We are struggling with what we call the “productivity paradox.” Technology has provided us with lots of clever tools designed to deliver efficiency in our tasks and promising a high level of productivity. Yet, at this point in their deployment, these technologies have not delivered on their promise. Productivity is stuck in a rut and going nowhere.
There have been many theories about why this paradox exists. Some suggest we are not yet far enough into the deployment cycle to benefit from tech advances. Some suggest that efficiency is the wrong place to apply technology. But today, I like Tim Harford’s argument about “Why Microsoft Office is a bigger productivity drain than Candy Crush Saga.”
In a modern office there are no specialist typists; we all need to be able to pick our way around a keyboard. PowerPoint has made amateur slide designers of everyone. Once a slide would be produced by a professional, because no one else had the necessary equipment or training. Now anyone can have a go — and they do.
Well-paid middle managers with no design skills take far too long to produce ugly slides that nobody wants to look at. They also file their own expenses, book their own travel and, for that matter, do their own shopping in the supermarket. On a bill-by-the-minute basis none of this makes sense.
Of course, there are many other business tasks and processes that we are also distracted by, mostly in the form of contributing data to reports, generating reports, reading and reacting to reports, monitoring schedules, and more. We’re distracted by the mundane, lose focus, and gain little. Generalist technologies have us all engaged now in generalist work.
Yet, we are also anxious about AI and the emerging automation of work. AI has the potential to take over many of those background tasks and give back the time and focus we feel we need in order to be truly productive.
The folks at Lemonade have generated an AI bot they call Cooper to automate much of this other kind of non-productive processing. Perhaps this augmented intelligence is a good model.
Our team will continue teaching Cooper to generate modular legal documents, compile data for regulatory compliance reports, answer knowledge base questions, help find documents, on-board new employees, help setup IT equipment, keep an eye on critical KPIs, monitor financial transactions, run fraud analysis, and help us become better at customer acquisition.
So perhaps the best path is not toward the autonomous organization. Continuous attention may be exhausting, and serendipitous distraction may be rewarding. A better objective may be the Augmented Organization, a place where the time demand of clutter is removed from our day and the full capacity of our thinking and energy is at the ready, to efficiently and productively meet our goals.