Why Man’s Stone Age Mind is Changing IT

By | May 11, 2012
I had a discussion with the IT team at a large Telco and IT Service Provider in the Benelux Region yesterday and this topic came up, so I thought I’d elaborate on the idea and see if I can stimulate some debate.

All the evidence suggests that human beings didn’t start having regular contact with other humans outside their extended family group of around 50 individuals until about 10,000 years ago. Interestingly, this change occurred as a result of the invention of agriculture, which meant that farmers could produce enough food to generate a surplus that they could trade with other people, creating the first economy, but also removing the need for every adult to be a hunter or gatherer in order for the group to survive.

Flip back 10,000 years ago and everything that a human knew about the world came from her direct experiences and the experiences of the other 50 or so people in the social group that she was part of. This had been the case since the first humans appeared. Factors like the emotional impact of a piece of information and the number of times that it was repeated evolved to become to triggers for making information lodge in the mind of the recipient.
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Just watched Uncle Ugg get eaten by a crocodile at the River? Scary experience, very high on the emotional impact scale, probably you’ll never ever go near the water again when there are things that look like logs floating about in it.

Still remember all the nursery rhymes from your childhood, and pop songs from year teenage years? That’s proof that the repetition trigger still works – and the reason that song was used a method for ensuring the longevity of cultural important information, or maybe information became culturally important because it was sung and lodged in everyone’s mind, who can be sure about that one?

002 anchor-largeThe modern human’s mind hasn’t changed significantly over the 500 or so generations since we started living in groups of more than 50 individuals, but the number and the effectiveness of the informations sources that we are exposed to has increased dramatically.

Here’s a small example – when I was a child I could access only 2 TV channels. As a teenager, I I could watch 4 TV channels and also read 1 newspaper each day. Today I can access about 300 TV channels on satellite (but I watch less now than when I was a teenager!) and I have pretty much unrestricted access to media from sources of varying accuracy around the world.

On one hand you have an almost unquantifiable increase in the amount of information we have access to, but on the other hand, the processing centre for dealing with this information, the human brain, hasn’t changed significantly in response. This is bound to cause some odd effects.

OK, but what does that have to do with IT, and IT Service Providers?

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Well, it’s down to an effect that psychologists call anchoring. The simple fact that once you’ve seen something, it irrevocably affects your future expectations. If you’re a frequent (maybe even habitual) user of modern smart phone or tablet applications with intuitive touch based interfaces, then you’re unlikely to be happy sitting in front of a VT100 when you go into work – slightly extreme example, but I’m sure you get the point. Say hi to the root cause of the Bring Your Own Device trend!

The same goes for the corporate IT service delivery experience. Google, Twitter, Tumblr, DropBox, TripIt – they’re all setting a new benchmark for immediacy, accessibility and easy of use. Users can self provision in minutes and import data and profile information from other existing sources without any resistance. You could call if frictionless provisioning. Most importantly the (usually) cumbersome project governance of the enterprise is neatly sidestepped, as are, rather worryingly, any information risk management controls!

If the corporate IT function can’t meet the expectations of their users, which have been helpfully and permanently lodged into their stone age brains by the same triggers that stopped them getting eaten by crocodiles not that long ago, at best they face an unhappy user community and at worse they risk becoming irrelevant as more and more users move to the Cloud!

The big opportunity for Service Providers is to allow CIOs and their enterprise IT departements to live up to the newly heightened expectations of their users, whilst allowing them to retain control and minimise risk – not easy, but the prize for success is great!

One thought on “Why Man’s Stone Age Mind is Changing IT

  1. Pingback: What is ‘The New IT’? | Ian Massingham's Blog

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