Mohammed works for a large global firm. It operates 24-7, 365 days a year. Every morning Mohammed goes to work, gets a mug of coffee from the office kitchen, and sits down at his desk to sort through all the email that arrived in his inbox while he was asleep. This process can take him one or two hours, depending on what he finds there. To minimize distractions, Mohammed usually shows up at work before the rest of his coworkers arrive and the business day officially begins.
If you’re a knowledge worker, Mohammed’s morning ritual probably sounds familiar to you. Some of us are night owls, and prefer to do our email triage at night, and some of us, like Mohammed, tend to do it in the morning. Some of us might replace the coffee with tea, or the desktop computer with a handheld device, but the point is the same: to make sense of the mountain of information that arrives in our inboxes every day.
You see, most of today’s businesses reverse the old proverb, “If Mohammed will not go to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed.” Today, the mountain of information is brought to Mohammed by default. It arrives every morning, and Mohammed spends a good portion of every day dealing with the heap of information deposited in his inbox.
This is, of course, massively inefficient. Modern business moves mountains of information needlessly. Mohammed is a savvy knowledge worker of the 21st century. He is a motivated, educated individual. He knows how to seek and find the mountain when he needs it. He knows how to use search engines and feed readers. He is a zen master of web technology. Yet today’s business still dumps tons of information on him every day, unasked, and Mohammed must deal with it.
Mohammed files and flags his email. He sets tasks and reminders. He jots important information on paper and leaves yellow sticky notes everywhere. Then, and only then, is he ready to begin his day. He does this because the mountain gets in his way.
Mohammed could accomplish more if he could clear away the mountain faster. He could accomplish much more if the mountain were not brought to him in the first place. If Mohammed’s employer wanted to increase Mohammed’s productivity, he would find ways to prevent the mountain from falling on Mohammed each morning. Then Mohammed could focus on his primary tasks: gathering, analyzing, synthesizing and creating new knowledge.
The tools are available. Mohammed is able to visit the mountain. Mohammed is willing to go to the mountain. Stop bringing the mountain to Mohammed.