2020-03-09 HR Examiner article Michael R Kannisto PhD Wrong HR Tech Thinking Missed Future photo img cc0 by uriel soberanes MxVkWPiJALs unsplash 544x816px.jpg

“It’s all but impossible to predict the future. And even if a company does just so happen to design the perfect solution that should be a brilliant success, it still might not succeed.”
- Michael R. Kannisto, P.h.D

Have you ever heard of Esperanto? In the late 1800s (as the world began to shrink due to innovations in transportation) people observed that language itself seemed to be the last remaining barrier preventing true understanding among global cultures. “Wouldn’t it be great,” everyone mused, “if there was a universal language that was easy to learn and simple to understand?“

Enter Ludwik L. Zamenhof. In 1887 the Polish ophthalmologist published a book entitled Unua Libro. This book contained instructions for learning and speaking Esperanto–the world’s first constructed universal auxiliary language. Zamenhof had invented it, and it was indeed simple to learn. People began to see it as a means to promote world peace and harmony.

That never happened. Today Esperanto is regarded as a historical curiosity. Perhaps two million people worldwide can speak it today, but it is difficult to know if there are even that many.

Here is where you might be expecting me to tell you why it failed. But I can’t. It was a brilliant solution. It should have worked. But it didn’t. No amount of testing, investor confidence, social promotion, or celebrity endorsement could save it. It wasn’t replaced with something better. It wasn’t cannibalized with cheaper copycat knock-offs. It just . . . never caught on.

Most of us don’t know what to do with that. We forget that the future is elusive, random, maddening, sometimes spiteful, and always surprising. Every folly in human history can be attributed to someone who was certain this would happen, when in reality that happened. And HR Tech is a perfect set-up for serial disappointment: there are high market expectations, huge financial investments, hyper-accelerated product development timelines, and customers who don’t know what they need today, let alone what they’ll need 18 months from now.


Michael R. Kannisto, P.h.D, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Human beings have a natural tendency to commit to a plan. If we have convinced our organization to invest in an expensive technology solution, we want to believe that product will meet all long-term needs. If we invest our careers or our money in an idea, we are somehow able to picture only that version of the future where this product is the answer to everyone’s prayers. You can certainly observe this when talking to technology vendors. Try asking a well-funded HR Tech company if they have ever considered altering their product or service offering, or if they are open to piloting other subscription models. It never happens because everyone involved has already committed to a single version of the future.

It’s all but impossible to predict the future. And even if a company does just so happen to design the perfect solution that should be a brilliant success, it still might not succeed. After all, you don’t speak Esperanto, do you?

So what can you do to survive in a future that is almost certainly going to be radically different than anyone can predict? Here are three recommendations.

Think long-term

Brainstorm on a regular basis with a small group and try to imagine your business ten years from today. Many companies focus so intently on the next 6-12 months that large and important trends can go unnoticed. The goal in hosting these so-called “scenario planning events” is not to predict what’s actually going to happen, but rather to change your mindset to prepare for inevitable shifts in your world.

Plan for flexibility

It doesn’t matter what you buy, what you build, or what you invest in–you’ll either have to flex along the way, or after the product is already launched or installed. Develop an approach that welcomes feedback and recommendations, and have governance in place that allows change to happen easily.

Accept that you will not get it right

Don’t tell your CEO that she’ll never have to buy another system ever again–she will. Don’t tell your customer they just don’t understand your pricing model–they do, and they are desperately trying to tell you why it might not work. If you buy a system, the implementation might be textbook perfect–but no one will use it. If you sell a system, the product might be brilliant–but no one will buy it. Viewing change as inevitable is an important leadership trait in the 21st century.

The future of work will be totally different than anything we can imagine today. Build strategies that allow you to buy and sell technology with flexibility. This enables you to meet the future as it arrives – not saddled with commitments you made based on how you thought it would turn out. This mindset shift will take time, but as they say in Esperanto: Ne en unu tago elkreskis Kartago.*

(* – Rome wasn’t built in a day!)