In the fictional Warhammer Universe, there is a human faction called Techpriests: They are in love with technology, and their main objective is to become one with their Machine God. To achieve this transformation, they systematically replace the biological parts of their own bodies with bizarre cybernetics.
This reminds me of scientism: To exchange something which works well, for something that should work on paper in the name of progress. Think of replacing perfectly fine physical buttons in cars with iPad like screens, local decision making with top-down 5-year Soviet Union style plans, or real world observations with model simulations.
In organizations, scientism often adds layers of complexity, slows organizations down and dilutes focus on achieving big goals
How do you make a distinction between scientism and innovation?
I have found that you’re dealing with scientism if a replacement:
- Does not improve speed, quality or value in the eyes of the majority of end-users or clients.
- Requires additional and consistent upgrades or maintenance to keep working.
- Performs a function, which shouldn’t be done at all.
- Can only be changed by external specialists.
- Outsources critical thinking to a system.
- Triggers short-cuts and exceptions to make it work.
- Far exceeds the technology level of the rest of the organization.
- Provides external bragging rights to senior executives.
- Requires vague selling points, such as compliance, sustainability or progress.
- Is not immediately intuitive for the uninitiated.
- Can’t be tested on a small scale.
The Machine God of the Warhammer Universe is a jealous God. Don’t use the utopian approach of scientism to create one in your own reality.