Perhaps a little naively I have spent most of my adult life trying to find the perfect productivity system. I have read various books on the subject and keep challenging myself to get more out of the 24 hour day. I use a mix of Microsoft Outlook and an A4 notebook. This week I have added in a version of the Eisenhower matrix (urgent vs important grid) to supplement the Post It method (use a square post it to write the things you must do today). However it still feels that this is still writing to do lists to consume the time I don’t manage to get from elsewhere. However the very large, bad tempered, and demanding elephant in the room is my e mail Inbox….
Part of me says I should ignore the Inbox and focus on areas where I can add value to my business. However given that in practical terms the organisation uses e mail as a workflow engine it is difficult to simply opt out. The best I have managed is to develop a productivity system that tries to tame the elephant. It doesn’t swap the elephant for <insert something nicer, easier to handle and less demanding>. Various pieces of technology are starting to emerge which may challenge e mail and I guess over the next few years e mails will disappear – how many teenagers do you know who use e mail unless they are communicating with adults?
I don’t yet have a clever answer for the collection of tech that will combine collaboration, video, speech, voice and storage into a package that supports people in the quest to add value to their customers. Although the first person to market with a productivity suite of things as a web service may be on to something. The e mail question however is just a rally point for the dissatisfaction we feel when systems drive us to serve the machine as we do battle to ‘clear the Inbox’, losing sight of what we are really there for.
The interesting question though is how did we (only) get here? For most people in large organisations they are still working in the same way they were 25 years ago when I started my first job. E mails have replaced memos and carbon paper but the ‘call and return’ / ‘fire and forget’ systems remain.
This issue does expose the bigger challenge of leading the building of digital services. We can now easily build systems which make what we already do faster and cheaper. But, this just digitises processes which have analogue DNA. I have written before about the dangers of using stuff that ‘works’, limiting our ability to think about the future (Fax machines in the NHS and lawyers offices for example). It is the doing things right vs doing right things problem.
Language is important here. It seems to me that we shouldn’t just talk about “digitising services” as this implies digitising our anlogue thinking. We need to “create digitial services” and see it as a jump not a journey (or any other term that implies incrementalism).
The big digital leadership challenge is to be disruptive, explicitly challenging anything which looks like an ‘e’ version of what went before, asking the unscripted questions that drive the innovation which, in the words of Peter Drucker “creates a new dimension of performance”.