Good in theory: Why putting new ideas and technologies into practice can be tough

How often do great new ideas, tools and technologies have trouble achieving sustainable implementation, adoption and practical application?

The gap between the inherent value of a new technology or idea and the ability to put it to work effectively is significant. It seems that, even with the most groundbreaking technologies and valuable ideas – where the net benefits for a business or an industry are easy to see – the challenge of successfully converting the innovation to application and business standard is exponentially greater than the initial development.

This problem exists broadly – from relatively small-scale, internal business process ideas to large, capital-intensive, industry-wide technological innovations. If it’s clear that an idea solves or improves upon existing problems or processes, then shouldn’t implementation and adoption be relatively easy?

Making it work

Even some of the greatest technological and process innovations, backed by strong companies, developed by some of the brightest people and unanimously endorsed, can struggle to gain traction as predicted.

However, many do ultimately achieve their desired outcome – because of persistent implementation effort.

Introducing change into an organisation or industry presents a set of challenges that must be carefully analysed, because technological or process innovation rests largely on readiness for change. Even when the safety, productivity or cost benefits are well defined, it’s important to understand that disruption is usually unavoidable.

Preparation and management of implementation is paramount and usually centres around:

  • establishing a shared vision, shared goals, and commitment
  • participation of users in the process of implementing change
  • training programs to ensure people acquire new skills
  • transition periods where new and old exist concurrently
  • displacement of processes and systems.

Additionally, different types of innovations are more likely to flourish under certain organisational circumstances and life cycles. For example:

  • revolutionary innovation may be more likely in organisations that are complex and decentralised
  • evolutionary innovation, characterised by incremental change, may be more likely in organisations that are formalised and centralised.

A mining industry example

Applying this theme to the mining industry, perhaps the most publicised technological innovation has been the emergence of autonomous haulage.

It’s been more than 30 years since Caterpillar began building towards autonomous trucks. Decades of development and implementation effort eventually led to numerous Western Australian iron ore sites operating with autonomous fleets. The initial implementation took years of collaborating with their customers on development of the technology and managing the adjustment to new processes.

New technology and ideas are exciting however the implementation effort and natural resistance to change when bringing these ideas to life should never be underestimated. A good idea is one thing, but it takes special kinds of people and a lot of hard work to put it into practice and get the result you want.