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Keeping things simple in a complex world.

How did life get so complicated?

When I was growing up, I could easily recognized the make and model of any automobile. Today I can hardly tell a foreign from a domestic. There were only three channels on television; noe there are a dozen to choose from, and at least a dozen more on cable. A trip to the grocery store was simple and fun; now we watch a clerk pass computer-coded food over a laser beam repeatedly before the correct price finally registers.

The complexity of life today is even more evident in the corporate world. Over the past two decades, the proliferation of computers, fax machines, and photocopiers has resulted in an explosion of information. While this equipment was presumably designed to make our live easier, it has often had the opposite effect.

Making logical decisions quickly in the workplace has become increasingly cumbersome. Managers and supervisors digest mountains of complicated computers reports before taking action. Professionals of all kinds and developing astonishing numbers of hours to interpreting documentation before they actually do anything.

Many laboratorians are quick to accuse physicians of orderinf excessive numbers of laboratory test before they feel comportable making a diagnosis. Yet many of us in the laboratory have fallen into a similar trap, allowing ourselves to develop an insatiable appetite for sophisticated data. We are no longer willing to take the chance of making a an honest mistake. The educated guess based on readily available information is quickly being replaced by the in-depth study of superficial issues.

Those who rely too heavily on endless printouts of computer statistics may fail to recognize the serious consequences of procrastination. At some point we have to put aside our reports, memos, sudies, and charts and just do it--whatever it is.

*Digging out from under. It's not impossible to avoid being buried in an avalanche of data. Just follow some basic rules.

[paragraph] Organize. Organize the information you need to complete each task. Eliminate anything exttraneous. A great deal of time is wasted iin siftting through stackes of paperwork when we should be concentrating on the bottom line. What good are our so-called management tools if we can't manage them?

Work with you computer people to streamline reports while building enough flexibility into the programs to be able to obtain additional data when the need arises. Communicate openly and often with the people who provide such information.

[paragraphs] Take action. The trend today is to avoid forging ahead with a new idea until we can "run it by" our colleagues. Instead of running it "by" others, however, we may end up running into and around them. This routine complicates and frustrates our efforts to get the job done.

To simplify implementing decisions, follow the "information and exception" process. Confer only with those who need to be aware of your actions. Make it clear that you plan to proceed unless they express disagreement to you by a certain date or time. Then act accordingly.

[paragraph] Be realistic. As managers and supervisors, we must provide our staff with an environment in which they feel comfortable making an occasional mistake. Employees should not fear negative repercussions if they make an inaccurate judgment call. In spite of the highly developed data available at our fingertips and employees' good intentions, mistakes happen.

While errors that are made as a result of haphazard work practices should be criticized, those that arise innocently after careful analysis of relevant data should not. To encourage independent thinking and initiative, be sure to judge employees' mistakes fairly.

* How much is too much? Like the fellow who doesn't know how to brush his teeth when his electric toothbrush breaks, we have become overly dependent on technology to perform the very basics of our jobs. Too many managers and supervisors are becoming data junkies, incapable of making a decision without consulting the latest computer printout. If that sounds like you, it may be time to reevaluate the importance of studying so much documentation before you take a step. How did you manage before it was available?

It's wonderful to have hard data we never had before. Nevertheless, we still have our intuition and experience to rely on. We haven't become robots--yet.

Using sound judgment and a little common sense, we can simplify our lives by converting the mountains of data available to us into more manageable molehills. We will always, it seems clear, need the technologic wonders of our era to do our jobs well. We must never allow them to undermine the efficiency they were designed to achieve.

The author is administrator of clinical laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, Pa.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:maintaining efficiency while managing information made available by new technology
Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:774
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