Between Two Borgs
Between Two Borgs graphic
Bjorn and The Borg characters used under license from

Where do you lie between the two Borgs? Where does your company or your industry lie? Perhaps you’re young enough that neither Borg means anything to you, other than sounding vaguely like a midrange line of IKEA beds. 

So then, a quick review. The left end of the spectrum is anchored by Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg. He was the world number one for 109 weeks between 1977 and 1981. During his 1991 comeback, after eight years out of the game, Borg refused to use a modern graphite racket, sticking with the wooden one he’d always used. It did not end well.

On the right end of the spectrum are The Borg, fearsome cyborgs from Star Trek who roamed galaxies forcibly converting people into drones, surgically implanting technology in an attempt to achieve perfection. This, too, ended badly for them.

Two very different approaches to the application of technology in pursuit of a particular goal, two extremes representing the outer edges of the responses that individuals and companies have to every new technology.

On the far left, there are those trying to completely avoid new technology, seeking the comfort and reliability of time-tested approaches. On the far right, there are those who rush headlong and unrestrained toward the highest of high tech, with no concern to unpredictable impacts or costs.

Where would you place yourself? Given free choice, are you a constant upgrader, experimenting with the cutting edge? A considered “I’ll just wait for version 2.0” centrist? Or are you a “Why would I update when everything is working?” pragmatist?

There is no one perfect spot, and at different times and in different contexts we may lean more one way than the other. Perhaps in your home life you’re more willing to experiment with new tech because the stakes are lower if things go wrong than they would be if you broke your work systems. Perhaps you might be more willing to try new technology when you are not personally having to use it and deal with any consequences. 

It’s helpful to consider your most comfortable, natural resting place on this scale, because it offers a way to understand your reaction to the idea of new, potentially disruptive changes to your working life. 

Consider generative AI. As a new tool — well, more like a new method for creating endless new tools — it’s wide open in scope with unclear boundaries and boundless potential to create change, both good and bad.

How do you feel when you think about using AI in your work? Where would you put your data point? If you’re a manager of people, asking those people to use AI, where do you think they would put themselves on the spectrum? If you’re being asked by someone in power to use AI tools, where do you think they would place themselves?

If the two data points — yourself and your direct report or your manager — are close together, there’s no tension. You’ll both be moving at the same speed and with the same level of comfort.

If those points are far apart, that’s when you might feel real discomfort. You’ll feel the pull of someone who is moving too quickly for you (or too slowly). Maybe they’re refusing to move at all.

Perhaps the greater pull is between your customers or prospects — who are excited about AI but have no real sense of its limits or costs — and your company that has to do the messy implementation.

Understanding your relative positions helps visualize the strain, but it doesn’t resolve it. Can two people or organizations that far apart move forward together? I think the answer is yes, but it will require some intention and effort. It takes intention on our own part to disentangle the messy ball of our feelings and effort to pick them apart and trace the threads to their source.

There’s a big difference in resisting a new technology because the practical tests have revealed problems that need addressing and resisting it because of a fear that the technology will create changes you don’t feel prepared to handle (or that you’re too tired to adapt to).

Both of those responses can be valid; resistance to change is not inherently wrong. Unconsidered, poorly communicated resistance can certainly be unhelpful to everyone involved, but principled, lucid resistance can save a lot of wasted time and energy. 

We owe it to ourselves to think through our positions, wherever we find ourselves between the Borgs, and to attempt to understand the position of other people. 

Bjorn Borg came to understand that the game of tennis had changed, but it was still the game he loved. He didn’t win many matches in his comeback, but he did adopt the new racket technology. When we understand ourselves and each other as well as the costs and benefits of adopting new technology, it is much easier to move forward together.

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