Pop marketing guru extraordinaire Seth Godin had a marvelous post recently. It was titled Time for a workflow audit, but the relatively short tidbit inside sparked a moment of self-reflection on my part. By the way, if you’re not following Seth’s daily tidbits of advice you should be (and you should use RSS).
If you’re asking yourself “What is RSS?” or you’ve just returned from Google to find that I’ve caught you not knowing don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. This is perfectly normal. No one can know everything.
If you’re a little older than me and thinking that the younger generation has this innate knowledge and understanding of existing technologies you can rest easy: they don’t. I’ve been around plenty of my peers (and those more than a decade younger) who waste time day in and day out because they’re not aware of existing tools, functions, or programs that could do those repetitive tasks for them. They unknowingly do it the hard way. I say again: you are not alone.
While my degrees are almost exclusively in the Arts (specifically theatre), I’ve long had a side hobby of technology. I’ve blogged about this hobby before (most notably in my post Why I Choose Creative Commons BY-SA). This technology hobby initially grew out of interest in automating repetitive tasks along with a fascination with the complex randomization that computers could perform. Perhaps more generally, it has always been about ensuring that the tools I use are fast, effective and productive. The other (more negative) way to put it is that I spend gobs of time trying out every tool under the sun in order to find the best one for any given task. I wrote one example recently concerning my minimalist writing environment.
The Fool’s Errand
Productivity can be an end in and of itself though. You can be so focused on being “productive” that you forget to actually do anything. Merlin Mann sarcastically attacks the minimalist trend in a very funny (and, for those of us who have been trapped by such snake oil in the past, heartbreaking) video. The point being that an entire market has emerged to sell the product of being productive in the digital age. This varied industry probably decreases productivity overall, despite occasional moments of insight. How could such an industry emerge? It’s easy: we deal with incalculable and inescapable information every day. More troubling, it’s always with us on our computers, phones, and other devices. It is, clearly, a problem. Technology causes this problem and, paradoxically, technology can be utilized to solve it.
The Bad Businessman
The interesting thing about Seth’s post was that it was from a different perspective than my own. His perspective revered and found value in skills and knowledge I happen to possess. I don’t often value my own skills or knowledge. Seth’s post, however, reminded me of how often I end up getting asked about how to do some task (which is to me rather mundane) and being heralded genuinely as the savior of the moment (or day, or year, et cetera). The person I help is extremely grateful to have received help, they’ve learned something (if they were paying attention and interested in learning), and I’ve done my part to make the world a better place.
Further, it occurs to me that I’ve been “hired” before to do similar things: introduce a professor to blogging (particularly the site setup), guest lecture for a graduate arts administration class about how to effectively use Microsoft’s Excel for whatever task they could imagine, recommend digital time-saving techniques for my own students doing work for other courses, and a host of other examples.
As a teacher, I have a profound belief that everyone can learn. This belief leads me to diminish my own particular skills (whether innate or acquired) in favor of assuming that everyone generally has (or can have) the same skill sets and interests I do. Seth’s post reminded me that other people (maybe even you) find skills I possess valuable. These are the skills I happened upon, not through formal training, but through a genuine interest and desire. They are skills I live every day.
These are the skills that make my peers stare over my shoulder in confusion as I quickly go about my daily work on a computer at lightening speed. These are also the skills that make watching most other computer users go about their work a frustrating experience for me (especially if I’m waiting on them for something). These are skills that are worth something. So, I second Mr. Godin’s call to find a geek, sit them next to you, and ask them how you can work better. I, however, second it from the other side. As such, I’m open for business.