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the Good with the Bad
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Taking Control of the Information Age
of a Buzzward
Tip: Stay In For The Long Haul
Van Kampen American Capital Perseveres to Win AQP Excellence
by Peter Block
Have to Be a Little Different
by Cathy Kramer
Business News Briefs
for a Change
to the Editor
It's About Time
by Peter Block
I was in Silicon Valley last year and someone from Bay Networks,
a software company, asked me what I thought of the motto, "Speed is
god and time is the devil." Too busy to respond at the moment, I later
thought that this statement was a clear, precise statement of the culture
we are in the process of creating. Our religious affection for technology
and its commerce keeps deepening and the internet has become the ultimate
modern wonder drug. The internet is not about communication and global understanding,
it is about reducing transaction time. Reduced transaction time has become
a form of new age materialism.
It is hard to argue against the internet. It is really a huge, benign, low-cost
encyclopedia that operates like a mall and helps replace the telephone company
and the postal service. It has surfaced needs that I did not know I had.
Until recently, I was happy paying bills through the mail, getting tickets
from a travel agent, buying books at a book store, and calling people I
wanted to talk to. No more. Now I need to do all of these electronically.
Information and its technology is useful for the conduct
of business, but it is also doing something to our minds. It is creating
illusions about speed and change that may be more malignant than we realize.
Ways our mind is being bent:
We think because things can be automated, they are improved.
Just because we can reduce transaction time, it does not mean we are in
a period of rapid change or transformation. The information age is a mask
for the fact that business is very much as usual. For example:
Our organizations are changing form, but not purpose or beliefs. We are
in a period of rapid consolidation, but questionable improvement. In every
sector, giants are merging, people and costs are being cut, and competition
is disappearing. Institutions are combining as fast as they can so that
there is greater domination by fewer organizations. If you are in the market
for a bank, a hospital, an insurance provider, a television cable service,
a lumber yard or an airplane, your choices keep shrinking. While the consolidations
get explained as necessary for competition and beneficial to the customer,
the opposite is true.
Customers not only have fewer suppliers to chose from, but automated customer
information is being substituted for live action customer service. It is
now more difficult to find a human being on the other end of the line than
it was ten years ago before the era of "customer service."
Automated answering systems now take longer than in the
days when you could talk to a human being. We used to be able to talk to
an airline agent before their recent improvements in customer service. now
we have to punch our way through a maze of choices before an automated voice
tells us that the service agent is busy meeting the needs of other customers.
It won't be long before we press #, *, four different number choices and
end up talking to ourselves.
What remains unchanged is that the institutional survivors
still give top priority to economics and a belief in consistency and control
across the system. Valuing the person and the need for direct human connection
remains a lowpriority. The rhetoric has changed, but the experience hasn't.
We think that if we are exchanging information, we are
We are being sold the illusion that electronic interaction can bring us
closer together and constitutes a relationship. The fact I can communicate
faster, does not mean I have anything more to say. Been on a chat line lately
Speed does not equate with quality or contact. More likely
speed is hostile to human connection. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot
have an intimate relationship over the internet. Electronic connection is
not the equivalent of human touch. For years we were told that 90% of communication
was nonverbal. Body language, eye contact, tone of voice. Why has that suddenly
become irrelevant! Are our expectations of relationships so low that the
90% no longer matters?
We think that if something is amazing and fast, it is
important and useful.
The internet is a technical and commercial triumph packaged as social and
societal progress. It promises global awareness and human understanding.
Its more honest nature is to speed up our lives so as to reduce labor costs
and to put more and more of the work in someone else's lap.
Reduced transaction time is useful for the unpleasant aspects
of life or things that do not matter. When I don't want to do something,
speed becomes god. For example, reduced transaction time is great for:
o time in the dentist's chair
o being stuck in traffic
o receiving a performance review
o giving a performance review
o receiving helpful feedback from your children over
the age of fourteen
o conversations with your ex-wife about a daughter's
o writing a column for a newsletter
o birthday parties for 3-8 year olds
o sustaining maximum heartbeat on a stairmaster.
On the other hand, for the things in life that offer hope
and meaning, we need to slow down the transaction. Let time be god, and
speed be the devil for:
o summer evenings near a body of water
o watching the sun rise or set
o talking with someone you love
o reaching real consensus with team members on
just about anything
o employees who are grateful for the leadership they