Gradually, Gradually, then Suddenly

Innovation adoption lifecycle concept. Businessman think about diffusion of innovations and utilization for its business.

Where would we be without technology during this pandemic? Our students would not have been able to continue their educational journeys. Many patients could continue to receive care through telehealth and virtual visits. Doctors and professors all got more comfortable with these tools we’ve been pushing at them for the better part of a decade. Think of all the customer support organizations who emptied their call centers and moved their representatives home to continue taking calls.

New technology is often met with skepticism – is it going to work? Is it going to provide value? The challenge is it usually starts with a lot of hype – a talented entrepreneur-storyteller raising money and selling promises. Most tech companies flame out; occasionally we get a new billionaire; and in extreme rare air we get a new celebrity. But eventually technology does follow Amara’s law – we tend to overestimate its effect in the short run and underestimate its effect in the long run.

The inspiration for this blog title came from a scene in the Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises, where one of the key characters, Mike Campbell, is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?” His response is “Gradually … then suddenly.” Technology kind of works that way. It starts out innocuous enough, a few of the early adopters play with it, raise a bunch of money, flame then fizzle. But within those flameouts are a few nuggets that stay with us and ultimately change the way we work, live and interact. When we look back it seems so self-evident that we should always have had this, like Google Maps. My son recently asked me, “What did you do? Fold and unfold the paper map in the car? While driving?”
Yes, yes we did.

Couple driving. Passenger holding a paper map.

These days, I spend my working time in the fields of higher education and healthcare, where the adoption of technology and aggressive use of data have been slower than other industries. However, the transformational impact in just the last two months alone to adapt to the pandemic has been so profound (see my above examples), I think we need to say we’ve flown past “gradually” and just hit “suddenly.”

This blog is dedicated to that premise – how is new technology going to impact the way we work? “Gradually, gradually, then suddenly.” How will analytics and data science change the way we make decisions? “Gradually, gradually, then suddenly.” How will digital connections with patients with smart devices in their homes allow my parents to live independently for the remainder of their days? You get the idea.

In my posts, I will share perspectives, examples, expert opinion leaders across the domains of higher education and healthcare, and discuss the changing role of technology professionals in organizations. We’ll do some blogging and some vlogging; try to keep it fresh.  I hope these pieces help crystallize your thinking on where the next “suddenly” opportunity will emerge, how you might shape your organization’s role to benefit from it, and how you position your team to lead in the journey.

I will leave you with this bit of history that I shared with my son. For millennia, maps have been relied on for navigation. Gradually, we came to have maps available on the internet; and then gradually, we could print out and place driving directions on the car seat next us; and then suddenly we could do all this on our mobile phones.

Be well, be safe, and stay tuned.

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  1. Saroj Sharma on June 18, 2020 at 11:59 am

    Change is the only constant. Adapting and embracing change is the key to not just surviving but thriving in a rapidly changing environment.
    Tom – Very well written blog. I loved reading it.

  2. Greg Tyler on June 18, 2020 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspective here — I look forward to reading more!

  3. Pat McCarthy on June 17, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    Tom, you put nicely into words what many are thinking – and with a Hemingway reference no less! thank you for the perspective – we look forward to seeing your vision become reality at UC Irvine.

  4. James Lin on June 16, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Hi Tom, I really like the statement “Gradually, Gradually, then Suddenly.” Few days before campus closure, I was invited to present the remote instruction plan to a large academic department faculty meeting. The chair said, “We used to resist the online instruction, but now it may be a new doctrine that we suddenly have to accept.” After the spring quarter, some department faculty felt online instruction does work in many scenarios. Resisting change is a typical human nature and there are certainly still many challenges to be resolved for online learning. But this pandemic has pushed both instructors and students to adapt to the sudden changes from in-person to the remote learning model which could take a long time for people to accept.

    You and other UC CIOs endorsed alternative work arrangements before the pandemic. We saw some administrators resisting the alternative work concept since “IT should be onsite all the time.” Three months have passed since campus closure, alternative work arrangement for IT proved its high feasibility. Again, it is gradually, gradually, and suddenly.

  5. Barbara Casey on June 16, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Tom. Agree it is gradually…and then suddenly. Will look forward to reading your future blogs. – Barbara

    • Tom Andriola on June 17, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks Barbara

  6. PN Narayanan on June 16, 2020 at 9:37 am

    Great Job Tom! Eloquently written. Wish to see more through the blog. Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy both at home and work. Best regards

    • Tom Andriola on June 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks PN. Hope you and the family are well
      More on the way

  7. James M. Leverentz on June 13, 2020 at 9:30 am

    While the ease of use and the ability to do many jobs on-time (including teaching and medical services) is wonderful and has increases productivity and reduced cost, there is a growing problem of unsubstantiated data, even outright falsehoods (lies, fake news, etc.) in the data, reports, etc., found on-line. In addition to these problems is the capture and illite use of personal data without the permission or knowledge of the individual affected. Will your office be addressing these issues?

    • Tom Andriola on June 17, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      I’m not sure we can address the “falsehoods” challenge. That’s a tough one.
      I do hope to hold in the future forums for dialog to contrast opportunity & risk of all this technology evolution and growing adopted use. I say that because I see the advances, but I also see the widening gap of have’s & have not’s. That I think can be addressed

      Thanks for the comment

  8. Jim Williamson on June 12, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Hi Tom: Great article and one closely aligned with my thinking (including maps and Hemingway references). These days I’m caught wondering whether it is possible to reconcile experience, principles, and values with the inevitable march of technological progress. Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” provides a sobering touch point.

    For a robust discussion of this thought, “The challenge is it usually starts with a lot of hype – a talented entrepreneur-storyteller raising money and selling promises,” I recommend Robert Birnbaum’s “The Life Cycle of Academic Management Fads.” (The Journal of Higher Education 71, no. 1 (January 1, 2000): 1–16.

    • Tom Andriola on June 15, 2020 at 5:14 pm

      Thanks, Jim for the comment & recommended reads. Always like expanding my perspectives. Like or not, technology always seems to be the thing that pushes us forward. Not always forward better, but forward nonetheless.

  9. John Virden on June 12, 2020 at 6:55 am

    Great introduction, Tom. Really looking forward to your coming stories!

    • Tom Andriola on June 15, 2020 at 5:15 pm

      Thanks, John. I’ll try to keep it fresh.
      Hope the new gig is going well

  10. Regina Castleman on June 11, 2020 at 8:39 am

    I completely agree. Before I came to higher education, I worked for a private company in digital marketing. It surprised me when I realized how slow to adopt we were here when we are supposed to be innovators in higher education. However, this pandemic has shown us how adaptable we are to change and how great technology will be for us now and as new technology continues to emerge. I hope we can change our path of being slow adopters of technology and fully embrace it! As a technical marketing professional, I can see the beauty in both tech and the business world.

    Excited to continue reading this blog. 🙂

    • Tom Andriola on June 15, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks for the comment. You know the old adage, “inspiration or desperation.”
      Buckle up. I think the fun may just be beginning

  11. Pat Seed on June 10, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    When will the university begin to provide free server space for public facing intellectual property?

    • Katie Chappell on June 15, 2020 at 8:55 am

      Hi Pat: Faculty have free storage space available through the Campus Research Storage Pool: You can use the contact info on the page to inquire about accessing.

  12. Stacey Rose on June 10, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Thank you for this blog. I have enjoyed reading this!

    • Tom Andriola on June 15, 2020 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you, Stacey. I’ll try to keep it fresh. Pass along the message

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