Ain’t Nobody Got Time Fo’ That!

I love optimizing workflows. Making a repetitive task automatic or just shaving off some keystrokes can mean a massive increase in productivity. Even if the objective savings are small, the subjective improvements can be enormous.

But once in a while, I meet people for whom the concept of workflows is unfamiliar, or even completely alien.

For example, last week during a remote consulting session, I asked a client to log in to her Facebook account. I watched her starting Chrome. She was greeted by the front page, but used the mouse to open a new browsing window, typed “,” then typed “facebook login” into the search field, clicked enter, clicked on the first result to land on, then typed in her e-mail address and password and clicked the login button.

I thought that being the intelligent person she is, she could explain her seemingly clumsy procedure. It turned out that she not only thought that there was no other way to login to Facebook, but also that, emphasis mine, she had never thought about changing the ways of using her computer.

Of course, she had found ways to get things done, and has learned to use the software, but she had never consciously looked at her workflows.

David Foster Wallace was among many who framed this kind of situation in an analogy in his famous public speech:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

The moral? — If you ever work with clients on improving their workflows and are met with blank stares or even resistance, always remember that they might’ve been swimming in the same lake for years. Only when they notice that they’re surrounded by water, they can start changing.