competitive world, where everyone is a few decisions away from making it or breaking it. Money is obviously going to be a huge motivator.
And then I think about this quote.
Are we creating technology to help companies save and make money? And is that the biggest factor for our clients when they work with us?
If so, are those the wrong reasons?
There Are Three Existential Crises Here
Why do we create?
Why do customers buy; alternatively presented as “why should customers buy?”
One more that we’ll get to in a bit.
Again, why do we create technology at work?
The root of this question is actually: Why do we work? But to be honest with you, I don’t have a good enough whiskey in front of me to even start trying to answer that question. So let’s settle with why we create at work. Speaking from personal experience, the answer is not because I get paid to. I mean it is. And it isn’t.
I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I wasn’t going to earn a salary for it. Except… I probably would still be sitting here writing this. I just wouldn’t be doing it for a company if there was no paycheck involved. The point is this: I am driven to write. Whether I’m paid for it or not. I’m driven to write well, not because I’m afraid I’ll lose my job if I don’t, but because that’s the kind of person I am.
Truly creative people are driven to create whether they’re being paid for it or not. When creative folks are working in a company like Timbergrove, where we create comprehensive solutions to business problems, we create because:
It’s fun to create.
There’s a challenge we want to figure out and dominate.
We want to help people.
We want to make things better than they were before.
It’s satisfying to see things work right.
Helping companies save money and make money? Yes… but that’s more of the secondary effect that almost always happens when we’re doing the above.
So then, why do companies spend money on technology?
There is a disconnect if we’re creating solutions to make things better and customers are buying because they want to save money. It makes me wonder if we’re misjudging the buyer a bit. Do operation managers and IT directors want things to work better more than they want to save money? And is this perhaps one of the big reasons why lots of cutting-edge tech projects don’t ever get off the ground?
At the end of the day, this broad question is a little irrelevant, so I’ll move on.
The third existential crisis: What kind of customers do we want buying our solutions?
We’re working on a new product. It’s a product that is environmentally focused. It helps companies stay in compliance and avoid the fees that result from non-compliance. It also helps companies avoid being shitty and polluting the environment.
Do we want clients who are only focused on being in compliance because the alternative is expensive? Or do we want clients who are trying to not be shitty companies?
We’ll do our damnedest to help out both of these clients. There’s no doubt about that. However, I have a feeling that, since we are doing it for the sheer joy, challenge, and empathy of creating solutions that make things better, we’ll attract the kind of companies that want to do better, for the sheer joy, challenge, and empathy of it.
And if we can all shift closer to that kind of thinking, then perhaps we, as humanity, will start acquiring technology for the right reasons.