Published on August 26th, 2020 📆 | 7834 Views ⚑0
Context – Giving Meaning to Technology
Infants cry often. To an onlooker, every cry sounds similar. But a parent quickly recognizes whether the cry is for food or sleep or any other discomfort, and is able to take the needed action to soothe the baby. They can do this because they understand the context of the baby’s communication and that imbues the cry with meaning.
This was an important lesson I learnt about the meaning of context from observing my children. And I believe this often unseen, yet very valuable contextual understanding, has deep resonance not just in the personal sphere but in the world of business and technology as well. Let me explain.
The extent to which technology is embedded in our lives has been going up significantly in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced digital adoption further. But I believe that to drive economic value in the post-pandemic world, we must focus not on the technology itself, but on the context in which we interact with it.
We exult about the potential of technology and worry about its disruptive nature. But it can only be an enabler or a tool, albeit an important one. It is context that gives meaning to technology and by recognizing and celebrating that, we can secure our future.
We learn language through context. We communicate through context. We experience the world contextually. Context is layered and pervasive. Sometimes it conveys purpose, and at other times it acts as a bridge connecting ideas over time. It can relate to one’s physical or emotional state, or external factors like environment or culture. Context draws equally from analytical skills and empathy. We rarely use it consciously, yet it is part of the thousands of cognitive tasks we do every day.
It is said that the Inuit – the indigenous people inhabiting Arctic regions – have more than 50 different words for snow, each describing a very specific aspect of it. Snow that is good for driving a sled, or that is dangerous to walk on because you may sink, or snow that has been marked by wolves… each of these is ‘snow’ in a context. And that sharp meaning enriches both understanding and communication and often has very practical uses for these nomadic people.
This kind of contextual understanding is significant not just for individuals and societies, but for enterprises too. For an organization, its context is made up of specifics of its history, geography, processes, systems, culture and people. In order to make new ideas or new technology work, cycle after cycle, in such complex environments, a deep contextual knowledge of the enterprise is crucial. I have seen this first-hand in the long-standing relationships we have with our customers. The contextual knowledge we have acquired over the years working with them acts as the bridge of continuity and brings permanence of value.
What of technology itself, you might ask. Yes, it’s an important skill but learnt as a matter of course. In any value creation, innovation and strategic differentiation come from applying new thinking to existing scenarios or imagining new scenarios in which to apply existing ideas. If you are one of those worrying about whether the increasing influence of technology in a post-pandemic world will threaten your job, I’d urge you to reframe your thinking. Make technology your ally by constantly reskilling yourself, and focus more deeply on learning about the context of your customer’s need and interaction with technology. You’ll find all the innovation you need for the future in that insight.
I’d love to hear from you about examples where you have found that contextual understanding was the differentiator in your world.