Thursday, August 23, 2001

How business misunderstands technology This article in Fortune talks about how companies are having trouble handling all their email. Large volumes of email can challenge individuals in any organization, but the proposed solution takes precisely the wrong approach and illustrates why businesses keep failing to enhance productivity with technology.

The challenges of email are cultural (what exactly does this message mean in a social context) and practical (how do I handle 400 messages a day). Making email more complicated by adding information and other baggage (like Outlook, EcoCap etc. do) will just make the problem worse. This approach pretends that enough technology can solve any business problems and that more technology is the appropriate response to too much information. Some clueless purchasing agent will no doubt inflict this hateful system on workers who will then suffer one more complicated, malfunctioning piece of electronic garbage while basic business processes remain unexamined. The software provider will lock the company into their system and extort money out of them for many years. As a shareholder, I would be furious.

I would recommend that companies explore protocols based on plaintext and cultural training that enable employees to handle the increasing volume of emails in their worklives. Mark Hurst has some well developed ideas about handling email which sadly aren't written up anywhere online, but the crux of the idea is to ruthless delete bits, and to manage the bits that remain appropriately using simple tools. I experienced this system at Creative Good, and it works a treat.

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