The Washington Post’s Wonkblog has a depressing story about the inability to solve a seemingly straightforward problem with technology that will resonate with anyone who works in information technology. In this case, aid agencies are trying to get people in developing nations to stop using indoor cooking fires and use stoves that are safer and more energy efficient instead. Indoor cooking fires kill around two million people a year and are horribly inefficient. They produce emissions that cause global warming. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of agencies that give away stoves and provide training to replace them, the long term effectiveness of their efforts is very low.
In software, I see this all the time. Many users are incredibly resistant to changing tools, even if mastering the new tool would greatly increase their quality of life. What I have also observed is that people compartmentalize their interest in trying new tools. Someone might resist upgrading Microsoft Office but constantly seek out the newest fishing tackle available. Or a designer might eagerly upgrade to the latest version of Photoshop but refuse to learn a few Unix shell commands that would make their life much easier.
I’d love to see a study that measures the correlation between a willingness pick up new tools and career growth. My belief is that a willingness to adapt to new tools is a key to remaining economically productive over the long term, unless you have a very highly specialized set of skills that remains in demand.