Technology is meant to make our lives easier. This applies just as well to pre-historic tools made out of pieces of rock, a bit of leather and wood as it does to modern IT tools. Information Technology (IT) is purely about that, making lives of people easier.
Having set the context, I will get back to telling how nerds are sabotaging your workday in practical examples a few paragraphs below.
So, what does it exactly mean to ”make our lives easier”? How do you measure ”easier”? And how does ”easier” relate to productivity? Surely tools are also meant to boost productivity!
Well, there are conventional quantitative metrics, such as how many calls a customer service agent can process or how many parcels a courier can deliver, and so on. Then there are more qualitative meters such as how photographs can be enhanced, how soundtracks or special effects for films can be edited and so on.
Whatever the metric used to evaluate the quality or quantity of work, there is always a person doing that work. That person is usually referred to as the ”end user”. Sounds a bit soulless, doesn’t it?
Let’s go back to the original idea of what nerds (IT professionals), as the providers of modern tools to these end users, should concentrate on. I argue that IT professionals should not concentrate on aforementioned conventional metrics. That is for the purchaser and administrator of the system.
IT professionals should concentrate on the end user – and more specifically on the end users’ flow.
In order to create an outstanding tool, the creator of that tool needs first to understand the task which the tool will be used for. Secondly, but at least as importantly, the user of the tool needs to be understood. Preferably the user of the tool will be consulted before, during and after the development of the tool.
The objective should be maximizing the end user’s flow while using the tool. Wikipedia defines flow as:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
You know those moments, when you are for example writing text, painting or improvising music and the work just flows. Or in sports, when the running just feels so good you don’t want to stop or nailing a skiing slope perfectly, with a seamless rhythmic flow. Or those days when everything just falls into place, like a jazz band playing completely in sync, in flow.
This is exactly what productivity is about. True human productivity equals flow. Therefore, if we want to maximize productivity, we should be maximizing flow. And from my personal experience, the state of flow is a very engaging and rewarding state to be in. In the state of flow, work becomes enjoyable, enhancing the quality of work and motivation.
Now, imagine that when painting a great picture, your painting suddenly goes all blue and you have to start all over again. Or during a great band session your drummer just freezes and loops just a snare drum sound. Maybe during your dream skiing run your skiing boots just decide to unlock, requiring you to stop to lock them again.
Similar situations happen daily or even more frequently to millions (or more) office workers around the world. That is a manifestation of how nerds are sabotaging your workday, in some smaller or bigger way, every day.
Avoiding this would translate to higher productivity (optimized flow), happier employees and could eventually even lead to less stress, better health and longer careers.
I am not sure how to measure flow. Maybe the results of flow are easier to measure, as described earlier, as the conventional metrics or productivity.
In any case, I propose that the key here is communication between the nerd and the end user. Problems that can interrupt one’s flow can be surprising and cannot be guessed by someone not familiar with current tools and processes used for the task. It could be as trivial as having connection problems with a wireless mouse, or printer problems. It can also be more sophisticated, realted to the user experience (UX) design of the software.
It is absolutely vital to understand these three aspects in order to develop a truly useful tool:
- The person who uses the tools being developed
- The task(s) for what the tool will be used
- How the user can maximize flow and what are the greatest obstacles to overcome
What do you think? I would love to hear your comments on how nerds are sabotaging your workday and how we could be maximizing Your flow 🙂