Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Paperless Office

Is there a concept in the modern workplace that has become more of a joke than "The Paperless Office?"

I think not.

You may nominate TQM and yet we all respect Toyota.

Diversity Management may be a zealot's dream but there are some practical versions.

Time Management has its various cults and you can still find shrines to Management By Objective.

No, The Paperless Office is the planner's equivalent of a Whoopie Cushion. In all but the most bizarre and exceptional workplaces, it was a joke from the start.

Why? Because we love paper. We like its feel and its smell. [Remember those tests in elementary school and how 25 noses immediately sniffed the hallowed product of the mimeograph machine? Those who do not have been deprived of a marvelously sensual experience.]

Paper serves not just as a recording instrument but as an visible nudge, a symbolic and therapeutic item to crumple, a basketball or baseball, a tangible piece of evidence that can be waved dramatically or quietly passed, a doodle sheet, and an easily transported bit of wisdom.

If we'd started with electronic files, we'd have danced in the streets when someone invented paper. The Paperless Office folks tried to disguise their approach as an advance but, deep down inside, we all knew it was a Great Leap Backward.

Paperless? No way.


Matt M. said...

"Remember those tests in elementary school and how 25 noses immediately sniffed the hallowed product of the mimeograph machine?"

These days to have such smells in the classroom is certainly a violation of someone's olfactionary civil rights and would have zero tolerance!

Seriously though... I am in a SW development world and have the class leader in workflow management systems, but it has become a non-management tool as everyone uses post-it notes to actually manage the workflow on a big white board. Paper is a user interface that will never go away.

pawnking said...

I agree and disagree. The younger you are, the more likely you are not to use paper as a primary insturment of communication. I am on the cusp between paper and paperless. Those I work with older than me insist on paper. Those younger insist on all electronic, to the point where they struggle in formatting a memo.

As for me, I like to use paper primarily as a stoarge medium, where it has no peer as yet in the electronic world. I'm old school enough to appreciate a well designed printed worksheet, and yet young enough to appreciate a totally hyper-text worksheet.

Paper will never go away, but in 30- 50 years the idea of relying on it first and formost will be regarded as quaint as a typewriter.

Michael Wade said...

Ah, beware of predicting the decline of paper. Electronic is prose, but paper is poetry.

Jeff said...

I seem to remember a story about Samuel Goldwyn:
His secretary came to him complaining that their files were overflowing and asked for permission to start throwing out useless files.
Goldwyn agreed - but asked her to make copies first. :)