Holiday reading

I bought the holiday edition of the Financial Review on Christmas Eve for something to read over the break. On the morning of Boxing Day I lay in bed and read it from front to back. There were a number of fascinating stories that captured my imagination.

There was an article about the so-called ‘Uberisation’ of how we live. I’m sceptical of such a claim, which strikes me as being more catchy than true, but the article itself was fascinating.

Basically it was how technology was proving to be disruptive in a positive sense – Uber being an example whereby technology has enabled a service that wouldn’t have been possible previously.

The more telling examples related to how a productivity expert witnessed closely the runnings of his local hospital while sitting at the bedside of his sick daughter. It appeared to him amazingly inefficient. Despite the devotion and care of nurses and doctors so much of their time was wasted completing forms and following protocols. He went away from it and designed a simple and largely automated process that allowed the health practitioners much more time to do what they do best – provide care to patients.

It’s a comprehensive article which I won’t repeat here, but the essential message is that the continued development of technology, and its growing portability, makes for the potential transformation of productivity and the way we do things. It means that new jobs are created as a result, while others become redundant. The risk is conservatism and risk aversion, whereby these benefits aren’t realised because of ‘sunk costs’ in other solutions, or simply fear of the unknown.

In a lot of ways this is what I was – someone who came in to review where you’re at, where you want to get to, and utilise the available technology to design a solution to get you there swiftly and efficiently. In my case it was all encompassing – technology, processes, controls, resources and policies. I’m a great advocate for the possibilities of aligning technology to business needs, and the potential to leap forward by getting them in sync.

The obstacles I faced are the same as detailed in the article: conservatism, fear, and the reluctance to ditch something they have spent a lot of time, effort and dollars in favour of something new – no matter how much more efficient. It’s a false economy, but it’s human nature also. It’s easier to keep spending a little for an inefficient system than (potentially) paying a more now for a system much more efficient (and which pays for itself). I should add that politics comes into it also, but that’s another story.

The next article that caught my eye was regarding the so-called flexible office, and how allegedly it’s becoming much more common. It’s something that makes sense to me, and would embrace – a pattern of work that fits both employer and employee. I think it makes for better productivity, as well as being more user friendly.

It’s the way I’ve tried to live for many years. I remember working at Exxon-Mobil in the early 2000’s when I negotiated a day off every week so that I could attend to my own projects. The old 9-5 dichotomy just doesn’t work the same in a 21st century economy. Times have changed, but working habits haven’t nearly as much. This is something that is mutually beneficial, and makes for a more dynamic workforce – which is also more productive. (I note that Sweden are moving to a 6 hour working day, and think it will be a winner).

The final article was about learning and the traditional methods of examination. A bunch of tertiary institutions have taken to new methods of learning that take advantage of modern online technologies. The results have been excellent, and means that the traditional exam has been done away with.

Once more I’m in favour of more agile and productive ways of doing things, and the point made in the article that traditional exams don’t reflect real life is reasonable. Still, I was initially reluctant to believe there shouldn’t be exams any more. I’m not a traditionalist per se, my thinking was that it’s productive to be tested in an environment where you must prepare and come up with the goods. It may not be practically applicable anymore, but it’s excellent mental conditioning.

By the end of the article I was willing to conceded that perhaps there’s was a better way and, importantly, the students are still tested, just using a different methodology.

All in all, some fascinating holiday reading, and stimulating for the mind.

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