Invention is the Mother of Necessity: Technology and Productivity

Productivity SoftwareHave you heard the standard cliche: “Necessity is the Mother of Invention?” In business technology and productivity, in my experience at least,  the old standard is reversed: the new truth is that Invention is the Mother of Necessity.”

For example:

  1. Spreadsheets and Budgeting: When I started in business analysis back in the middle 1970s we didn’t have spreadsheets, and a budget was rarely more than a list of numbers on a yellow pad processed with a calculator and a pen. Then came Visicalc, and shortly after that Lotus 1-2-3 and then Excel. Now, not at all by coincidence, everybody in business does a whole lot more budgeting and spreadsheets than we ever would have imagined back then.So what’s happened is that because spreadsheets made budgeting more accessible, the world started demanding more budgets. To me, this is a good thing. Budgeting is good for business. You could argue, however, that maybe the world of small and medium-sized business was better off when the world summarized budgets into a few key items.Ultimately, in this case, I think it’s obvious that we do more budgets because budgets are easier to do
  2. Desktop publishing and business documents: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the same thing happen with desktop publishing. Before desktop publishing appeared with the Macintosh and the Apple Laserwriter in the middle 1980s, people put business correspondence onto simple pages printed onto letterhead paper. Nowadays we take desktop publishing tecniques for granted. People routinely merge graphics and text onto simple memos and letters and standard business documents, without thinking twice about it.

Did This Improve Productivity?

That’s an interesting question. Ten years ago I would have been tempted to say no, that it hasn’t improved productivity.  More recently I’ve changed my mind.  Running a company makes me sure that we benefit from the power of more detailed budgeting, and running through the daily process of management makes me pretty sure that business documents are generally better communicators with desktop publishing than without.

What do you think?


  • IsaacHey says:

    It is an interesting question. How does an impressive graphic infused letter compare to the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal? We went to the moon with a hardly any computing power at all. Even that feat was done primarily with slide rules and pencils and paper and brain power, and vision and guts.
    I’m sure the potential for more productivity is better because of the better tools now at our disposal. But someone with the creative mind and motivation to make something happen is now and will always be the necessary part of the equation. Another question would be are we doing anything worth while with these tools?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Isaac, thanks for adding your comment. My answer is that I don’t know, obviously, but these are good questions to be asking.

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