Andrew McAfee wrote recently that his MBA students raised a concern about whether, “people who use the new tools heavily — who post frequently to an internal blog, edit the corporate wiki a lot, or trade heavily in the internal prediction market — will be perceived as not spending enough time on their ‘real’ jobs.”
He explains that the likely source of this concern is the work environments his students came from, environments that place a high value on busyness, or the appearance thereof, and suggests, “These companies stand to benefit a great deal if they can build emergent platforms for collaboration, information sharing, and knowledge creation. But they may be in a particularly bad position to build such platforms not because potential contributors are too busy, but because they don’t want to be seen as not busy enough.”
In my opinion, the epitome of the appearance of busyness is the Blackberry. In “It Don’t Mean a Thing if You Ain’t Got That Ping”, New York Times reporter Matt Richtel looks at the BlackBerry outage in mid April and its psychological effect on hardcore users. Money quote:
BlackBerry users half-joke that they have become junkies, insatiable data tokers. But because the tool is tied to productivity, defined by some as essential to modern employment, overusers don’t really regard their habit as the digital equivalent of firing up a Marlboro outside work.
Perhaps they should re-examine the tie to productivity, however. The technology creates the illusion that every moment can be a productive one, said Tara Hunt, 33, a marketing director for a technology consulting company in San Francisco. When you’re not participating, it’s like you’re suggesting that you’re not keeping up, she said.
No one (that I know of) ever writes a long email on a BlackBerry. While waiting to get off a plane in Chicago, I watched a woman furiously replying to emails on her BlackBerry, but all she was typing were one word replies — “yes”, “no”, “let’s talk” — in the midst of the gibberish of email headers, all the addresses a message was copied to, timestamps, etc. She certainly looked very busy, but how much was she _really_ getting done?
Paula Thornton observes: “Enterprise 2.0 requires design above and beyond technical implementation.” To me, Blackberry seems like just a technical implementation — a tool that’s applied to the existing email paradigm, as opposed to one that was designed for the new collaboration paradigm, and that makes it only a crutch for a complete communication solution.
Wiki _is_ a tool that’s designed for the new collaboration paradigm, so if a person spent the time they’d normally spend on a Blackberry on a wiki, they could make a more substantial contribution to a project or document, something that others could really work with in their absence, unlike that one word email reply.
Joe McKendrick of the FASTForward Blog agrees: “Ironically, instead of being a drag on productivity, engaging in the collaboration, knowledge creation, and mashup workarounds that Enterprise 2.0 offers may begin to increase productivity, and enable knowledge workers to get more done in shorter time.”