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Preface.  Whether or not you, or we, agree or disagree with this writer's thesis, we need to be doing some serious thinking in this domain. Any serious student of history has to know how unreasonably lucky we have been and how fragile that luck really is. If we don't work out now where we are headed and how to get there, while we still have so many options open, we'll have to wrestle with those questions when our options have run out. And then we may not be able to answer them. We very much thank Steve Wallis for provoking what we hope will be a useful and fascinating discussion here. — Win Wenger

The Next Technology Revolution
by Steve Wallis, MA

Introduction and Interest

The telecom revolution is faltering. The Internet revolution has lost its momentum. The biggest changes have already occurred and the big profits are taken. Most of the "action" is in the collapse of the weaker players and the consolidation of the stronger ones.

There may be a few surprises waiting in the wings, but let's face it; these industries are no longer "revolutionary." In their heyday, they brought significant and durable changes to society. Now, they can take their place in history with other revolutions that have played their part on the socio-economic stage, such as the agricultural, the industrial, the electrical, the nuclear and the computer revolutions.

But what is next? Certainly biotech promises a lot, but it looks as though many of the advances in biotech will be mired down with moral dilemmas. The Europeans are pretty solidly set against GM foods, and conservative rights activists are opposed to monkeying with the human genome. It's hard for a technology to make enduring changes if there is significant social opposition. Nanotechnology will revolutionize every aspect of our lives, but it is decades away.

What technology is ripe to create the same kind of world-shaking changes wrought by electricity and the Internet?

All the technologies I've mentioned so far have been "physical" technologies. They are based on the art of making something solid that you can hold in your hand and use as a tool. I suggest that the next revolution will not be something that you can hold in your hand, yet it will be a profound tool for improving all of our lives. The next technology revolution will be a change in social technology. It will be a change that is vast in scope. It will touch every aspect of our lives. When it is done, our world will be so much improved that we will look back on human history and wonder what we ever did without advanced social technology.

Advanced Social Technology (AST) will make our work lives easier and more productive. AST will simplify learning. Dealing with kids will be less frustrating and more rewarding. Personal relationships will be smoother, all because of the sweeping improvements of AST.

The best of times are yet to come.

When I say "revolutionary" change. I do not mean that there will be rioting in the streets, any more than the sale of inexpensive Pentium chips caused rioting. I simply mean that the improvement will be unbelievably significant.

Definition and Details

How do we define "social" technology? If I can't hold it in my hand, what does it look like? Simply put, it is the way we work together to get things done. It involves connecting and communicating with other human beings — the process by which decisions are made as well as the way we understand our families, our work, our communities and ourselves.

An easy example can be seen in the way that a manager interacts with workers to implement a new business plan. On the primitive end of the social-technology scale, the manager would use methods such as slavery and indentured servitude. Such a system of low-level social technology would work (just as an abacus works), but it would not be very efficient or enjoyable.

The manager using higher levels of social technology realizes that more work can usually be accomplished by getting others to "buy-in" to a new idea or plan. A still more advanced user of social technology realizes that even more productivity can be obtained if the workers themselves help design the plan. With this method, AST is used to combine the knowledge and motivation of all participants for greater job satisfaction and higher productivity.

On the community level, the differences in social technology are even more striking. For example, on the primitive end of social technology, there is dominance and despotism. No one would suggest that we return to these methods of government. Higher up on the social technology scale, there are oligarchies, limited democracies and representative governments. Still higher on the scale are collaborative methodologies that bring together hundreds, even thousands of participants. Communities that have used these methods experience powerful results.

Conventional wisdom, some may argue, states that a large number of people are incapable of creating a good plan. This claim is true only when one is using a primitive social technology.

AST allows hundreds of people to work smoothly together to create and implement effective plans.

History and Hope

History is littered with the successes and failures of "evolutionary" social change. One of the greatest moments in the evolution of social technology was when the American colonies opted for a representative government, rather than a monarchy. This was a clear improvement. One could say that we went from social-tech version 2.0 to version 3.0.

