Thinking about a recent post and the idea of "augmenting human intellect" got me to thinking about what we look for in computer systems.

I think there is an idea among people who want a piece of work to be done without doing it themselves that computers do the work, and the person using the computer is just the "operator". Whether that is an image that you want someone to photoshop, or complex analysis using something like Excel, SPSS, or a social listening dashboard, the underlying (and probably unconscious) assumptions are;

  • Computers do amazing things
  • If I had the software/knew how to use it/had the time, I could do it myself
  • Even though I don't understand it, it seems pretty simple

I think that they are 3 common assumptions, which are all wrong. But I'm going to focus on the first one; the fact is, computers don't do amazing things.

People do amazing things with computers.

That's what the idea of "augmenting human intellect" is all about. Computers don't do the jobs — they help people to do the jobs.

Another way of looking at it is to think of the computer as an assistant. No good leader/manager would ever say that their problem is that they are leading the wrong people, or that they would be a better leader if they had a better assistant. But an assistant, by definition, has nothing to do without someone to assist.

And that's why looking for a magic system (ie. the best technology) to do a particular job is always going to be time that could be better spent looking for the right person.

If you work somewhere where technology is being brought in to do a job that you don't already have people given the time and resources to do the job, then I would say that it is pretty inevitable that the job is going to fail.

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