Every craft or tradesperson knows that to do a good job, you have to know and respect your tools.A dull, rusty saw can injure its user and make the job harder. Not knowing when to use a hammer and when to use a screwdriver is a demonstration that your skills aren’t up to par — a career-limiting situation.
Computers are now standard equipment on every desktop alongside the telephone. For most office workers, not knowing how to use these machines is akin to a carpenter not knowing how to use a hammer.
A carpenter can’t get away with it. How can computer users?
It’s amazing how imaginative they can be for their own amusement, and how utterly helpless they can be otherwise. Any support person can tell tales of users who have somehow managed to install music-sharing programs or funky screen savers or weird wallpaper, but who can’t point themselves at a network printer or copy a file.
It used to be accepted, when PCs were young and the technology unfamiliar.
I remember helping a senior executive overcome his fear of computers by letting him play a simple game that required use of keyboard and mouse.
He got good enough at it that we had to turn off the sound on his machine — the triumphant music when he won was driving his staff crazy.
But these days, 20 years after the launch of Microsoft’s Windows, there’s virtually no excuse for a business person not knowing how to operate a personal computer.
It isn’t as if they have to remember a lot of commands today.
In the days of DOS, if you typed the wrong command, bad things could happen.
In Windows, it’s just point and click.
Admittedly, sometimes it’s an adventure figuring out where to point and what to click.
The “intuitive” interface Microsoft promised 20 years ago is still a work in progress.
But if users can manage to install desktop wallpaper with pictures of their dogs, they should be able to map a shared drive, once told the path.
Their inventiveness is just, shall we say, selective.
The problem isn’t just with the older users who didn’t grow up with computers. Even the younger set suffers brain cramps over fairly basic business functions from time to time. And these are people who were supposedly taught how to use personal computers and software in school.
Granted, technology isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Thousands still can’t program a VCR or even cope with the standard functions of a modern telephone system. To those who regard these tasks as relatively basic, the problems are incomprehensible, but they’re very real.
Yet, like any craftsman, a business user must know how to operate his or her tools to be effective.
If it means adopting some of the conventions of the trades, such as apprenticeships (though I think it’s called mentoring in the office), businesses must seriously consider that option.
And users must apply some of the same effort towards learning business usage that they do to figuring out how to gossip with their buddies over instant messaging. They have to learn that these skills can also be valuable.
We’re past the novelty stage with PCs now — it’s time.

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