On technology and productivity
Can’t remember when or where, I heard a very interesting story about a lumberjack who wanted to use a new technology called chainsaw. The essence of the story was to remind how bad a technology can be used if it is not understood properly. After searching a bit, strangely I couldn’t find the source of the story; hence I decided to write it down myself. However to make it a bit original for being in my blog, I am going to add a second episode to it. In the second episode I am going to argue while understanding a technology is vital, it cannot be the main drive for using it.
Johnny was the best lumberjack in the whole forest. He was able to chop down more trees than anybody else in the forest with his mighty axe. One day a marketer told him using a new technology called chainsaw his productivity could be improved tremendously. Johnny who was not the tech savviest guy in the forest didn’t know a thing about this new tool. So he asked the marketer if he could use the chainsaw for a few days for free to see if it’s any good and then decide about buying it. Marketer who was sure Johnny will like the chainsaw agreed and left a brand new chainsaw with Johnny.
After a few days marketer came back and asked Johnny if he found the chainsaw helpful. He was shocked when he heard that Johnny believed chainsaw had reduced his productivity massively. He asked Johnny to let him check the chainsaw to make sure it works properly. After checking all the parts and tightening some screws, he asked Johnny to use the chainsaw to see if it is any better. He saw Johnny picked up the chainsaw and started to hit its saw as hard as he could to a tree, the same way he was using the axe.
Marketer apologised for the lack of information provided with the chainsaw, and demonstrated the correct way of using the chainsaw and then let Johnny to test it for a few more days. Not surprisingly after a few days Johnny was quite happy with the chainsaw, because he had never felled as many trees per day before. He thought to himself that he knows this technology well enough, and he can now replace his axe by the chainsaw. So he decided to spend his hard earned money on the chainsaw without a second thought.
Everything was going well until one day the chainsaw stopped working. Johnny started to look at different parts of the chainsaw but he could not find what the problem was. So he called a technician for help. The technician came and look at the chainsaw and diagnosed that the engine was damaged and he has to take it to factory to fix it. Johnny who did not have any other choice accepted it. Johnny could not fell any tree for a few days, until the technician returned with the working chainsaw and of course a hefty bill. That night Johnny started to think about gain and loss of using this expensive new technology.
I want to point you to the similarity of the situation that Johnny put himself into to some technical choices that we have to make. It is very possible that you have seen developers using a technology without any understanding about it. Also it is likely you have seen developers choosing a sophisticated technology over a simple one for doing something simple, only because they know how the sophisticated one works.
The lessons to take from this story is quite simple, yet ignored in many places, rather astonishingly. In essence understanding a technology is vital for using it correctly. At the other hand, knowing a technology is not a good excuse for using it everywhere. Because using a simple knife for skinning an apple is much safer and wiser than using a ninja sword, no matter how much ninja skills you have.