An Academic’s Self-Importance

Professor Cal Newport, a Georgetown University Computer Science professor, has some interesting ideas regarding how Americans should work and how we should communicate with each other. He laid out these views in a recent Harvard Business Review piece.

This unstructured workflow arose from the core properties of email technology—namely, the standard practice of associating addresses with individuals (and not, say, teams, or request type, or project)….

This is bad, of course, because the individuals doing the work didn’t actually do that. Someboedy else did—those nebulous “teams,” or this thing called a “request type.”

But the big demonstration of an Academic’s self-importance is in this:

But just because this unstructured approach is standard and easy doesn’t mean it’s smart. It’s important to remember that no blue ribbon committee or brilliant executive ever sat down and decided that this workflow would make businesses more productive or employees more satisfied.

Yeah. No Betters told these plebes what to do. They just stumbled around in the dark, using this complex new tool—email!—without guidance, without an Expert’s or a Blue Ribbon Committee’s instruction. Never mind that they got the work done, and better, using this new tool (among others) their way instead of in the Approved Way.

A consequence of this workflow is that an organization’s tasks become entangled in a complicated network of dependencies with inbox-enslaved individuals sited at each node. The only way to keep productive energy flowing through this network is for everyone to continually check, send, and reply to the multitude of messages flowing past—all in an attempt to drive tasks, in an ad hoc manner, toward completion.

Now he’s projecting and assuming everyone shares his shortcomings. Of course in serious work, this isn’t the case. It certainly wasn’t the way we worked—with email and instant messaging—at a major defense contractor that was my latest employer.

Newport’s piece goes on in this vein, but you get the idea.

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