I had dinner last Friday with colleagues with whom I had studied and graduated in Knowledge Management from the University of Melbourne. That course, which was a grand experiment to combine the talents of academic staff from the University’s Education, ICT, and Business/Economics schools lasted but a few years.
Its driving force, recently retired Professor Gabriele Lakomski attended the dinner, and asked when I first started the course with her. In fact, I was in the first intake of 2003, and I remember it clearly, I told her. It’s because in 2003, Apple’s Keynote was introduced (along with Safari and 12″ and 17″ Powerbooks), and I used it very early in our course, some time in March or April. (You need to know that the Australian university year runs from March through November.)
Seated next to us was another student from the same intake, Victoria, and when I said to Professor Lakomski I still remember my first use of Keynote in class, Vicky exclaimed, “Yes, I remember. It was the study on British Aerospace Industries!”
Now this was seven years ago almost to the day, and she still remembered the presentation I did! This was because for all in the class, it would have been the first time they saw Keynote (and me) in action anywhere (unless they had seen the 2003 Macworld Jobs-delivered keynote). I still remember the “oos and ahs” this rather mature student group spontaneously let out when I first showed Keynote’s cube transition, and some red call out boxes to highlight data.
Seated at the same dinner table last Friday were students who entered the course after I had completed my studies, and whom I’ve met at other functions organised by this very social graduate group. One, Winston, works for a very large car manufacturing company whose world headquarters are in Detroit, and was in receipt of bailout money in recent months. The company has been part of the Australian manufacturing sector since the 1940s, and their vehicles remain very popular with Australians.
Somehow, the discussion moved to the iPad, perhaps after I had excused myself from the table to answer my iPhone, and Winston suggested on my return he was interested in getting an iPhone too. I suggested he wait a little while, perhaps June or July, when a new model might become available, and from there a discussion took place about the iPhone’s place in business now that Microsoft Exchange could work with it. It was a quick skip to speculation about the iPad.
Winston put me on the spot to pronounce why the iPad was a better choice than a netbook, which in Australia would be half the price and pack more features, such as a camera, “real” keyboard, iPhone tethering, and the full Microsoft Office suite.
My response was to suggest that the iPad should better be considered not as a computer in the common use of the term, i.e. a notebook or desktop device, but as a knowledge management tool in its own right, and rattled off the sort of apps it would inherit from the iPhone as well as those likely be designed to take advantage of its speed and screen size.
I suggested to Winston that the iPad would have limited initial appeal to computer wonks who wanted merely a smaller form factor for Windows-based computing. It would fail their needs. But I then suggested that there would be huge numbers of ordinary people with very limited knowledge of computer innards and workings – that is, the vast bulk of the Australian population – for whom the iPad would elicit the spontaneous remark:
So this is what computing should be!
No menu bars, no operating system to fiddle with, instant on and ready to use at the simple touch of one button, yet also have powerful business applications such as iWork and Bento and Evernote should this group of users work its way up the skill and learning curve.
When Winston said he had elderly parents who had never touched a computer but had expressed interest in what their use might bring to their lives, I asked him in all honesty which he would buy them: A $400 netbook running Windows Xp (then add the cost of Microsoft Office 2007) or a $650 iPad plus the $50 for iWork + Bento?
The picture of 75 year old mum and dad sitting on their couch wrestling with a netbook with its tiny keyboard and poor resolution screen was enough to observe Winston momentarily pause in his tracks to reconsider his options. Yes, for him, with his background in engineering, a netbook was a no-brainer. A good match for the problems he wished to solve.
But he acknowledged that perhaps he had been too quick to judge the iPad from his own perspective of what he thought computing was about, and not see it from another’s perspective. Of course, being the empathic psychologist I am, this is how I work! It wasn’t to him I was suggesting the iPad made sense, but to the many people for whom, like Winston had learnt for himself, the iPhone had delivered mobile telephony bliss – this is how a phone should work.
Now the same group would discover that the same training they had voluntarily undergone to understand the iPhone and make it a valuable and enjoyable part of their daily living was transferable to the iPad.
In Knowledge Management, one of the key elements, perhaps a Holy Grail, is knowledge transfer: how those with vast experience in complex systems which may take decades to accrue, can transfer this unspoken knowledge to those new to the organisation, lest it be lost when they leave or are fired.
(To illustrate this concept, I often invoke the sad story of Ansett Airlines, to whom I consulted, being sold to Air New Zealand in a fish-swallows-whale story. Management of its Boeing 767 fleet, one of the world’s oldest at the time, was handled by staff in New Zealand while the aircraft were serviced in Australia. Knowledgeable staff who knew these aircraft like they were their own children with their own personalities were let go, as if the aircraft were just hunks of metal. Ultimately, because of oversights, essential Boeing-driven examination for potential cracks in vital engine areas were not performed, and the fleet was grounded not once, but twice. It spelt the ultimate demise of the airline after seven decades of operation, not helped by the entry of brash new airlines like VirginBlue, and a federal government prepared for the airline to fail.)
Whenever you hear someone dissing the iPad as an overgrown iPod Touch, congratulate them, not mock them, for getting what Apple’s on about. They have given us a very practical example of knowledge transfer, something we take for granted whenever we walk to a door and see the “push” or “pull” label to know what to do, without needing further knowledge in physics or mechanical engineering.
With the iPad, school’s out when it comes to having to learn how to operate a computer. The funny thing is, watch what happens when you give a three year old, and his or her great grandfather an iPhone without instruction what to do to make things happen. That same intuitive but unspoken “I think I can understand this device just by toying with it using my fingers” will occur.
While the 3 year old will yelp with delight when they discover the iPad’s games, the 80 year old will quietly say, “I get it. This is what computing’s about.”