Web 2

By Allan Alter Print this article Print

Want your workforce to get more done? Personal productivity guru David Allen says CIOs should focus more on individual accountability and personal behavior, and less on technology.

.0: Information Overload?">Web 2.0: Information Overload?

So how can an organization exploit Web 2.0 technologies like blogs, wikis and social networking to improve personal and organizational productivity?

I'm not kidding—one of the best ways is to turn those things off. I am always curious as to why people have time to blog to begin with. I understand there's a lot of value to the information in these things, but what do we do with that information? The great hope of a lot of technology is the ability to glean best practices and share them efficiently so people aren't reinventing the wheel. But I have probably thrown away more Lotus Notes databases than we have staff simply because what you think is the way you want to slice and dice information can morph very rapidly.

I've seen a lot of Web 2.0 stuff out there and a lot of it is making assumptions about what kind of data you think is going to be important to you. That's a slippery slope. People assume their organization wanted a certain kind of information; then the organization changed but the package didn't. Now, they need a whole different way to slice and dice information. Or, some of that information turned out to be a lot more relevant than other [parts of it], and they've essentially lost their investment. In our case, we invested heavily in front-end software development tools so my staff could build and own our own code from the beginning, and keep changing it as our business changed. That's worked extremely well for us.

People have often talked about information overload and technology's role in information overload. That's a lot of what the new 2.0 stuff is about: Let's create some virtual world out there with a big machine in the sky that, no matter where we are, we can then use and not be limited by XYZ. My point of view is that the problem isn't information overload. If that were the case, you'd walk into a library and die. The problem is potential-meaning overload. That is, I've got things that might mean something to me, and if I don't sit down and train myself to define that meaning quickly and easily, and have a place to park the results of that decision-making, that creates the sense of being overwhelmed and out of control. That's why I come back to defining the meaning of this to me.

What personal technology do you and others in your organization use, in addition to Lotus Notes?

A lot of us used Palms before, but I now have six people who need to access my schedule, so almost kicking and screaming I had to move to Notes myself from the Palm Desktop application. So I use that, and a lot of us sync that to Trios or other PDAs.

I think good project planning and collaborative-thinking tools are important. We also use the Office suite; Word and Excel are fairly standard commodities. We don't use BlackBerries. I think a lot of Blackberry usage is out there because people don't process their e-mails. Most of us at my company keep our backlog of unprocessed messages pretty clean. When you do that, you don't necessarily need to see e-mails but once a day.

Have you seen any technology advances that have the potential to improve personal productivity significantly?

No, I haven't seen any. I keep looking. Most of the new technology is just classier, sexier ways to slice and dice information or speed things up. It has nothing to do with facilitating the thinking process or getting us to engage in more productive behaviors.

What have you learned in the past couple of years that you will talk about in your next book, due out in 2008?

The two aspects of self-management: control and perspective. Most people try to attack one or the other, but you have to have this perfect marriage between the two. I need to get control of my situation so I can have breathing room and the ability to get perspective, but I also then need to work on getting the right perspective.

Those are two very different dynamics, but you need both. The truth is, if you get out of control, it's impossible to have perspective, and if you don't have the appropriate perspective, you will lose control. You have to have that sort of master and commander thing going, that middle edge that says, I need to keep the eye on the prize, but I still need to be able to shift my horizon down.

This article was originally published on 2007-05-15
Executive Editor

Allan Alter has been a specialist on information technology management, strategy and leadership for many years. Most recently, he was editor-in-chief and the director of new content development for the MIT Sloan Management Review. He has been a columnist and department editor at Computerworld, where he won three awards from the American Society of Business Press Editors. Previously he was a special projects editor, senior editor and senior writer for CIO magazine. Earlier, Alter was an associate editor for Mass High Tech. He has edited two books: The Squandered Computer: Evaluating the Business Alignment of Business Technologies and Redesigning the Firm.

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