A life lesson in tech management
from a little pink Jeep
By Dr. William T. Hold, CIC, CPCU, CLU
We live in a world, a country, a society, a social communication system, dominated and in many ways shaped by technology. As wonderful and exciting as this is, technology in its various forms—be it artificial intelligence (AI) or the most recent iteration, ChatGPT—is the proverbial two-headed coin. The “technology coin” brings with it great hope, fascination, and acclaim on one side and very sizeable and unexpected serious economic and societal problems on the other.
For a variety of reasons, we are in many ways a divided society. And many of us tend to quickly rush to opposite ends of the belief spectrum on many issues. However, it’s often true that, once we have experienced the consequences of our actions in the crucible of life experiences, we tend to gravitate towards a more middle ground.
What too often happens in the technology arena is, in a wide variety of issues, the human element—and ramifications, if you will—are either brushed aside, not fully considered or understood.
Some of the most glaring issues include the consequence of how the “technology coin” is flipped and by whom, and on what side it lands. This is not left to tech alone; mortals have a hand in this process. Will the individuals doing the flipping make the coin? Will they leave the outcome to chance or luck? Is the coin loaded? Is there really a difference between heads and tails? To what extent will those in charge be influenced by their own personal and economic interests in determining which side faces up?
The crucial question is who will manage this overall process. Will it be the “tech” people, the managers, or owners of a business that will ultimately shoulder the consequences of success or failure? Too often we forget that technology is not a substitute for human leadership or involvement. Rather, it is an integral part of effective leadership.
The importance of the human element is highlighted by the recent case of the Silicon Valley Bank and related financial entities. As high-tech as its managers, investors, and clients were, the human element prevailed—unfortunately in a negative fashion. What happened to the “management steering wheel”?
Too often we forget that technology is not a substitute for human leadership or involvement.
Rather, it is an integral part of effective leadership.
The little pink Jeep
Several years ago, I purchased a beautiful, pink, electric-powered Jeep as a birthday gift for one of my granddaughters. It was one of those “Barbie” Jeeps that actually seated two children. It had almost all the accessories of a real Jeep. These included lights, radio, big knobby wheels and tires, two-speed transmission, and other related “Jeep goodies.”
In my desire to be prepared, I picked the Jeep up several days before her birthday. I put the enormous box it came in into the bed of my pickup truck and went home. The next day, I talked my son into helping me begin the assembly process.
We spread the box contents all over the floor of my den. We carefully separated all the parts: body, seats, motor, battery, 189 decals, 32 poly bags of 15 different-sized nuts and bolts, and 60-plus pages of instructions and warnings, including a thinly veiled recommendation/disclaimer to hire an engineer to assist in the assembly process.
As we surveyed this massive assortment of parts, we noticed there was no “steering wheel.” We went through the box again. Maybe it was stuck in one of the box flaps, we thought. Could there be a secret compartment in the box for the steering wheel?
Then for a few brief moments we wanted to believe that just maybe it didn’t need a steering wheel. It would somehow steer itself; it would be magical! But no. That was not the case. All the happy faces of the kids on the box, all of the promises of success and happiness, went down the drain.
At this juncture I began to blame the innocent. Doing this is often easier than blaming the guilty, because the innocent are much less prepared to defend themselves. “Somehow this was my son’s fault,” I thought. Then I became irritated with my granddaughter. Why did this greedy little girl need the Jeep in the first place? Poor thing, she wasn’t even in the room.
The time and effort expended, the money spent, the promised happiness—all gone! All due to no steering wheel, one lousy part out of hundreds. Nothing left but frustration and anger.
Without the steering wheel, the Jeep could not be directed or managed. It would simply go in circles, crash into walls or other obstacles, and end up being damaged or destroyed and costing even more money.
The Jeep was essentially useless—nothing more than an expensive pile of garbage, somewhat akin to a “legacy” automation system.
The management steering wheel
Given the state of insurance agencies and related businesses now and in the future, it is clear that management must understand, first, the insurance and risk management needs of clients, and then the appropriate risk management techniques including insurance, as well as the various available insurance markets and the most effective marketing and service resources. All the above involve the effective use of technology.
Just like the pink Jeep, businesses need a steering wheel, and the “silver bullet” is not always technology. Like the “technology coin,” there will always be the human element to influence who wins or loses the toss.
“Who is going to steer?” is the most important question and decision. The next most important consideration is whether they know where they are going. In making this crucial decision, we should never underestimate the vital role played by human ingenuity in the development of technology and automation at all levels.
Not unlike our pink Jeep without a steering wheel and knowledgeable driver, absent the right tools and leadership, a business will travel the wrong paths, go around in circles, run off existing clients, fail to attract new ones, and in short order, lose its best people.
In the end, neither you nor your business will ever reach the “happy little paradise” like that pictured on the pink Jeep’s “big box.”
William T. “Doc” Hold, Ph.D., CIC, CPCU, CLU, is executive chairman of The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. In this column Doc shares his personal insights and opinions, which are not necessarily those of The National Alliance or its board members.