Slack

Looseness in the system is what allows work to get done.

In his authoritative Information Payoff: the Transformation of Work in the Electronic Age (1985), Paul A. Strassmann observes that there is an enormous amount of invisible slack in routine knowledge work. On the one hand, such slack is clearly inefficient: “The real world of the office is full of delays, miscommunications, errors, and changes. … For instance, tracking a simple four-page bulletin informing the field sales force about a minor change in pricing policy can reveal a surprisingly complex train of events.” But on the other hand, Strassmann argues, trying to rationalize all office work to the point where even complex tasks are programmed into information technology is “an unreasonable objective” because many tasks are unprogrammable. Indeed, unprogrammability is crucial to “informality,” which amounts to no less than a whole parallel work flow that gets things done precisely by circumventing unrealistic or inappropriate standards, procedures, protocols, and programs. In one office Strassmann studied in minute detail, for example, only 12 percent of transactions could be accounted for as part of the formal system of work; 53 percent “were part of a formal system but required a great deal of discretion, training, and experience”; and 35 percent “were not systematized at all and required a great deal of initiative and personal skill.” [Alan Liu, The Laws of Cool (2004) 297-298]

Work in other words gets done thanks to social capital.

And so for day 346
25.11.2007

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