Is big corporate protecting you from learning about your software?

Dilbert is a wonderful trove of vignettes on many corporate syndromes, technology ignorance included. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows that there are plenty of folks who don’t understand what their computer is all about. I’d guess PCs and software, specifically, lead the pack in the “technology not understood” category. Why?

In my consulting, I’ve found that basic software skills — the ability to operate any piece of software once the user knows what function it is intended to provide — seem to be lacking the most within many corporate environments. Yet, I don’t find this true in other places.

Some time ago, I was approached and asked what I consider a very simple software question by a user I would have probably classified as software-proficient. The experience drove me to ask myself, “Why couldn’t this person  — with all her previous experience as a computer user — find the answer?” After all, as my colleague, Ryan, a former technology teacher, taught his students (grade 8 all the way down to grade 2):  software proficiency is not rocket science, but really just about exploration. The answer is likely in one of those menus somewhere.

So students in school/academia can do it. They’re encouraged to do it. And I find I do it instinctively. Is that the difference between corporate America and the rest of the landscape? No exploration, and subsequently no understanding? Is there something about corporate environments that is discouraging and even preventing users from learning about the technology they’re supposed to be using?

When I recently un-boxed and set up my new PC, I realized that I was drawing a lot of my confidence from having previously set up PCs, installed software, and dealt with the results mostly on my own. In many corporate environments I’ve consulted within, technology is governed and administered (to some degree)  by professionals other than the end user. So could it be that by providing a consistent “hands-free” operating environment, the corporate “ease” actually prevents the end user from having the “grounding” experiences — installing software and troubleshooting — that contribute to a core understanding of the technology? Would years of the same dull a user’s sense of exploration? At what point would it become detrimental or even crippling?

If you’ve worked in similar spaces, what are your experiences and insights on the matter? Do you think “hands-off” policies could be really hurting technology proficiency, and in the end, productivity?

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