Don’t Be A Tool!

“Men have become the tools of their tools” – Henry David Thoreau

We have become cut over to the new system this weekend.  The system is our core business financial system or ERP system.  I won’t get into details as to which large one we are tearing out, and what small one we are installing in its place.  But, the project has really brought out one thing – people’s over reliance on tools.  When I saw this quotation by Thoreau, my feelings on the subject were properly summarized.

As an IT geek, you would think I am very “pro-technology”, but I can’t say that is universally true.  I am more in the mindset of using the right tool for the job. When I am going to weed, I don’t grab whatever tool happens to be sitting nearest me in the tool area.  I think about what I’m trying to tackle, decide if I even need an implement for the job, and go forth and tackle it.

I love gadgets and tools; don’t get me wrong.  But, they should never replace thinking and analyzing.

In our case at work, the old system did replace thinking and analyzing and decision making.  Enter a sales order, for example, and you don’t even need to think about some of the key parameters that make up a sales order.  Why?  We made the decision to default those into the order based on a couple of key pieces of info entered by the user.  We decided not to trust the person at the keyboard – not to trust their training, their intelligence, or their manager to hold them accountable.  In other words, they became a tool to the tool.

This issue came out of the project early on when we talked to the users about why they did certain things.  They had no idea.  It was what they were told.  Upon analysis, we traced back some of these things to systems we had around 15 years ago….systems that had been long since replaced.  And, replaced with systems that did not require those same things.  People started waking up to the fact we had been allowing our own work to be driven by the systems.  For some, they were dumbfounded.  For others, they were angry at themselves mainly for just accepting bull shit answers when they raised the questions.

The new system is just a system.  No bells and whistles.  No automated processes that replace human thinking.  No answers spit out of the system – only data for someone to analyze to find the answer. 

I suspect there will be some people who can’t make the mental shift.  Some are clearly not thinkers but doers.  They want to push a button and have the work done for them.  Others are excited.  They love knowing all of the “whys” behind the new system.  Unlike in the past when IT has been very much like the “wonderful Wizard of Oz” where we keep the curtain drawn away from what is really happening, we instead tore the curtain away and explained it all.  Want to know why you have to enter that info into a sales order?  If you don’t, accounting can’t collect the money from the customer on that order.  Reactions are now “oh, shit – that’s REALLY important”.  Amazing how powerful things are when you involve and explain.

Why do I share all of this with you?  Because it is easy in this day and age to allow yourself to become a slave to the tools.  Tools cannot replace your brain.  They are aids only.  If you have them, but don’t know why you need them or how to use them, maybe you should go back and ask what you are trying to do.  You may discover you are looking at it the wrong way – and you are becoming a tool to your tools.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Monkeys pushing buttons. I try to make myself believe I live in a world where people think about and understand why they do what they do because it depresses me to think otherwise, but the cynical part of me fears most people are just the aforementioned monkeys.

    I vacilate wildly at my job between trying to explain and accepting that most people don’t care and realizing they don’t cate and trying to make the system as fool-proof as possible. I do think individual reponsibility is important, but there’s a reason some people get paid less than others and often that reason is theur own lack of ability.

  2. Emmy says:

    What’s interesting with the company that is about to lay me off is that they want thinkers again. The monkeys didn’t work and only started perpetuating not solving the problems.

    That all being said, accountability seems to be lacking. It will come to a head eventually. I’m just glad I’m not going to have to deal with the fall out before it does.

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