Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thought of the week — Cubicles and Dinosaurs

Over the next 10 years, millions of baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965 will be leaving our workforce, unfortunately they will not be leaving as many children in their wake to make up for the mass retirement.

At first this looks to be a major issue. Let’s think about that for a moment.

This morning I was asked for assistance by one of these people let’s call him Herbert Neck. Herbert is a technological dinosaur. For someone like him even the simplest task on a computer is challenging to say the least. He is a one path user, in the sense he only knows of single methods for accomplishing tasks. He uses the Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste methodology for almost every task I take for granted. Ctrl and Alt keys are foreign to him and forget about that “new key that looks like a Swedish flag”.

This man is detail orient to say the least, needing to read whole pages of text to understand what is being displayed. There is no scanning skills present.

The tasks that this man needed help with were as follows.

· Set up a projector and laptop for a Presentation
· Insert a DVD and queue it for sharing at the meeting
· Get a couple slides from three or four separate slide shows
· Combine into an overview slideshow consisting of 14 slides

I take every step in this process for granted. I not only know how to do them but I don’t have to think about it. If I was tasked with this it might take me 15 minutes, while sipping coffee and eating a bagel. With him, it too 2.5 hours. And he still was not convinced it was all going to be fine.
Now in my world, if I were presenting something, I might worry about messing up my speech or having the correct numbers in the slide, but for him, that was second nature. He was worried if the computer might “go black”.

So it got me thinking. His meeting is over at 12 noon. His slides were prepped (but not compiled) yesterday. So really in 4 hours he accomplished or three tasks missing every phone call and not responding to emails. In the time it took me to write this post I have completed 10 tasks and answered 4 emails. I answered a call from my wife. And I never missed a beat. Switching applications and grabbing note paper when needed.

Now I am not suggesting that Herbert is the norm for the age group I am speaking about, he is exceptional, or that I am somehow better than him. But I was left wondering...

I can complete hundreds of computer and technology related tasks a day, great. But of those tasks, with all my multitasking how much attention to the details am I possibly paying. I would hope enough, but probably not. However Herbert, can formulate plans so complex that they shape the very fundamentals of human thought. And cover every base 10 times over. Now that is something.

We work in two very different fields, mine being web development and design, and his more a business analyst type role. But our computer/tech challenges or tasks are virtually the same. Print this, read this, copy this, post this, save that, read that, answer that.

Could my generation’s efficiency in completing these tasks make up for the disparity in the workforce?

There will definitely be a quality vs. quantity issue, but will the fact that it takes my generation 5 minutes vs. his 1 hour to overcome a challenge faced with the tools make up for the extra time I will need to formulate and find solutions to the overall business need?


Anonymous said...

i think about this a lot but not to the depth that you do because im not a tech person, im still a cut and paste blogger my site needs so much work i can't even think about it. BUT the one thing that annoys me is that i learn fast i just need someone to show me 'tech stuff' and i'd be pretty much good, but everyone who helps me tech wise always just does it because it is faster to just do it than it is to show me and have me learn it myself.
i used to take pride in my assistant rolls in offices, being handed something that looked almost insane and handing it back with not an error on it. i am like mr. neck in that my attention to detail and error margin are almost nil, but that does of course slow me down, granted not that much.
i still have problems trusting computers and that they won't 'go black' on me i was born in 1977.
i think honestly that people who have interest in today's tech field do have a serious advantage over not only baby boomers but people such as myself i'd rather keep my head in the clouds writing of silliness or seriousness and have a tech geek make it look pretty on the netz for me.

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