Plenty of people will debate the removal of a headphone jack from the Apple iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The pressure-sensitive home button will draw plenty of comments regarding its relative ease of use. And of course upgraded cameras -- especially ones with better resolution and improved low light capabilities -- are always a source of interest.

But here's the biggest question: Do you need an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus?

Nope. Oh, you may want a better phone ... but you're unlikely to need a better phone.

Or in many cases, need a better anything -- other than a better you.

It's easy to assume adopting new technology is the key to success. But chasing new technology is a waste of time when you spend more time searching for improved "stuff" than you do on working to improve yourself.

Here's a good example: cycling. The use of carbon fiber and advanced aerodynamics has made bicycles incredibly sophisticated -- and expensive. Go to a triathlon, even an entry-level "sprint" triathlon, and you'll see hundreds of $6,000, $8,000, and $10,000 bikes. Even the most casual of competitors spend thousands of dollars pursuing incremental performance gains. High-tech is the norm, not the exception.

A couple years ago I did a triathlon with a friend who is 1) a professional cyclist and 2) way too candid. A group formed around him in the staging area. One of the participants, a rather portly gentleman, talked about buying a $9,000 bike.

"A lighter bike will definitely be worth it," the man declared, obviously confident a pro cyclist who rides the most cutting of cutting-edge bikes would agree.

"Oh, hell no," my friend said. "If I were you, I wouldn't waste money on a lighter bike. You'd be a lot better off if you just lost 10 or 20 pounds."

And that was the end of that conversation.

Later I said, "That was harsh."

"Maybe," my friend replied. "But everybody looks for the next best thing instead of looking in the mirror. Unless you're at the top of your sport, equipment is the least of your worries. You have plenty of room to improve yourself first. But, of course, that takes a lot of work."

Plenty of businesses do the same thing. Some years ago during a tour of a manufacturing plant, I saw comprehensive data collection systems, sophisticated automation, and intuitive man-machine interfaces. They clearly spared no expense in search of process improvement.

But the money they spent had made no impact. Productivity was significantly lower than the most conservative benchmark. Waste was horrible. Workers stood idle for chunks of the day.

I asked the plant manager the obvious question (although worded more tactfully): Why do you have all that "stuff" when you have bigger problems?

"Well," he huffed, "you have to understand that as an organization we are committed to giving our employees every tool they need to do their jobs."

It was an admirable but misguided approach. For example, they planned to spend $135,000 on computers with faster processors even though shop-floor employees used only spreadsheets and simple databases, making processor speed a non-issue.

Other plants in the same industry that used limited automation, manual data collection systems, and buttons and knobs instead of touch screens were significantly more productive. They spent money where it paid off and let skill, experience, and hard work take care of the rest.

Buying new simply for the sake of new is always a stupid investment. Buying a new bike doesn't automatically transform someone into a better rider. Buying new technology doesn't automatically transform you or your company. Every technology investment -- in fact, everything you spend money on -- should result in savings and quantifiable improvements.

Technology is only valuable if it results in faster, cheaper, or better. If not, it just sucks up time and money that could be put to better use somewhere else.

And that includes your phone.

So don't trade in your old iPhone. Spend the money where it matters more: on yourself. Join a gym. Take a class. Eat healthier. Buy a book. Spend a little money on making yourself smarter or healthier or fitter or more skilled.

Invest that money in your most valuable asset: you. That's the only investment that truly will pay off, and over the longest of terms.

Published on: Sep 7, 2016
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