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5 April 2005

Awaken the cyborg within

By Andrew Clifford

The science-fiction staple of the superhuman half-man half-computer cyborg is a good model for our use of computers. But to grasp this power, we need to learn more about the true nature of our computers, take more responsibility for them, and apply some common sense to their use.

In a very real sense, we can all be cyborgs. Computers can remember, calculate and communicate. They can confer on us superhuman capabilities of memory, calculation and near telepathic communication. They give us control over the technological world around us. We can combine our form and their abilities to lead efficient and productive lives.

We might fear this view. But the opposite view, that computers are separate from us, is surely more scary. We have to realise that we can use this power, and learn to use it for our good.

To grasp our cyborg potential, we need to refine our attitudes toward IT: what it is, how it helps and how it should be used. We also need to identify and apply appropriate skills to our use of IT.

In the past few weeks, this newsletter has covered many of the attitudes that both IT suppliers and customers need to adopt to use IT effectively. We all need to stop thinking of IT as magic, but see it as an understandable tool which adds value by improving efficiency and making the infeasible possible. We need to avoid misusing IT as a way of fixing business problems, restructuring organisations or leading business change: all these need to be addressed in their own right before IT is considered.

As well as addressing general attitudes in IT, if you manage the use of IT, you need to take charge of your computers' abilities to remember, calculate and communicate. This is vital. It can't be left to the IT department or supplier. A selection of out-of-date specifications and diagrams in a cupboard won't do. You have to understand fully what the computers are doing on your behalf, so that you can control them, just like you have to understand and control your team.

The skills you need are simple, but often overlooked. IT training generally misses the point. Technical training covers hardware, software, analysis and engineering skills. User training covers how to use the computer. These skills may make you more confident and capable using the technology, but they don't directly help you understand how to do anything useful with it. Most IT training is either like learning to operate an oven, or learning to mend an oven: but none of it teaches you how to cook.

Instead, you need to apply every day common sense skills to take charge of IT: delegation, careful definition, clear instruction, and disciplines of filing and administration. These have nothing to do with understanding how to configure a web server, draw a process model, or get bold on a word processor, but they are what you need to master IT's power and use it to serve you.

Coming newsletters will explore these every day common sense skills in more detail. By applying these skills and adopting appropriate attitudes to IT, we can all fulfil our destiny as superhuman cyborgs.

Next: Everyday skills part 1: Delegation, definition and instruction

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