The idea that technology is only a tool reflects a Cartesian conception of strategy in which implementation is subordinated to thought, which alone is capable of creativity. Obviously, with this conception, strategy deprives itself of the creative potential that technology offers, because technology is only there to meet a predefined objective. The stewardship will follow, so to speak, and the creative potential is limited from the start. Behind this conception of strategy lies what Béatrice Rousset and I call an "ideal" mental model in our book on the subject.
This model corresponds to a vision of the world centered on an ideal to be reached, which is the sole concern of the leader, who consequently disdains the minor questions of implementation, delegated to subordinates. Behind the apparent aristocratic elegance of the model lies an intellectual laziness, but above all a profound ignorance of innovation, which leads to a failure to make the effort to understand deeply and intensely what a technology is and to imagine what it can bring.
Many great disruptors have done the opposite: they started with a technology and imagined its implications; they started with the resource and asked themselves: what can we do with this? This is the fundamental question of effectuation, the logic of entrepreneurs: instead of starting from a goal and finding the resources to reach it, with effectuation we start from the available resources to imagine the possible goals.
Imagining is the important word here, because what makes a resource valuable is the use we find for it. For example, in a previous article, I mentioned the story of Dragon Lady, a Chinese entrepreneur who built a fortune by buying up unwanted cardboard in the United States and selling it in China. The American landfills were so happy to get rid of the cardboard they gave her for free, it had no value to them (and even a negative value) while she had a lot of value to her.
Now let's talk strategy (Source: Wikipedia)
The same is true for technology; it has no value in itself, its value depends only on what you can do with it. But the exercise of imagination is obviously more difficult than with simple resources like cardboard. A new technology is complex and, by definition, new, so there are few reference points. A new technology disrupts existing mental models, which explains why it is often adopted by new entrants who are not prisoners of their historical models.
Jeff Bezos, the founder and boss of Amazon, is one of those who best understood the crucial importance of technology as an enabler of strategy. He has structured his organization around small, specialized units whose rules of interaction with the rest of the organization are very precise and known by all. This approach is directly inspired by the notion of APIs, a principle of information exchange between software components, thus offering the organization an evolving structure; this one is quasi-decomposable, i.e. made of autonomous units but integrated in a whole that has its own identity.
This approach, which allows Amazon to grow rapidly while remaining seamless, is based on a deep understanding of technology and what it enables in terms of organizational design. It results in an incredibly intelligent fusion of IT and organizational structure, and is the basis for the power of the American giant.
Steve Jobs also showed the inanity of the separation between strategy and technology, or strategy and product, by putting design back at the center of his action, starting from the product and building a strategy around it. When he introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was a strategic aberration, all the clever models are there to show it. Nokia is ultra-dominant, the industry is already mature (more than twenty years after the introduction of the first cell phone), Apple is a minor computer manufacturer, in short it has no chance. Ignoring the models, it bases its strategy on the product, and will do the same with the iPad.
So let's stop this "technology is not the most important thing" snobbery. Technology is the starting point. Companies that don't develop a technical culture in their management will learn this the hard way, whether it's to develop products or to drive their digital transformation.