Knowledge workers and productivity tools

Surrounded by new opportunities.

Ray Ozzie on ZDNet : Surrounded by new opportunities

Even though our current use of PCs, productivity tools, e-mail and the Web seems quite sophisticated, we’ve only just begun to understand how to apply them and effectively realize their benefits. The next 10 years will find us moving decidedly from an era of personal productivity to one of joint productivity and social software. That will involve a move from tightly coupled systems to more loosely coupled interconnections. It will be an era of highly interdependent systems and relationships, with technology continuing to reshape the nature of organizations, economy, society and personal lives.

[Jeroen Bekkers’ Groove Weblog]

Ray Ozzie is busy thinking about the kinds of problems we’ll want computers to help with five to ten years from now. “Groove”, or something like it, may well be part of that answer. Certainly, the focus on collaboration and social software will be a major element of what’s next. That’s certainly what I expect someone like Ozzie to be thinking about.

At the same time, I think it’s an overstatement to claim that many of us are realizing the personal productivity promise of today’s technology. While I might not go as far as Alan Kay’s claim that the computer revolution hasn’t happened yet, I do think that both individual knowledge workers and organizations could be doing a lot more to take advantage of the tools we have.

In the mid-1980s, the Harvard Business School was one of the first MBA programs to require incoming students to buy PCs. One of the things I got to participate in as a doctoral student at the time was to help deliver the training to incoming MBAs. We spent three days teaching them the basics of the IBM PC and how to use Lotus 123.

How much training does the average organization offer new hires about the technology environment? An hour? Thirty minutes? Some of that is a testament to the overall improvements in usability and in general knowledge of technology. But I can’t think of anyplace that invests any time in how to use the tools effectively. One interesting item (by way of Sebastien Paquet) is a white paper by Tommaso Toffoli at Boston University titled “A Knowledge Home: Personal knowledge structuring in a computer world.” (pdf version)

The fundamental challenge, and opportunity, is that we’ve been content to focus on increasing the power and flexibility of our technology tools while assuming that knowledge workers will figure out how to take advantage fo that power. As knowledge workers it’s our responsibility to do more of that figuring out. We need to stop counting on the marketing promises of technology vendors and start learning how to use the tools we’ve already got.