I wonder how the early hunters were able to battle starvation without using the term “technology.” They were still able to sharpen and shape a rock, and fasten it to a stick to make a spear. They must have asked questions, at least in their minds, like “How can we take down the animal without getting hurt?”, “Don’t the long sticks keep them from hurting us?”, and “What if we put the sharp rock on the end of the stick?” The term “technological enabler” frees us from thinking that the solution must be complex, and forces us to have a conversation about the underlying questions.
To date, our technological enablers have been busy helping us answer questions related to “What?”, “When?”, “Where?”, and “How Many?” We expect to see online dictionaries, calendars, maps, and calculators. The Information Age was defined by the explosion in the amount of answers now available, but not by answering any new questions. The last decade has seen an explosion in “Social Media” as our technological enablers have begun to answer the many questions related to “Who?” And at some point, we will eventually turn our attention to the question of “Why?”
Today, thankfully, most of us are not focusing our everyday questions to battle starvation. In the knowledge economy we focus our questions instead on the reasons and rationale. Yet we have not yet adopted a user interface to the question of “Why?” Remember, dictionaries, calendars, maps, and calculators were already invented before the Information Age. The technologists just found new ways to present them and make them interactive. If we assume that humans always make the right decisions, or learn from them, agree on decisions, and keep track of those decisions, then the Information Age will work just fine to help us make informed decisions. But the major challenges we face today are due to “human decisions” and it is time for technological enablers to support our requirements of collaborative decision making, transparency, conflict resolution, and organizational learning. The Explanation Age is about the collection of terms and tools needed to allow us to say “You Are Here,” except not within a map for the question of “Where,” but within a thought process for the question of “Why.” Current decision making tools just focus on the question of “Which” as they support many variables into a single decision. But we need the user interface to mimic the thought process which ties our individual decisions into explanations. We need The Explanation Age.