No, but I think my secretary does

This is what some captain of industry is meant to have said when asked if he used Facebook.

I must be getting old. I’ve heard this precise phrase twice before. The first time, it was in the mid 1980s and the question was about PCs. The next time around, it was in the early 1990s and the question was about e-mail.

Would you like to bet against social networks becoming as normal and ubiquitous and “essential” as the PC and e-mail? Your call.

You may not think Facebook is the answer. Fair enough. But please think hard before you dismiss anything that represents the following:

  • a large and growing community, albeit virtual
  • one that empowers people
  • one that allows those people to form and re-form groups and subgroups at will
  • one that facilitates conversation between those people while keeping them informed

The last point, about the Siamese-Twin communications nature of stuff like Facebook, is something I need to think harder about. I think something special happens when you can converse and be kept informed at the same time. That’s what Bloomberg discovered.

My thanks to Usable Interfaces for reminding me of the FT article and the closing line. I’d seen it and then forgotten about it. These things happen.

11 thoughts on “No, but I think my secretary does”

  1. Dear JP.

    Does the concept of a secretary seems familiar to you?

    I remember the people who used to have secretaries. I was the last century. Of course we, the executives, need help, but not in the traditional secretary sense.

    I am not surprised these people do not use Facebook. Maybe they do not use MS Word either, nor MS Excel or MS Power Point. Maybe they do not how to use the ERP (SAP or Oracle) of their company nor the Business Intelligence software. Needless to say, they are not thinking in using SalesForce nor some other CRM solution.

    Maybe all the software I mentioned, it used by their kids, secretary, assistants, and other peers ate their companies who are going to be promoted sooner than them.

    Mario Ruiz

  2. Michael Glos is Minister for Economics and Technology in Germany since November 2005. In springtime 2007 he said (in a tv interview, my translation):

    “To use a mobile, that’s already a mess. Thank God I have some people who use (do?) the internet for me.”

    Yes, he is responsible for technology.

    May be it’s not Facebook. But I wouldn’t bet against social software. I guess our Minister even would bet against the internet.

    After all I wouldn’t bet against the power of the people. Some folks even call it “Democracy” (greek origin is from demos = people and kratia = power)

  3. Mario, here are a few data points.

    First of all, just as a cultural observation, I do not think that the noun “secretary” is proper usage in the United States any more. It has been replaced by “administrative assistant,” casually known as an “admin.” I make this observation without any editorial comment!

    Second, it was certainly the case ten years ago that I knew several admins who took care of electronic mail for senior executives. In my own sample space these same executives also had staff (sometimes several staff members) to do their PowerPoint presentations for them. My guess is that they did not do any better with Word and would have been totally stymied by Excel.

    This brings us, thirdly, to “enterprise software.” I think it was at an Oracle World that I attended three years ago that I saw a slick video touting Oracle’s escalation from databases to enterprise software. The protagonist of the narrative in this video was a CEO, and the basic punch line was about how a dashboard made him a better executive. The key feature for me in the video, though, was that this CEO was having his IT Manager “drive” the dashboard for him! (Hey, he probably had a chauffeur, too!)

    Finally, an anecdote from the Dark Ages of the early Seventies: One of my colleagues had developed a database query language with a really powerful capacity for programmability. He eventually got to pitch it to the executive level of some colonel in the Pentagon. After the initial presentation, the following dialog ensued:

    COLONEL: What if I want to know the current disposition of all Navy carriers in the Mediterranean.

    MY COLLEAGUE: That’s easy, you just type …


    (Capitalization represents shouting.) You get the point. Much as we would like to believe otherwise, I doubt that things have changed very much.

  4. Secretaries definitely are roles of the past. In Ricardo Semler’s Semco (as mentioned in the books Maverick and 7 day weekend) most of the senior people don’t even have an office leave alone a secretary! Social networking definitely cannot be brushed aside. However there are negative sides to this as well. I was a bit shocked to read an article about 2 recent deaths of people who left personal information in the social networking site orkut. Not sure if you are aware of this already.

  5. Dear Stephen,

    I am saying that even “admins” are not any more the need for the company. Executives do most their own work with the input of other people.

    The CEO does not configure his dashboard although he can certainly could. It is not profitable.

    Very funny story. Let me give you one from Spain.

    How do you make a presentation at 5 p.m.

    You don’t. We take a nap at that time.


  6. Mario, Barbara Garson’s book, THE ELECTRONIC SWEATSHOP, includes a quote from an anonymous typist dated 1985: “If you think a secretary without a boss is sad, you should see a boss without a secretary.” This quote introduced a chapter on office automation and the extent to which it was displacing traditional office roles, such a clerk typists and secretaries. (You might like the chapter title: “The Future of Monogamy in the Office.”)

    The extent to which executives can (let alone actually do) do their own work has a lot to do with both past background and present context. If you are launching a start-up with a “skeleton crew;” then, unless everyone is highly self-sufficient, the launch is unlikely to take place. On the other hand, if you came “up through the ranks” of a large, established firm, you probably feel “entitled” to your own admin (or at least a share of one) when you reach a certain executive level, regardless of what your capabilities are. The issue may have more to do with enculturation than with any more pragmatic factors, even when profitability (the ultimate pragmatic factor) is at stake!

  7. JP. I’ll back your bet. I believe self forming networks of interest and purpose will trump email – and before too much longer.
    Already there are colleagues I communicate with through facebook messages/wall rather than via email.
    Dave Birch (Citizen Dave) wrote about a younger friend telling him they only used email to get hold of older people like him!
    SMS (itself usually regularly operated between small communities of friends) and socially networked applications are rapidly becoming the preferred mode for a generation who want constant connectivity.

  8. Ever on the lookout for hard data about Facebook, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to ignore Alaa Shahine’s dispatch for Reuters this morning:

    The lead paragraph says it all:

    More than 2,000 Egyptians have joined a discussion group on Facebook, the popular Internet social networking Web site, to ponder one overwhelming question: “What will you do when (President) Hosni Mubarak dies?”

    Once again I think it is worth asking whether or not 2000 constitutes a statistically relevant sample; but, for this particular topic, I think the fact that the discussion group exists AT ALL is worthy of note. To provide some historical context, this is again the sort of topic that was likely to show up on a Usenet discussion group; and, when the discussion involved a government that tended to be “sensitive” about such discussion, most (if not all) of the discussants turned out to be submitting their contributions from OUTSIDE the borders of the country in question. Having said all that, though, I still hold that this is a data point worth considering!

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