Using the Right Tool for the Job

On September 27 I led a discussion at an "unconference" Pci5
called "Podcamp Ireland, in the town of Kilkenny, a short drive from Dublin.  [An "unconference" is sort of a free-form get together of people interested in a common topic, in this case blogging, podcasting, and other social media.]  You might expect a geeky gathering like that to be very high tech and in many ways it was.  There were more blackberries and iPhones at the Hotel Kilkenny than you might find at your local Best Buy. 

On the other hand, the idea of people with a common interest getting together in one place to talk to each other is as old as communication itself.  If we hadn’t met online before Podcamp, most of the attendees have hooked up electronically since the event.

My session was on social media and Baby Boomers and one point I made was that it’s not productive to force people to use a tool just because it’s new when another, older tool would work just as well, maybe better.  I recalled the early days of the microwave oven.  I had worked for a local distributor when microwaves were fairly new and then came to Tacony Corporation where the ovens were part of what we called "Special Products."  In those days, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, every microwave manufacturer had a team of "experts" working on recipes and techniques that would help convince the housewife that she needed one of the $1,000 cooking appliances.

One particularly bizarre application was boiling eggs.  You couldn’t boil an egg in a microwave because the egg would cook before the water boiled, producing a sort of egg-shaped yellow and white brick.  But someone came up with the idea of wrapping the egg in foil before you put it into a bowl and putting the whole thing in the microwave.  The foil would keep the waves away from the egg while the water boiled.  Then the boiling water would cook the foil-wrapped egg.

It did work, but it was a lot more trouble than just boiling the egg in a pan of water on the gas stove, the way God intended.

Some of us have a tendency to do the same thing with the Internet.  If you’ve been reading MYOB for any length of time, you know that your favorite blogger is a big fan of social media tools when they’re used properly.  Proper use doesn’t mean twittering the person on the other side of the room.  It doesn’t mean sending an email when a phone call would be quicker and more straight forward.

Merriam-Webster Online says that a tool is "a means to an end".  And so it is. 

Here’s a good example of the principal at work. Pci2
There were three meeting rooms at Podcamp Ireland.  The nature of an unconference is that some speakers might not show up and attendees may decide on the spur of the moment that it would be good to have an unscheduled session on a new topic.  The format is very flexible but there has to be some organization of time and space.  The organizers of PCI used this high-tech easel/sticky note system to keep things moving.

A conference on the latest Internet tools managed using an very simple, very low tech tool. 

Face it, sometimes a hand-lettered sign on poster board can convey a sense of urgency to your customers that a professionally printed sign just can’t.  Sometimes it’s easier to clean up a mess with a broom than with the latest and greatest vacuum cleaner.  Sometimes it makes more sense to walk to the mailbox than it does to get the car out of the garage.

We’ll continue to keep you up-to-date on the newest and best tools, but sometimes the old way is still the best way.


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