Innovation · June 16, 2022

Tools for knowledge workers – Part 2

Last year I spent $100 on a one-of-a-kind of a computer mouse called Logitech MX Master 3.

This mouse is special because it is heavily customized for productivity. The engineering of its scroll wheels, the placement of its buttons, additional controls and its form-factor – they together make it super easy to navigate through a ton of information really quickly.

Being an engineer I critically look at the design decisions of any products I buy. I judge minutely when the product helps me do some job and when does it get into the way. When a product shows great efficiency at doing its job, as this mouse does, it’s a treat.

But unfortunately a majority of the tools that I (and other knowledge workers) use daily are not customized for their jobs. People in countless offices spend more time and effort everyday – due to lack of tools customized for the job.

Knowledge workers are stuck with generic tools

Take for example, spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are designed to handle things like accounting but they are used (actually abused) for all sorts of things. From tax declaration forms, text-heavy reports, to photo albums – they are the go-to tools for anything for which there is no proper tool.

If you aren’t convinced, think about why professionals ranging from a graphics designer to a writer can all use practically the same laptops? Don’t they have varying needs? Two years back I had to buy a laptop but I couldn’t find one laptop that is designed and is ideal for programmers.

In my last post I talked about how each longstanding profession has its own set of tools. This is not true for knowledge workers. There are hardly tools adapted for different lines of knowledge work.

This is true not just for hardware but also for software. Save some exceptions such as architects and 3D designers, most knowledge workers have to get by using “generic tools”.

Where do generic tools lack?

Most knowledge work involves the following activities:

  1. ingesting information
  2. managing / discovering recorded information
  3. thinking / brainstorming / ideation
  4. presenting / sharing information

There are huge inefficiencies at each of the above steps, about which I will talk very briefly next.

Despite having a ton of information available to us today and infinite storage to save it in, there are hardly tools that help us manage it in different professions.

Most people keep their information as files inside folders – a conceptual vestige of their physical forms. Files are hard to organize, search in, and share. It is also next to impossible to link them with each other. And yet that’s how a lawyer stores their arguments and a content creator stores their clips!

Thinking is probably the most important part of a knowledge worker’s job. Yet, there are no tools on our computers that help us think better.

Even a blank piece of paper aids thinking by letting us scribble any thoughts easily or draw a simple diagrams. To do that on a computer requires us to find and launch a program – enough to break the train of thought. Why can’t we scribble anything on the desktop wallpaper itself?

Do you have a software on your computer that helps you come up with ideas? There are conceptual frameworks for creative problem solving – but you wouldn’t find a good computer implementation of them that you can use.

How much time do you spend creating a powerpoint presentation? Few hours? That’s because powerpoint doesn’t really ‘help’ us create a presentation. I have found that recent developments like Canva are better suited for this task.

I don’t buy the fact that computer technology has greatly advanced. I think we are living in the stone age of computers. The tools that help people effectively process information are in their infancy.

What can we expect in the future? What are the major hurdles in getting proper tools for knowledge workers? I am going to elaborate on these questions in a future post. If you’d like to get notified, subscribe to this blog:

P.S. Cover Photo taken from Logitech’s website