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Homeopathic IT

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Homeopathic IT

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The world of homeopathy is an interesting thing. Pseudoscience cobbled together to produce medical interventions that are no more effective than a placebo, but have some sort of efficacy as a result of that effect. If you want to create a placebo effect, then you need to tell people a story to get them to buy into it, and so to that extent Homeopathy is as good as any. Any more or less dubious than, say, the way in which drug manufacturers package ibuprofen or paracetamol in different ways (and with different price points) to help with efficacy of pain relief? Who’s to tell (and these pages aren’t a place for an in depth examination of the whys and wherefores of the drug industry).

There is a point, though, to me potentially inflaming a whole bunch of folk by the simple mention of homeopathy…

The Hawthorne Effect is also an interesting thing. Sometimes known as the Observer Effect, in simple terms it tells us that if people in a work place are observed or investigated, the additional attention that subjects’ receive can in turn lead to productivity gains.

I was reminded of the phenomenon when yesterday I heard a talk exploring the use of User Research in the realm of providing mainstream IT services. For a while it has struck me that by engaging with people in an organisation to talk about what their needs are, especially in the realm of commodity IT in the form of devices, collaboration and productivity software, and so on, is a vital part of the process of delivering more meaningful change and adoption of new services. What dawned on me today is that maybe, just maybe, the Hawthorne Effect could mean that you could see real and meaningful improvements in working productivity by conducting an process of ongoing and perpetual user research, even if you never delivered any actual technology whatsoever. Placebo effect technology management. Homeopathic IT, if you will.

Going out and letting people talk about what they do on a day-to-day basis undoubtedly is beneficial. It helps them to articulate what it is they do, and to question how they might do it better. Quite frankly, it’s the sort of thing that people need external stimulus to get around to doing.

It’s almost certainly the case too that most people completely underutilise the technology that they have at their disposal today. We tend to learn the tools we know when we first encounter them, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to make the current world work like the one we originally learned. I use Word like I did when I first encountered version 6 back in the 1990s, but I still often find myself thinking how I’d have done something in WordPerfect 5.1. In a world where ownership of Learning and Development is increasingly devolved back to us as individuals, who spends time learning software products that we have already learned, especially if we don’t know what we don’t know?

The actual efficacy of modern commodity software is rarely calculated by organisations these days in terms other than the cost (to the IT department) of “ownership”. Current shifts to cloud models of delivery are beneficial but only because they can look better on a balance sheet. Nobody ever talks about the Total Benefits of Ownership, because it’s just assumed that you need these things these days.

So how about if you launched a homeopathic IT service where the actual technology part was watered down to be basically harmless? Focus instead on helping end users understand their needs and wants, and by that interaction alone see improvements in a Hawthorne Effect kind of way – and possibly see deeper improvement by people self-identifying either areas for working pattern improvement, or gaps in their own technology skills?

I challenge anyone to prove that it couldn’t be at least as effective as what we do now which is (mostly) to bung new versions of things out to users without consultation or engagement, just assuming that Windows X+1 and Office Y+1 is what they need because that’s what everyone else has got.


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