Broken paradigms

Paradigm is a word that usually has me heading for the hills, holding my ears for the clanging bells of the IT marketing bullshitometer.
However, there is one context in which I will use the word, and that is to describe the broken problem/solution paradigm that has underpinned unsuccessful IT projects in businesses for decades. In this world, borne of the simplicities of the engineering world, one simply gets one's subjects to identify their “problem” and then IT will provide a solution. Bang in a bit of “training”, and the world is a happier place.
This works fine, I presume, if the “problem” is something like 'I need to get to the other side of this river' and the “solution” is to build a bridge (although the human factors of even that archetypal engineering problem were cocked up in London with the Millennium Bridge).
Now don't get me wrong- this is not a Friday morning polemic against engineering. Engineering has it's place, and in the IT world it's in producing products to compete in markets. Microsoft, Google and the rest of the software industry wouldn't be where they are today without decades of great engineering. It's just that black and white world breaks down when it's applied in the same simplistic manner to human organisations.
Put it another way – would you teach someone to drive by just giving them a manual?
The problems with the problem/solution paradigm from my perspective seem to be as follows:
– opportunities for improvement in organisations are not always borne of problems. Cash cow products and services become fading stars without innovation and evolution
– even where problems do exist, don't expect that by asking people what their problems are that they will be able to give you a coherent answer. Most of us really can't see the wood for the trees
– having said that, the only people who are going to be identify ways that a team can improve are the team themselves if you really want them to own the improvement. If they don't own it, implementation will be hard if not impossible
– improvements in the way that teams work can be facilitated by IT, not delivered. It's just the same as the way in which a chisel helped Michelangelo sculpt David; no one ever says it was the chisel's work.
This thinking, I believe, becomes even more important as the role of technology becomes one of facilitating collaboration, not just of automating
process; the first generation of IT replaced rooms full of people called Computers with number-crunching machines; the second automated purely transactional processes; the third, broader processes of human interaction and now it's into helping people communicate. The problem/solution paradigm has become less and less relevant over time as the areas of focus of technology more and more ambiguous.
It's time to find new models.

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