Appropriate Nuance

by | Aug 6, 2020 | ICT4D |


‘Hey Dad, let’s use this to put the nail in.’ My daughter points to the sledgehammer lying on the ground. She had recently been introduced to usefulness of a sledgehammer when we were repairing a few fence posts.

Smiling, I respond, ‘We could, but it likely will damage the nail and possibly put a hole in the wall as well.’ In my mind, I picture a large hole in the plasterboard we are putting up and a potentially broken timber stud.

I often feel the same way in conversations about digital transformation. We see the power and usefulness of a particular technology in one context and then try to apply it in many others. But, we tend to forget to ask the ‘appropriateness’ question. We ask ‘Can we?’ and rarely ‘Should we?’ We also rarely define the problem well enough.

The question gets framed as ‘can we use facial recognition software and artificial intelligence to reunite separated families after a disaster?’ This is far too simple of a question. The answer of course is ‘yes, we can’ just like we can use a sledgehammer to put in nail. But we can’t leave the question this simple.

‘Should we?’ takes us to another space as does ‘is it appropriate?’ These questions can not be answered universally. What is appropriate in Lebanon is different to Mozambique. There are so many other questions around it that also need to be asked like ‘Why? What problem are we trying to solve? Who does it leave out? Who decides? What happens if it goes wrong? How will we know if we are ‘on the road’ to success? What is failure?’ and so on.

The problem with ‘can we’ is that the answer is almost always ‘yes’. It tends to depend only on time and money available.

‘Is it appropriate’ is much more nuanced. And digital transformation is all about nuance. And yes, nuance is complex. Nuance looks and feels different to each of us and in different situations. Nuance is hard work.

Do it anyway.

Photo by Moritz Mentges


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