With technology galloping in the manner it has been in the past few years, how are individuals to cope with this? More importantly, is it possible to “techproof” individuals? Yes, says A. Siddharth Pai, a venture capital fund manager for deep-science and deep-technology startups that ideally have a social impact, who also feels that the growth of technology will plateau out as governments wake up to its side effects and due to a “popular pushback against some of its more intrusive models”.
“Interestingly, there is a plateau coming – not because of a slowdown in the pace of technology development, but because governments the world over are waking up to its side effects and will regulate the sector stringently,” Pai, who has led some of the most innovative technology-sourcing transactions and has advised and completed over $20 billion in transaction value, told IANS in an interview of his book “Techproof Me – The Art of Mastering Ever-Changing Technology” (Penguin Business).
“At the same time, there is also popular pushback against some of the more intrusive models which have BigTech companies knowing far too much about us as individuals. Once the regulatory environment gets settled, we will see technology develop with more constraints put around its use cases.
“The average citizen should understand not just the impact of the change in regulations on society but also on his/her personal level of comfort with these changes. After that, it is just a matter of plotting your own career course, given that seismic shifts will now occur in three to five year increments, and not in decades, as it used to in the past,” Pai added.
This is what served as the impetus to write the book.
“The penny dropped when I realised how much focus was being given on computer programming being pushed down children’s throats as a career choice. I had been writing about the need to understand what technology is actually supposed to achieve for a business from a functional perspective, and not just on the esoteric technical parts. When a commissioning editor from Penguin had a few chats with me on this topic, it became apparent that writing a book for people who are starting out in their careers – or are mid-career without having had a computer programming education would be a worthwhile exercise,”Pai explained.
His three decades of experience gained from working in the US and Europe with companies like IBM and KPMG Consulting/Bearing Point before moving to India in 2002 gave him the ideal grounding to write the book.
“Years of working on the cutting edge of Artificial Intelligence right from the early 1990’s as well as having served as a technology consultant to the world’s leading firms for IT strategy, software product development, and most important, large scale transactions in mega deals for services and M&A played an important part.
“Most of the research for the book, however, centered around how technology-led businesses can blow apart existing business models by providing new or better functionality – largely by taking out middlemen or middle layers of management,” Pai elaborated
He then added a caveat.
“I would like to add that finding the tools to manage yourself and your own state of mind is far more important than staying abreast of all technological changes – simply because they are too fast and too many. As an analogy, if the world is covered with stones and thorns, I am better off buying a pair of shoes to protect my feet rather than trying to cover all the stones and thorns with carpets to smooth my way,” Pai maintained.
To this extent, the book is based on three cardinal concepts:
* You don’t need to become a computer programmer to stay ahead of technological changes.
* An understanding of business functions and a simple framework to analyse and understand how the business process works is the key in staying techproof.
* There are only four roles that all of us play in our businesses or organisations. Being sufficiently informed on how technology is morphing will allow you to play these roles well.
What, then, are these four roles?
Noting that our behaviour changes based on the context in which we find ourselves, Pai writes that when we are alone, or think that we are, we tend to let our guard down and do as we please. “Hence, the dangers that lurk in chat rooms and in all sorts of social media.”
Our behaviour changes when we are in a group. In a work situation, we behave formally, bending ourselves to suit the culture our work group embodies. So the suits come out- or the sandals – depending on the group’s culture. Our language and use of slang changes to emulate that of the group,” Pai writes.
In a non-work situation, such as with family, we follow the codes set by our families and the roles that we hold within them.
“And then there are the meta-group roles. The ones where we are expected to cheer every move by a candidate or in-office politician from our political parties,” Pai writes.
“Those who have mastered the ability to play these roles well, and to suddenly pivot and switch from one role to the next, usually turn out to be successful in carrying out their responsibilities,” he adds.
Contending that the development and growth of technology can immensely change the nature of life in society, Pai maintains that “such drastic changes in lifestyle require immense adaptability and moving forward requires an understanding that not everybody can adapt”.
At the same time, advances in technology do not necessarily benefit everybody in the world.
“Understanding this concept is important for figuring out a path towards a future where technology benefits all of human society and not just the privileged. It may be time for a supranational body like the World Health Organisation to be constituted to help govern the world of technology. My argument is that, to some degree at least, technology is a public good, just as basic health is, and its benefits need to be shared across a larger swathe of the world’s population,” Pai asserts.
What next? What’s his next book going to be on?
“One of two types: Type A: I will probably pick a specific technology area and drill deep into it to peel back the layers of the onion for my readers or Type B: Choose to write on self-awareness and management of careers and techniques and tools on how to better do so,” Pai concluded the interview.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])