Technical Problems

Reading an article for school (which doesn’t start for a few weeks, and this article isn’t due until Mid-September, but I gotta be me), and came across an interesting re-definition of the term “technical.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the piece (in a book for which we don’t have the full citation, my apologies, but the chapter is called “The Heart of Danger”) makes the point that there are two types of changes, technical and adaptive. Adaptive change is the riskier, more uncomfortable sort, the type that makes people feel their competence is being questioned as their habits are examined. Whenever I posit some theory related to race and education, I’m mostly talking about what these authors call adaptive changes. Case in point, one article to which I continue to refer describes poor attendance at a community education program and interviews both students and teachers. The students say, explicitly, that the program underestimated and ignored them, while the teachers and administrators insisted that people stopped attending due to logistical issues (eg scheduling). In other words, the people in charge needed to make adaptive changes but dismissed this notion to focus on ineffective technical changes.

I think about this in my current job. I can’t get too much into it, but suffice it to say that a large portion of my job is developing training courses on a governement database and its many features. We are told, by our clients, that we need to focus on what this piece I’m reading would call technical changes, in this case steps and processes that the workers need to learn and adapt to in order to succeed at their jobs.

But when it comes down to it, a lot of these scenarios require adaptive changes. Organizations and the people within them need the ability and willingness (and I think the latter is the key) to question their assumed competence and their ingrained habits. Maybe they don’t actually need to change very much once they take a good look. But they need to be willing to consider the possibility, and self-analysis by management is itself a necessary adaptive change.

For as long as we try to assume all issues are caused by technical problems rather than adaptive ones, we will fail to effect lasting change. But for the folks in charge, maybe that’s a feature and not a bug.