Social changes typically occur when there is great social unrest. In the thirties, for example, the world-wide effects of the Great Depression increased the level of dissatisfaction among the general population. This frustration, in turn, led people to look for alternate methods of government (alternate social technologies). Some came to believe that fascism or socialism could improve their lives. While these alternate social technologies failed, they did provide us with examples of how NOT to run a country.

On the successful side, the United States weathered the Great Depression, in part, because it chose a path that was neither of the extremes of socialism or fascism. Additionally, we developed new social technologies in the area of economics. Our new understanding of the way economies work gave new understanding to our social structure and allowed us to maintain greater social stability. The advancement of social technology in the specific area of economics saved our nation. Today, as in the thirties, we are developing more advanced social technology.

Advanced Social Technology, available today, will carry our nation through the turbulence that now faces our country.

Even our current representative system of government is not a very advanced social technology. While we consider our so-called democracy the greatest social system on the planet, we should be humbled to realize how primitive a system it really is. Remember, the ancient Greeks had democracy. That was two thousand years ago. We only gave women the right to vote in 1920! Some big advancement!

Consider all of the revolutions in physical technology that have occurred over the past two thousand years. It would be an act of great generosity to say that the advances in social technology were even incremental!

But all of that is about to change.

Benefits and Business

Recent advances by a number of gurus, from all over the country, are paving the way for significant improvements in the way we all live our lives, run our businesses and collaborate in our communities.

Advanced Social Technology starts with people having a better understanding of their world. Peter Senge's' "Fifth Discipline", for example, provides a wide range of tools for understanding how we can improve our lives for both short- and long-term situations.

Weisbord's "Future Search" technology allows whole communities to come together and create dynamic and powerful futures for themselves in ways that keep people involved, allow them to get more done as a community and have better lives.

Other techniques of AST include: personal empowerment, organizational analysis, team building, group decision-making, diversity, sustainability, coaching, facilitation, strategic planning and others. All are powerful tools that have successfully improved the lives of workers and members of the community while increasing productivity.

Indeed, the manager or public official who understands and uses the most effective Advanced Social Technology will be far more successful than those who try to use more primitive methods, such as intimidation or propaganda.

An increasing number of studies are showing astonishing improvements in a wide array of businesses.

Here are a few statistics:

  • When Campbell Soup instituted Self-Directed Work Teams (SDWT), the teams found $700,000 of savings in three months.

  • General Motors also switched to SDWT, and their productivity increased 40%.

  • A 1997 study on managers in public agencies, written up in Public Personnel Management, found that training increased managerial productivity by 22.4%. Additionally, eight weeks of follow-up coaching resulted in an 88% increase in productivity.

  • Sanders, a Lockheed-Martin company, has used "Continuous Quality Improvement" methods, the development of high-performance teams, process simplification, and other organization development techniques. Because of this effort, they have been able to reduce the number of supervisors by 40%.

  • Seventy-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies have used some form of Re-Engineering.

  • One firm spends about $700 per employee per year on education. This education covers a wide range of business and non-business topics. With this small investment, their sales have doubled in the past four years and turnover is 1%.

  • A study by the American Society for Training and Development found that companies' return on their training investment ranged from 150% to 2000%.

  • Between 1991 and 1995, Dunn and Bradstreet initiated over 1000 "breakthrough" efforts (a work-team group-coaching facilitation process). They estimate that they saved about $19 million in costs and created about $34 million in new revenue. This works out to about $19,000 in savings and $34,000 in increased revenue for each "breakthrough" team coaching process.

  • The Arizona Office of Excellence in Government (OEG) instituted their Statewide Long-Term Improved Management Project (SLIM) to instill a culture of quality, excellence and continuous improvement. The OEG trains and facilitates interested work groups in public agencies to meet this vision of improved performance. Overall, the OEG has achieved a 13 to 1 return on budgeted investments.

  • For companies implementing behavior-based safety initiatives, reductions of 50% to 80% in severity, frequency rates, and/or workers compensation claims are common. In a study looking at OSHA-reported accidents in seventy-four workplaces over five years, there was a 27% decrease in the accident rate in the FIRST year. By the fifth year, the average incident rate had dropped by 69%.

