by Rick Brenner
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?
A metaphorical depiction of the creation of artificial intelligence — a pun on Michelangelo's depiction of Adam and the hand of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The automation discussed here certainly does not meet the definition of artificial intelligence. But it would take you a few steps closer to that ideal. Image courtesy the U.S. Defense Department Science blog.
We all use computers and computer-based devices. Some of us use them effectively, but more of us use them just effectively enough that we're unaware of how truly powerful they can be. Computer-based devices have three levels of capabilities.
- Ready-to-use capabilities
- All our devices have capabilities intended for use with almost no training. Menu and ribbon commands, keyboard shortcuts, and email message filtering are examples. But some capabilities are hard to find, and some, once found, are hard to understand and remember. The ease-of-use of these machines is often oversold.
- If you want to benefit from these capabilities, invest effort in learning about them. Because that investment pays for itself quickly, learning one new thing generates time to learn the next. Try this: Windows Mac
- Organizational If everyone is so busy doing "real work"
that they have no time to learn how to
do it better, they'll just use what
they already knowleaders who expect employees to learn how to use these capabilities on their own are perhaps a bit naïve. Employees need support, assistance, and time to explore. If everyone is so busy doing "real work" that they have no time to learn how to do it better, they'll just use what they already know. The lost productivity rapidly accumulates to levels beyond the savings that came from not offering training and support.
- Simple extensions
- Many software applications support stationery, templates, styles, bookmarks, hyperlinks, macro recording, and so on. Mastering these simple extensions takes some effort — more than simple menu commands and keyboard shortcuts.
- Although these extensions seem easy enough in blog posts and YouTube videos, for many, the simplicity is deceptive. The shortest path to mastery usually involves getting help from peers or user groups. Seek help and pay it forward.
- Organizations can make some templates, stationery, or styles available to everyone. Tragically, organizations rarely support effective education in using these assets, but they could. Making it easier for employees to learn does reduce costs.
- Programmatic extensions
- Because this third class of capabilities usually involves programming — scripts are an example — most employees cannot exploit them. Even when they know what tools they want and what tools could simplify their work, they don't know how to produce them. Some do, of course, and they do benefit.
- Unless you have a talent for programming and user interface design, leave these items to experts. People who try to exploit these capabilities, and who lack necessary skills, often find that the effort does not pay.
- This class of automation tools is the domain of the expert. The organization must step forward, making resources available to the people who know what tools they need, but lack the ability to build them. Supporting those resources is cheaper than letting people waste their time trying to do what they cannot.
Whether you have broad organizational responsibility, or you're just trying to get through the day without falling further behind, there's much you can do to get more done with less effort. Exploit automation. Top Next Issue
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