Do we not because we cannot? Would we if we could?

I need to learn to take better notes when I’m thinking about a “larger issue” blog post. The topic of this one has been percolating in my head for a few months now and it came up for the fourth time yesterday so I figured it was time to sit down and write my post. The trouble is, I can not only recall two of the four instances which illustrate my issue. Of well, I guess that’ll have to do.

The first time I started thinking about this issue was about two years ago when I was working for BCR. I was attempting to convince some folks there that maybe we should consider using wikis internally. I figured that our static-Web-page-based procedures would be a great first step. The benefits I saw were easier editing, revision tracking, editor tracking, and that in the future we would have the ability to go back and see how procedures have changed over time. The responses were as follows: we all know HTML so it’s already easy, only the folks involved in a particular procedure would change that procedure’s page so there’s no need to track who made the changes, and (this is the illustration of my point) we’ve never cared what the procedures used to be before, so why would we in the future. Needless to say, my idea was not implemented.

Yesterday I was in my department meeting and we ended up looking at our training portal, where folks can sign up for our workshops. I just happened to notice that a user could see the current month and click to see future months but could not click to see previous months. (I just tested this and it turns out there must have been a glitch yesterday because I can now click to see past months. Despite this, my illustration still holds.) I asked why can’t you look at past months? The response “why would you want to? No one’s ever asked for that feature in the past.

Here’s what I mean by the title of this post: In some cases do we not do things, not because we don’t want to, but because the ability to do them doesn’t exist? If the ability to do something did exist, might we then think “Hey, now I can do X or Y or Z instead of just A, B, or C!”

Can I actually come up with a reason why someone might want to see what procedures were 10 years ago? No. Can I tell you why someone might want to look up one of our class reregistration screens from two months ago? No again. But if those options are available to our us or our users, maybe someone will come up with a use for them that we could never have predicted.

I’m sure some of this comes out of my having taught two graduate-level courses in Knowledge Management technology. I’m also sure that reading Everything is Miscellaneous has a lot to do with my thoughts on this. But really, are we eliminating possibilities by making decisions based on either how we’ve “always done it” or by saying “why would anyone ever want to do that?”

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2 Replies to “Do we not because we cannot? Would we if we could?”

  1. To me it boils down to a question of features and interface design. It’s the bane of anyone designing or using a product of any sort.
    Do you throw in everything, including two kitchen sinks? Add lots of “advanced” tabs for people to go through? Or do you leave certain features out, like being to see previous revisions of a wiki page?
    I’ll paraphrase something I’ve heard about writing, designing and cooking: The hardest thing is to know what to leave out.
    It come down to designing for the audience and predicting what they might actually need to do, and not just what the designer of the system thinks that they’ll need to do. There also needs to be a level of flexibility to change the system when needs change. Otherwise you end up serving the system, rather than the system serving you.

  2. As I’m getting my tenure portfolio ready, I can tell you, some people need to look at past calendars of training so they can document them.

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