Many articles on digital, analytics, and AI tend to follow a familiar pattern, in opening with a paragraph describing how the world as we know it is evolving. We read that these changes are happening at an increasing scale and are therefore introducing new complexities into our lives and organisations alike. So much so, that one could easily conclude that we live in a time where the familiar playbooks need to be discarded wholesale as they are no longer fit for purpose — we need to significantly reinvent our methods and objectives.
In 1848, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr observed that, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Or, “The more it changes, the more it is the same thing.” Although he was writing about political, not digital revolutions, this observation certainly holds true today. While technologies such as analytics provide us with capabilities that we did not previously possess, it is important to note that they neither circumscribe the future trajectory of organisations, nor nullify the beliefs, desires, and goals that motivate people.
To create, to experience, to belong: these are human desires as important today as they have always been. One trivial example can be found in memes, for while we might associate wittily captioned cat photos with the Internet and the rise of photo sharing services such as Instagram, these types of images have been around since the 19th century. I can see them now: “Would sir be interested in reviewing a phantasmagoric feline photogravure?” “Fizzing!”
This is not to say that technology cannot introduce new need states or avenues of satisfying these. One conference staple is the joke that the most basic human need is now no longer physiological, e.g. food, but Wi-Fi. A Google search for “new Maslow’s pyramid” surfaces a range of updated models, including listing “Battery” as a need. However, if you think about it, why does having a charged phone matter? Because it enables you to stay connected, (seemingly) satisfying your fundamental need for love and belonging.
These discussions can strike one as rather academic, yet they are important as we face critical questions on how to embed, govern, and trust technology platforms and the algorithms that rule them. While the introduction of new technologies requires cultural change, by drawing upon established wisdom we can avoid losing sight of the underlying human truths. Maybe, it is enough to remember that at the end of the day people just want to be happy. And as Jean-Baptiste said: “Happiness is composed of misfortunes avoided.”