Our lifestyles are increasingly getting faster paced. The number of things we have to keep track of is increasing. Complexity is growing. Yet wasn’t technology supposed to make everything easier? Why do we find ouselves having less and less time despite having technology that can do more and more for us?
I think a large part of it has to do with the process. Let’s say a piece of technology, X, is created and it allow you to do a certain task, A, in 1/2 the time it used to take. So the company you work for buys X and gives it to you who is doing task A and says something along the lines of “How funky is this” . Typically the end result would be that you are now expected to do task A at roughly twice the rate. Stress increases and job satisfaction reduces. Why?
What has happened is a change in your workflow. You’ve most likely gone from doing more higher level activities, those that required your skills, creativity and so on, to lower level activities, pressing buttons and following the process to allow the piece of technology to do the work. There is still a degree of skill in what you do it’s just that now there is less of it. There is a saying:
The first time you do something you are a scientist, the second time you are an engineer, the third you are a technician.
With each iteration the task becomes less exciting and more routine and mundane. With each iteration efficiency improves but job satisfaction decreases.
So, as technology makes tasks easier and more efficient we have two options. We can do more, or we can diversify. By diversify I mean we can use the extra time to do other things such as relax, learn, be creative, experiment, reflect and so on. This is fine when technology is making life easier for things you are doing in your own time. When it’s things you are doing for your employer however it is a different question. Your employer is going to want you to be productive for the hours they are paying you.
Many employers are realising now that this isn’t necessarily the best way to go and this is where it gets exciting. I believe it is the narrow minded, short term employer who says they expect you to produce more. The smarter employers are now starting to say, use the extra time to explore ways to produce better.
The school I work for has allowed me to explore new ideas during quiet times and quite a few of them have turned into products we have benefitted greatly from. Products that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Now, not all of my pet projects have turned out to be successes but that isn’t to say that the ones that failed were a waste of time. They were all valuable in that we learnt from them. Some of the parts were used later in other projects, others provided inspiration for new projects, others taught us valuable lessons in why we should avoid doing certain things certain ways.
Google is another company that expects it’s employees to have side projects. It has worked very successfully for them as a large number of the products they now offer started off as side projects.
I think it’s a matter of risks. You can work harder, which will make you small gains but is almost guaranteed. Or you can work smarter, which has the potential for much greater gains but is very hit and miss. It can, however, be a lot more fun.