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Focus on the hole, not the drill

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Focus on the hole, not the drill

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As humans we have a tendency to fall in love with our own ideas. Even if an idea isn’t our own to start with, the more we get involved in it, the more it will begin to feel like it is actually ours. We will fight for it. Make sure others buy into it. We are dedicated to making it happen, to turn the brilliant idea into an elegant solution. During such a journey it isn’t unlikely that we will begin to lose sight of the problem or need that the idea was meant to address. The more we invest in the solution, the more we focus on it, the more blind we will be to new information that doesn’t align with the solution. We begin to take the solution for the truth, and when the problem changes, we still see it through the same lens and try to apply the same solution to fix it. We might even try to apply it to new problems. Hell, it worked for this other problem so why can’t it work for other problems as well?

Take intranets as an example. When intranets were first introduced during the 1990's, the original problem they were to solve was to make corporate information such as process descriptions, instructions, organizational information, and corporate news available and more accessible to employees. Before information was digitalized, it used to be put in binders and on bulletin boards. It had to be physically copied and placed at every location where it was to be used, and the people who needed it had to go to that location. The intranet helped to make this information much more available and accessible, less redundant, as well as easier to update and distribute for those whose task it was to produce and distribute the information.

Since then the problems that intranets were to solve has changed. More and more employees are doing non-routine cognitive work that requires access to information that is typically provided via an intranet. This means that only a fraction of their everyday information needs can be served by the information that is on the intranet. Most of the information they need comes from other coworkers and from the world outside the organization, and much of their information needs cannot be anticipated. The sheer volume of information that needs to be accessible to them cannot be centrally managed by a few resources, or even delegated to a few select people within each team. In addition to this, more and more information is created and exchanged by the employees themselves, often the products of collaborative work. It would be too cumbersome, take to much time, and risk getting stuck in the process if all this information would be exchanged via the intranet. Besides, fitting it all into one centrally governed organization scheme would be an impossible task.

The logical approach is to approach this problem is try to build an understanding the characteristics of knowledge work, how it gets done and how it can be done in a better way, and then go back to back to the drawing board and work out a new solution. But how does most organizations suggest to solve this problem? You guessed right – they throw their Intranet at it. They invest in a new platform, some new features, and a shiny new design, only to later see low adoption and usage rates, but most importantly no real change to ways of working, and no positive effects on knowledge worker productivity.

Instead of jumping to solutions, organizations should start to iteratively explore how technology can be designed to make their employees work smarter as individuals and together in a constantly changing and unpredictable environment, how they can get more things done faster while at the same time being able to improvise and innovate. To do so they need to focus on the hole, not the drill.


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