“Most of the time,” my friend told me,” they were just doing really manual work. Copying and pasting, doing very routine things that could have been automated. And they’d do these things for 8 or 9 hours a day, sometimes more. They’d come back on Saturdays just to finish their work.”
He was talking about the work some of his ex-colleagues were doing, and how he couldn’t believe the way they were going about doing it. “If I’d helped them automate that,” he said, “some of them, no, most of them, would be out of a job.”
I have seen my fair share of people doing what he described. Really bright individuals (some highly paid, I might add), spending an incredible amount of time doing incredibly inefficient work, copying and pasting data from one system to the next, or manually looking up values in one spreadsheet to another (as opposed to using Excel functions like vlookups or pivot tables). Half their day, I estimate, could be spent doing these types of low-level work because they didn’t know of any other ways to go about doing it.
It’s a sad truth that the work many of us “knowledge workers” do isn’t really dependent on any sort of higher-level thinking. Trained high school students could do the work many of us do (even those that require a bachelor’s or post-grad degree).
Sure, it takes a little intellectual skill to get the gears moving, to understand the process when things go wrong, but once that’s taken care of the main bulk of whatever work that’s left over is hypnotic, routine stuff. Stuff that could well be taken off in a fraction of the time through the use of technology.