Augmentation not automation to improve…

Augmentation not automation to improve knowledge work productivity.

Time.  Computer automation, recessions, and white collar work.  The new economy rush towards productivity continues.

>>>But until now there has been no holistic approach to networks ? just efforts to make storage or servers more efficient on their own, Horn says. And though the recession has shrunk technology budgets, financial constraints often encourage this kind of enhancement to efficiency. “The biggest demand for automation often occurs in economic downturns,” he says. “I can’t go to a company that doesn’t say, ‘I need to automate. I’ve got to get my costs down.‘”

To some extent, computers and other machines already “sweat,” after two generations of automating blue-collar jobs. And technology keeps climbing the occupational ladder. Asked how firms are making money by implementing new technology, Chris Meyer says, “There is a simple answer: the automation of white-collar work.” Already, travel agents and stockbrokers have seen their business eroded by online travel and trading sites. Meyer adds that as the professional-services technologies improve, other occupations ? including doctors and lawyers ? may join automation’s hit parade.<<< [John Robb’s Radio Weblog]

Attacking the productivity of knowledge work is the right target, but automation is the wrong weapon. Now, more than ever, we need to be careful about the language we use to think about and talk about how productivity applies in the realm of knowledge work.

The best starting point is Doug Engelbart and his notion of augmenting human intellect. The challenge is to improve how we think about how we think and to then look for how tools, techniques, and technology can improve the outcomes.

Automation is the wrong concept on two grounds, at least. First, automation contains the notion that our goal is substitution of technology for people. While these opportunities do exist, they aren’t the most important ones. Moreover, when you think in terms of automation, the result is such horrors as the mindless scripting of call center interactions. That’s a poor strategy for improving productivity in the long term no matter what the short-term payoffs.

Second, thinking in terms of automation shifts attention away from the highest value-adding opportunities. These come from thinking hard about how technology can be used to redefine the task in ways that leverage the distinct strengths of both people and technology. If you don’t take the time to do that thinking–if you apply technology as an automater that can be substituted for human thinking–you risk doing what my old friend Benn Konsynski used to call “speeding up the mess”

[McGee’s Musings]