Can Technology Acquisition Be an Emotional Decision?

To offer winning products, companies must make sweeping changes--both cultural and technical--to their product development practices.

"Perspectives" is a column co-authored by Terry Wohlers. The following was published 
in the November 2001 issue of Time-Compression Technologies magazine.

Justifying the purchase of new technology like rapid prototyping can be a difficult process. The buying decision not only requires that funds be allocated, it also requires change, which for many is a risky proposition that takes a lot of effort and creates much discomfort.

In business, it may seem that emotions and human behavior do not belong in the decision-making process, yet these factors weigh heavily in every decision. Understanding this and using it advantageously may be the secret to getting a decision to alter the way things are done. With an open mind, it can become apparent that many actions, opinions and decisions are based on an emotional response that is then supported and justified with logic.

Change for Success

This is an exciting time to be a part of the product development process, but only the bold, proactive and progressive-thinking companies will evolve in the direction needed to develop a winning formula for success. To offer winning products in the future, companies will have little choice but to make sweeping changes, both cultural and technical, to their product development practices. Excuses such as "We've never done it that way" will be fatal to some organizations.

To become an agent of change, it is advantageous to simultaneously address both the emotional and logical issues. Although those in the upper echelons of management may be viewed as cold and calculating, they are human, which means that they are driven by emotions. With this awareness and the knowledge of the power of emotions in a decision-making process, it is much easier to overcome the resistance to change and to move forward and succeed.

Examples Abound

In conference rooms and offices around the globe, it is not difficult to see that emotions can control, or at the very least influence, the decision-making process. Benchmarking and return on investment (ROI) calculation are two scenarios that illustrate this concept.

When committees form to begin the evaluation and selection process of a new technology, it is common to build a list of requirements to which a ranking or weighting system is applied. In a purely logical world where the initial need assessment was accurate, the high scoring technology or company would be awarded the order.

Since it is not a perfect world devoid of emotion, personal desires and feelings often infiltrate the selection process. Through demonstrations, presentations and meetings, personal preferences begin to build. Some of these preferences are developed on something as basic as liking an organization or its people. At a slightly higher level, the preference may result from a gut feeling that one system is the best based on its popularity or reputation. As the benchmarking nears its completion and rankings are tallied, original requirements and weightings are often re-evaluated and repositioned so that the preferred solution comes out on top.

ROI calculations appear to be purely analytical and logical, but they also are influenced by emotions and desires. The basic elements of an ROI calculation are the expense to implement and the financial gain that will be realized. These would seem to be the hard, unyielding numbers. But, each can be - and often are - skewed to serve individual desires. Since the profit and expense calculations are speculative, taking a conservative approach to either number can dramatically alter the ROI calculation to guarantee the desired outcome.

These examples are simple illustrations of "creative accounting." Each shows that subjective factors driven largely by emotion can directly influence logical, objective data.

Risk Taker or Risk Avoider

Emotional decisions are rationalized and defended with information that can be quantified and analyzed. These emotional decisions arise from an individual's personality, desires and traits. People are either risk avoiders or risk takers and in order to justify change, you must first determine the basic motivator of the individuals that will approve the purchase. In its most basic form, this motivator will be either gaining pleasure or avoiding pain. In business terms, the motivation will be either to achieve significant rewards and gains or to minimize risk and loss. Risk avoiders tend to support proven solutions that minimize risk while risk takers are likely to focus on the tremendous, positive impact that a high-risk proposition can yield.

With an understanding of the decision-making style, all ideas and information can be delivered in a manner that satisfies the fundamental desires. Any justification to acquire a new technology can be properly positioned as either a way of avoiding loss and risk or as an option to reap huge rewards.

Getting to the Heart of the Issue

Everyone has had powerful emotional responses in their day-to-day business activities, some of which defy logic. Getting to the heart of the issue requires that ideas for change are proposed in a way that addresses the fundamental emotional responses of all those who control the decision to proceed.

Some commonly experienced emotional issues include:

  • Overworked and underpaid: Show how easy it will be to implement the idea and how much extra time will be available once the solution is in place.

  • Difficulty and challenges foreshadow failure: Illustrate how easy it will be to obtain great results and be a winner.

  • Desire to be recognized and appreciated: Emphasize how good the team will look to all others when the project becomes a success.

  • Fear of the unknown: Carefully chart the course for selection, implementation and success to eliminate the concerns that the required skill set and knowledge base are unavailable.

Each situation will present different opportunities that must be sought out. Management books often point out that money is not the motivator that many consider it to be. Logically, more money is a good thing that should motivate everyone to work harder, but emotionally it can be ineffectual. Management gurus point to one great truth - that employees deeply desire appreciation and recognition for a job well done while they fear reprimand for failure. When all else fails, these emotions can be used as the ace in the hole for nearly every situation.

Conclusion

Decision-makers are just like everyone else - they have emotional needs that must be fulfilled. To justify change, find the ways that the technology can help each individual satisfy his or her personal desires and emotional needs. Since fear is a great motivator, perhaps it would be easiest to point out that winning companies are making sweeping changes, both culturally and technically. Illustrate that those that will wither away and die are clinging to their old ways. Doing nothing in these rapidly changing times is in effect an action that can doom a company to mediocrity or failure at a time when emotions are running high.

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