Colleague Mike Gualtieri, king of the sharp (and often sharp-edged) question, started a thread in the Forrester Application Development & Delivery Community about the role politics plays in technology adoption. "We love to pretend that we make rational technology decisions," Mike says. "But, the truth is that politics is a hidden criteria that is used to make many technology decisions."
He's absolutely right. Adoption is often unrelated to the potential value of technology or the intensity of a person's need for it. An entire branch of social science started because farmers wouldn't always adopt better-producing seeds and people living in areas at high risk of an epidemic wouldn't take the medicine needed to prevent infection. Many doctors don't like electronic medical records because they're used to pen and paper. This sort of resistance can arise from a variety of sources, many of which are not strictly "political" in the way we commonly use that word.
While that might be an easy principle to accept, here's a corollary that's much harder one to swallow: Nobody is immune. If you think you're somehow smarter about technology decisions than a farmer, think again.
Last night, I had a discussion with a friend about web-based IDEs. Both of us want to contribute to an open source project, but there's a horrendous amount of work required just to create the development environment, get the code, change it, and then check it in. Whether we want to fix a minor bug or help with a major user experience (UX) overhaul, we have to ask ourselves whether it's worth the effort.
Which led us to the topic of web-based IDEs, and how useful they'd be in situations when, at the very least, you need to make minor changes without major headaches. Certainly, there are practical reasons for not using them in every situation, but how much developer resistance to new IDEs is rooted in something else? Perhaps the same force of habit that keeps some developers using the editor they learned in college? While vi and emacs have their charms, raise your hand if you know someone, or are someone, who would resist switching to a better alternative, if presented?
Other obstacles to making optimal technology choices can be just as powerful as force of habit. If you've never worked in an organization where a manager or executive had a hidden agenda for pushing a particular tool or deep-sixing one . . . well, you've been lucky. As lucky, perhaps, as the person who's never worked on a team with a cranky troglodyte who can stop change through the power of sheer orneriness.
I urge you to dive into Mike's post with a few examples of your own experiences. If you're uncomfortable admitting that you were the chief source of resistance, just start the post with, "I have a friend who . . ."
[P.S. The issue of why people do or don't embrace technology is an enormous topic. It's one reason why I'm fascinated with innovation, a process that depends on human factors as much as technological breakthroughs.]