  • At an agricultural chemical plant in Canada, Ciba-Geigy boosted productivity 30% by having the employees do much of the technical and organizational redesign work.

These are clear and obvious benefits of using the techniques of Advanced Social Technology.

For these companies, the social technology revolution has already arrived. Why would they want to go back to disempowered workers, top-down management, constricted communication, poor training and limited analysis? It would cost them too much.

Community — Today and the Future

Advanced Social Technology is already practiced at a wide range of larger corporations. Managers who leave those corporations to start their own businesses bring the values and techniques of Advanced Social Technology with them. They realize that implementing advanced social technologies in the workplace is every bit as important as implementing the latest physical technology (and it usually doesn't cost as much).

Because of this movement of managers, advanced social technologies have been spreading throughout our society. As a result, there is a geometric progression of increase in the number of people exposed to, and benefiting from, AST.

The seeds are planted in our communities as well. More and more communities, when faced with difficult problems, are hiring facilitators to guide them through the process of collaborative analysis and self-improvement.

The best examples of this are seen in the use of the Future Search process. This AST builds involvement and commitment to community improvement — even among neighbors who have been in conflict.

This process has been used to:

  • Find common ground among conflicting participants.

  • Build commitment and create a clear plan in a county service agency.

  • Bring out a wide variety of ideas that are rapidly coordinated into clear action in a corporate setting.

  • Increase attendance in a church by 50% and open up taboo topics for discussion and resolution.

  • Build a sense of community and cooperation in a school district where before they were faced with conflict and entrenchment.

  • Open up topics for discussion and improvement in a government agency where previously such topics were uncomfortable because the individual participants believed that improvement was not possible.

The stories of clear and compelling benefits go on and on.

Also, each time a community engages in one of these events, it teaches the participants how to use advanced social technology, thus setting the stage for even more improvement in the future.

References and Resources

There are an increasing number of professional organizations that support the coming revolution in social technology.

Among them are:

In the past, change had evolved more slowly; now change is running rampant. The instability in our society is increasing. There is a growing need for the tools and results that can be provided by advanced social technology.

The people of this nation clearly value the increases in productivity, retention, enthusiasm and involvement that advancements in social technology can provide. These positive results speak directly to our core values of democracy, community and personal improvement.

The dissatisfaction is growing, the tools are spreading; the time will soon arrive. The revolution in social technology is coming, and it will be the most peaceful and enjoyable revolution history has ever seen.

You won't be forced to participate. That would not be in keeping with the values of AST. Those who do not participate, however, will fail to evolve. The non-participants will be the social Luddites of the 21st century; living lives of stress and socio-economic obscurity.

Each of us wants to be part of something big, something important. It's just human nature. We feel good when we are members of a family, a church, a business, a country, a community or a movement.

The recent technology revolutions have provided a few people with the opportunity to be involved in the creation of computers and telecommunications. Those that have been involved have been lauded for their innovations in technology, for the excitement of a new industry, for the camaraderie that comes from being one of the team that's on the cutting edge.

Most of us just sat on the sidelines and watched.

The computer/telecom revolution has that in common with most momentous changes in society. Although we may reap some benefits, the vast majority of the people like you and me are merely consumers. We get to buy the new shiny technological toys that the engineers develop.

It's like landing on the moon. Sure, it was great to watch; but how many people really got to go there?

The next technology revolution will be the revolutions in Advanced Social Technology (AST). In this revolution, we can all be players. We can all participate, not just watch from the sidelines.

Look on the Web, check your phone book, ask your friends. Become a player in the AST revolution. The benefits will be amazing — they will change your life even more than the Internet did. Find out about "Coaching," "Facilitation," and "Future Search" conferences.

You have the option to be a participant. Make it so.


Email your response:
to Win Wenger or to the Webmaster

Steve Wallis is an organizational theorist, dynamic facilitator, depthful coach and insightful analyst. He collaborates with organizations of all sizes to facilitate sustainable improvement. Steve also teaches at the University of Phoenix and has co-authored a book on accelerated learning with Chance Massaro. See it on his website, EasyGenius.net.

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