Just Because A Computer Can Help, Does Not Always Mean It Should

Sure, a computer is powerful and can be programmed to take in information and make decisions and offer back a solution. Sometimes though, people don’t want the computer to “be smart” and make “suggestions” and decisions for them. While that can help when it works, it can be a real pain in the rear when it does not.

Let me give you an example. My cousin’s wife was telling me about her days of working at a well known retail store while in college. She was forced to check her work schedule in the store – forbidden to call about it. She had to drive in and check it on the computer in the office. While that sounds terrible, that’s not the worse part. What was worse was that the work schedule for the store was automatically generated by a computer program. It integrated with back-office systems and took in all kinds of inputs (sales numbers, availability etc.) and spit out what it thought was the ideal schedule for the store. The problem was it was never ideal. It always a mess. Every week – after the entire staff complained (when they got to the shop), it had to be changed by a manager. Hmm, I wonder if it was because it was scheduling people? Imagine the time wasted cleaning up what the computer thought was ideal. I think if the computer had been scheduling robots in an assembly line, maybe it would have worked better. People (with ever changing lives and circumstances) are tough to schedule if you simply tell the computer to do it. Good schedules that make a business hum require a healthy dose of human logic.

So back to the point of this post. Sometimes, the less the computer (or the app) does – the more valuable it becomes. That’s assuming it does add some real value or make life easier in some way. An example of this would be tadalist.com. It makes my life easier – but not by asking me to enter my todo’s and then suggesting things it thinks I need to do or thinks I might like to do or when I should do them. It simply keeps a list of things I’ve told it I need to do and I can check them off after I do them. That’s it. Amazing how valuable that is! It could definitely be more complicated if it wanted to be, but it’s not. It could integrate with some other system and pull in my work schedule or meetings I need to attend or other things that I need to do – but it doesn’t. Just because it can, doesn’t mean it should. And because it does not, it always works and I can always count on it. It never gets in the way or fails to remind me exactly what I told it I need to do.

Just because an app can be complicated and just because a computer can make all kinds of decisions and suggestions – it doesn’t mean it should.