The word ‘technology’ is a combination of two Greek words, techne and logos, which means ‘science of craft’. This science has been in use since prehistoric times when early humans shaped stone tools to control fire during the Early Stone Age.
But in the past few centuries, the word has found a new meaning, primarily influenced by a massive cultural shift during the late 19th century. Industrial revolution moved people from agriculture-related work to finding jobs at factories. This shift altered their relationship with machines and tools as the idea of breaking down large-scale industrial processes into manageable small units was underway. This was commonly known as division of labour, which enabled individual workers to specialise in specific tasks at the factory.
Building on this specialisation model, an American mechanical engineer set out to further improve industrial efficiency with his theory of scientific management. F.W. Taylor’s theory ushered in a new era of bringing labour and capital together.
This Taylorism is where Siddharth Pai lands in his new book Techproof Me after giving a sketchy overview of the current state of technology in the first few chapters. Before landing there, he shares an approach to understand the changing world of technology, and tells the reader to play the roles of a soldier, an originator, a leader, and an empath (collectively called SOLE) to make the most of technological change within their business or organisation.
Each of those roles plays a specific part in helping to get a hang of technology, according to Pai. For instance, a soldier has to understand the inner workings of an organisation; an originator must work on bridging real-world problems with concepts and ideas in technology; a leader has to get an intimate understanding of her organisation; and an empath must be in a position to adapt in a rapidly changing world of technology.
But the problem with these roles is that they overlap. The spill-over is evident in the latter part of the book where Pai muses on each of these roles. Instead of dealing with one idea at a time, and providing details, he meanders from one idea to another without offering a clear picture of where things are headed.
Plenty of ideas
At times, you feel like you are in a car with an uncle and going on a road trip while he shares his experiences. Pai offers several such insights from his experiences as a business school graduate, management consultant and a venture capitalist.
But in that process, he tends to throw in a lot of ideas and concepts that could have been explained better.
Among the several anecdotes he shares, he explains how the current Google Cloud’s boss Thomas Kurian fell out with Oracle’s co-founder Larry Ellison while he was a senior leader. Pai explains that Kurian was placed on ‘long leave’ before he moved on from Oracle. This happened after Kurian had differences of opinion with Ellison on the path the company should take in cloud services.
Citing a news report, Pai notes that Kurian wanted Oracle’s software to be run on the cloud platforms of its competitors, while Ellison planned to run its own cloud infrastructure, and through it, make Oracle’s products available to its customers.
Pai calls this kind of diverging business approaches as ‘technology dissonance’ between leaders in the industry. Kurian is not just an experienced executive; the Google Cloud boss had also worked for Oracle for nearly 22 years before he left the company in 2018. With this example, Pai notes that even senior leaders in the business of technology hold divergent views on the future of tech.
While the idea of differing views offers some insights on the state of affairs in the tech industry, it fails to teach people how to navigate the dynamic landscape. This is where the book disappoints big time.
Reading the book’s title, one might expect some tips or tricks to become ‘techproof’ without having to know a lot about technology.
But, this 187-pages long book, at its best, is a critic of the business of technology than a guide for people to manoeuvre the difficult and fast-changing tech terrain. The musings are insufficient to make the reader a master of the ever-changing world of technology.
Techproof Me: The Art of Mastering Ever-Changing Technology; Siddharth Pai, India Portfolio/PRH, ₹399.