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Time Will Tell

By John Parkinson  |  Posted 07-19-2002 Print

Time Will Tell

As I watch my five-year-old daughter, who has had a computer since before she was three, rapidly re-create her generation's ability to interact with the current glut of technological toys and surrounding infrastructure, I wonder what she will be able to do a decade from now. And that, in turn, makes me wonder how we will create working environments that today's teenagers—read tomorrow's work force—and the generations following them will find sufficiently engaging. Can we learn to leverage their multitasking capabilities to create the next big surge in productivity? (We'd better: For at least two decades, fewer workers will be supporting more retirees, and that productivity boost is going to be badly needed.)

I've worked in both line and general management for a long time, both before I became a consultant and since. A part of being a general manager involves the ability to switch our attention from one context to another as we deal with multiple aspects of our work. Although we keep a lot of things in play at the same time, we generally focus on just one thing at a time. In that sense, our behavior at work is essentially linear. General managers simply change "lines" more often than their subordinates. Our information systems and business automation approaches and processes are designed to support this requirement, organizing tasks linearly and packaging information into constrained datasets that can be assimilated rapidly and used in a specific context.

Our children seem to be able to do better than that. They seem to start out with the skills of general managers and then add a distinctly non-linear dimension to their abilities. I hesitate to call it a "networked" approach—perhaps "associative" is a better analogy. It makes me wonder about several aspects of our current working environment that we need to think about changing.


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