Dynamic Alternatives
http://www.dynalt.com/


Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2002 16:25:06 -0800


Mr. Rod Welch
rowelch@attglobal.net
The Welch Company
440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111 2496
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Subject:   SDS implementation and promotion

Morris indicates that people use about 5% of the features available in Microsoft products, and that this raises questions. I agree with the issues being raised and also with the possibility that difficulty learning SDS may have more to do with a general lack of willingness to use tools to improve than with any real problem with SDS.
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I have encountered this situation repeatedly. Since I work on documents heavily, I have learned Word rather well and continue to learn more. The average knowledge of other that I encounter in the workplace is far lower. Additionally, there is little or no interest in increasing skills with the programs. There are individuals who have become power users because they actually care about accomplishing useful work with the tools, but they are in the minority.
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Morris mentioned the possibility of developing SDS capabilities in Word < using Visual Basic, and you asked about it < in your letter of 2002-Feb-16. I see no reason why this couldnít be done. SDS is currently written using a macro language in an editor, and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) is just a macro language for the Word editor. This is why I asked Morris about using Medit as a base for SDS as opposed to using any existing Windows editor that supports a substantial macro language, which most of the major commercial and many of the shareware and freeware programming editors do.
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I doubt that the problem of implementing SDS is inherently a technical issue. It has been done. This provides an existence proof that it can be done. The questions relating to a new SDS implementation are much more ones of who has the time and the energy, and what tools are they comfortable with than whether the job can be done in this tool or that.
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As to the specifics, I think Word is overkill and I am not certain that it offers any advantage beyond the fact that people already know about Word.
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The fancy style and formatting is not needed since SDS uses only a small amount of what is available in HTML, which is far less then Word provides.
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The major question surrounding SDS remains, IMO, "how can we get people interested enough in solving the problems that SDS addresses that they will be willing to spend time and energy first learning and then using SDS to address the problem?". I continue to run into the situation that those who control the expenditures don't understand the problems and have no desire or even inclination to solve them. Once this is made sufficiently clear to the workers, they stop trying after a while.
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Fundamentally, bad management practices are not now and never have been the result of lacking tools to get the job done. There is no bad practice that cannot be corrected if the intention and the ability are available. Keeping track of history is easier with SDS than with word processors or pencil and paper, but the job could be done with the most primitive of tools if it were considered to be important enough. It took me years to understand that stupidity really and truly exists and is not the result of lacking better tools. I want better tools because I care about doing a better job, particularly for some of my own work, but I have been forced to the conclusion that I do not represent the norm.
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Conversely, better tools alone don't improve matters. Just because a task can now be done better doesn't mean that it will. Modern tools for software development, for example, are nothing short of amazing in some respects, but people using these tools can and do produce truly terrible software. The existence of word processors and publishing systems doesn't, in and of itself, bring about better novels, better proposals, or better memos -- just more of them. Those who have mastered the craft of writing and take the work seriously can do much more with modern tools than has ever been possible before, but it is the skill and attitude of the person, not the tool that makes this possible.
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In the late 60's or early 70's, Doug Engelbart stated (I wish I could find the reference) that the technology was already at a state where the problem was no longer one of tools but of how to develop the collaborating communities that would be necessary to make effective use of the technology. The technological base has improved dramatically since then though the tools have not. The problem still appears to be how to develop communities that will use new tools and new ideas to bootstrap their capabilities. Even Augment, no matter how archaic and clunky it might seem, is well beyond the level that most people can handle, and that has existed for decades.
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Rod, I understand how difficult it is to understand the massive indifference and lack of interest that people have about improving the way that they work. I have had my nose rubbed in it for more than 35 years developing software professionally, and I still have to remind myself to look at the evidence at least daily. Most people exhibit what I call the "mine worker" mentality -- I arrive in the morning, work until time to go home, then leave, and the company pays me. For most people, that is enough.
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At work it has taken me more than a year and a half to establish beyond a doubt that the documents we are producing, which are a major deliverable to NASA need to be delivered on time, and that the technical correctness, completeness, consistency, clarity or any other value measure that can be named is of little or no concern. I have been told this by management in no uncertain terms, and their behavior confirms this repeatedly.
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The adage "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door" is totally false. The history of computers is replete with example of superior technologies or products that didn't succeed. It is so common that instances in which the superior product actually prevailed are unusual.
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So the questions facing SDS and any other tool that can actually improve the way things are done seem to me to focus more on finding people to whom the improvement is important, of finding ways to convince people that the improvement is important, and in both cases to get the perceived importance high enough to get people and organizations to expend the time, money, and energy required to make the improvements. Mostly they won't.
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A serious question -- of the places where you have consulted, demonstrated the possibilities and benefits of SDS, and even gotten substantial agreement that SDS is something special and valuable, how many of them are still using SDS on an ongoing basis? Are they returning and asking for new features or new ways of using SDS that indicate that they have "gotten the message"? I suspect that even where the power has been demonstrated and people agreed as to the power, improvement, and importance, that SDS usage was not continued, much less expanded. If this is true, the question is "why not?" It is clear that is isn't for any reason of usability or advantage since those had been both demonstrated and accepted, so why isn't the use of SDS growing in those places where the seeds were planted? Even if the organizations believed that only you could use SDS effectively, why aren't you so busy with additional consulting that you have no time to bother with the email that you deal with daily? Do these organizations accept the usefulness of SDS when they are desperate, and then drop it when the crisis is past? What is happening?
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That's all the ramble I have time for right now.

Thanks,

Sincerely,

Dynamic Alternatives



Garold L. Johnson
dynalt@dynalt.com