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How should organizations talk about their technology implementation projects the current media landscape?

The opening lecture of the Exploring Industry Experience course by Professor Matti Apunen dealt with the role and characteristics of media in the context of new innovations. My own doctoral studies focus on the organizational adoption and use of novel technologies (specifically Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality), so I found the lecture to be very relevant and timely. I will now reflect on the contents of the lecture in relation to how organizations should communicate about their technology implementation projects.

When organizations embark on a new technology adoption project, it is common to only hear negative news about such endeavors. In Finland, the Apotti healthcare information system project is perhaps the most well-known recent example about how the challenges and failures of an implementation project get highlighted in the media. It is of course quite natural that the media often focuses on projects which have run into problems because they seem to get more clicks than glowing stories about successful acquisition projects.

It is critical to understand that this is likely inevitable because we humans are loss-averse creatures. In general, when faced with equal losses and gains, we tend to value avoiding the possible loss over the potential for a similarly sized gain. There are deep psychological roots to this behavior in our evolutionary history because during our hunter-gatherer days, a big mistake could easily mean that it’s game over for you. We are therefore more interested in learning about possible negative outcomes so that we can avoid them in our own lives.

These cognitive biases are still with us today and they are not going anywhere. So how should organizations deal with this fact, especially considering the fragmented media landscape where people can freely choose what media channels they follow? Moreover, audiences are not passive listeners anymore and they might very well challenge your narrative. Relying on authoritative distribution of facts is unlikely to work since we also tend to discard unengaging news stories quickly if there isn’t something there to hook us from the beginning. Facts about the increased performance of the new solution might be interesting to the engineer, but probably not to everyone else (although this kind of communication also has its place). This is why many organizations rely on marketing agencies to create engaging stories about them for their various stakeholders.

However, there are also limits in how much an organization can “storify” its communication as many legal and contractual matters can impose restrictions on how organizations are allowed talk about their activities, especially when it comes to the public sector. Tailoring your message for various audiences can also be quite time-consuming and can prove to be disastrous if it is perceived to be inauthentic. Nevertheless, creating an engaging narrative about the coming change can help organizations and their stakeholders overcome the eventual problems that appear in technology implementation projects. By addressing both the positive and negative side of the coming change from the reader’s point of view can help reduce the uncertainty they feel and give them the right tools to prepare for it.

- Henri Jalo, Doctoral Researcher

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