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The Failed Promise of High Tech
By Tom Northup, Founder & Principal, Leadership Management Group
High tech promised the business world an easy way to enhance efficiency, save time, and increase access to information. Instead it has reduced interpersonal communication, shattered our ability to focus, made us accessible to anyone at any time, and increased the time it takes to complete projects. In order to achieve success in business, go back to the days before high tech, retake control of our time and rebuild personal communication skills.
Can you imagine life without computers, electronic organizers, cell phones, digital music or high speed Internet?
Many in the software and computer industries may not remember the tools that dominated the workplace 25 years ago, the typewriters, carbon paper, desk-bound phones, and desk calculators that technology promised to eliminate or make more efficient.
Has Technology Lived Up to This Promise to Improve Our Work Life?
Recent research finds that people complete less work in a day than they did a decade ago and that the number of people who call themselves successful has dropped 30%.
What changed ten years ago? E-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls and voice mails began their relentless bombardment of American workers. The promised new efficiency became a thousand fold increase in the number of items competing for our attention with the result that real work did not get done.
This failed high tech promise has consequences. In this article I will discuss these consequences and how they affect us in two main areas: the lack of focus caused by multi-tasking and the loss of effective communication. However, I believe that there is hope! I will conclude a way that we can overcome this lack of focus.
Industry and individuals have embraced all of the high tech trends and gadgets. We pride ourselves on our multi-tasking ability, often juggling blackberry, Internet and phone connections almost simultaneously, performing several tasks at once rather than concentrating on one task at a time. By placing ourselves on call 24/7 we respond in real time and regularly interrupt ourselves.
We think our connectedness makes us faster and more efficient. In reality, as we flit from one task to another, we lose efficiency and more importantly we lose effectiveness.
When we are always connected we allow ourselves to be continually interrupted. Consequently we don't focus. Each task takes longer to accomplish and we lose productivity.
People often confuse efficiency and effectiveness. They are very different concepts. Efficiency commonly means getting a job done quickly and on budget. Effectiveness means performing actions that help us generate increased success. Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.
Which produces the best results? Peter Drucker said, "There is nothing more wasteful than becoming highly efficient at doing the wrong thing." Many people make the mistake of being efficient but not being effective. Consequently we lose our ability to drive results that are important to our success.
This loss of personal productivity is harmful but not nearly as harmful as the loss of personal communication. The humorous cartoon in which techies rely on e-mail instead of walking down the hall for a personal conversation is a sad but true social commentary.
The high tech industry developed through some of the most creative teamwork and personal communication in history. It is ironic that today's executives use high tech as a way to avoid using the communication model on which the industry was founded.
In 1970 the newly formed Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, quickly became a great example of how to put technology to practical use. According to Alan Kay, one of the wizards of PARC, the strategy for letting creativity flourish was to "get really great people together and manage the social dynamic." He added that, "No organization works beyond the size you can get all the principals together in a room and thrash out the issues before you go home."
In 1979 PARC allowed Steve Jobs and his staff to look at their technology. Steve immediately understood the potential and built a team of marketers and engineers to commercialize the technology. The Apple Macintosh story is now legend.