Too often we are managed by the technology. Endlessly busy, it's easy to forget just exactly why we are doing all this work.Are you an email slave? Are you a crack-berry? Are you so focused on the small screen, that you are missing the bigger picture? Have you no time to interact with your customers because you're just too busy?
"We have a computer in Oak Brook that is designed to make real estate surveys," Sam Walton wrote in his autobiography Made In America. "But those printouts are of no use to me. After we find a promising location, I drive around it in a car, go into the corner saloon and into the neighborhood supermarket. I mingle with the people and observe their comings and goings."
Sam Walton built Wal-Mart from one small convenience store to a mega-organization. Like many other entrepreneurs, he got his priorities right: he focused on his customers. He spent his life on the road.
When I talk to audiences I usually ask them to choose what they think is the most important thing in making their websites successful. They generally choose something like "customer-centric, not organization-centric". Perfect.
However, I then ask the audience how long they spend with their customers every week. Most will spend no time. A small percentage will spend one day a week with their customers. I tell them how Sam Walton and Ray Kroc (who built McDonalds) spent 3-4 days a week with their customers.
Websites-like Wal-Mart and McDonalds-are self-service. There is nothing more important to the success of self-service than ongoing customer interaction and observation. So what gets in the way of this vital task? Technology and administration.
Technology opens the information floodgates. We have never had so much access to information. Properly managed, this is definitely a good thing. "There are trivial truths and there are great truths," declared the physicist Niels Bohr. The amount of great truths is relatively limited but the amount of trivial truths is almost endless.
How do we push away the trivial truths that constantly flow at us through email, and are pushed at us through endless blogs and websites? We hone our sense of the customer, that's how. We constantly ask: "What are our customers' great truths? What do they really care about?"
Never has there been a greater need to understand the basics and not get confused by the noise. Doing more is not always the right thing. Researchers at the University of California have found that you don't learn as well when trying to do two things at the same time.
Researchers have also found that a distraction such as your cell phone ringing, has a greater impact on your concentration than smoking some marijuana.
"Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them," philosopher North Whitehead noted in 1911. Technology should automate the mundane-the trivial truths-so that we have more time to think about great truths.
If technology is not making our lives more convenient, and giving us more time to think, then we need to question: What is the technology for?
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.