Let’s get one thing straight from the start: David Sax doesn’t hate computers. He does, however, see the value in incorporating analog practices – paper, pencils, that pesky thing called human interaction – into the workplace. In his new book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, Sax explores everything from record players and board games to the surprisingly un-digitized offices of some of the biggest tech start-ups in the world.
We spoke with Sax about the importance of analog in the recruiting process and in the modern workplace – and how getting your staff to look up from their computer once in a while can actually boost productivity.
Workopolis: Your book praises the “physical experience,” but the hiring process is growing increasingly digital. What role does analog have in modern recruiting?
DS: At the end of the day, the job application process is fundamentally an analog one. What it comes down to isn’t “Does this person have the right education and the right skills? OK perfect.” It’s about the interpersonal dynamic. That’s what makes a workplace. That’s what makes a team. It’s that fundamental human dynamic that’s not quantifiable. It’s not something you can digitize.
So analog experiences can mean more meaningful hires?
I think when someone works out great as a hire, it’s because of their relationships and the dynamics they have with the other people there. So if you don’t actually sit down and meet with someone, and see how they talk and relate to those around them, then it’s a huge risk that you’re taking. As good as technology will get – and it will get even better – you can’t just standardize the human dynamic. You’re essentially standardizing humanity.
You write, “we want to interact with goods and services with all our senses, and many of us are willing to pay a premium to do so, even if it is more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalent.” With that in mind, is analog now an office perk?
Look no further than the tech industry. The offices of the biggest digital technology companies have created and cultivated these work spaces that are intentionally analog, from libraries filled with books and magazines to quiet tech-free meditation rooms and bike repair clinics. In the world where people are on their computers almost 100 per cent of the time, that is seen as a necessary benefit. As parts of the office become increasingly fused with digital technology, it’s going to be the spaces apart from them that are seen as more beneficial.
Offices, in fact, are now full of communication tools like Slack, Basecamp, Skype, and the like, making it unnecessary to even talk to someone face-to-face. Does that only increase the importance of analog interactions?
They’re the highest form of interaction. The digital interactions are essentially simulating, or replacing, that aspect. At the end of the day, we want to feel as though we’re doing a good job and we want the reward that comes from the knowledge that others believe that as well. It’s not just about promotions and bonuses and badges and stickers. It comes from those daily moments and the interactions that make us feel valued. And that’s always going to be at its highest in the analog, in the real world.
You write about Adobe banning Photoshop during the first week of a project, and Google’s sketching classes for its UX and UI designers. Why is analog being embraced as a creativity and productivity tool?
There certain points in the process where the limitations that are imposed by analog are actually liberating in terms of creative thinking, in terms of brainstorming, in terms of just productivity, where the digital technology might be getting in the way. Imposing limitations is one of the best things for creativity. If something is totally limitless, it’s harder. Creativity thrives in environments where there are limitations. It’s sort of finding a way through limitations that makes – that’s sort of the essence of creativity.
You mention leaders that go to great lengths to reduce the dependence on technology at work, like Percolate outlawing devices from all meetings and Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman avoiding the phone, email, and other digital means for important conversations. What can hirers and small business owners learn from some of these out-there measures?
The beauty of analog is that it is relatively simple and cheap. It’s tools like paper notepads and dry erase boards – and thinking about what parts of the process they make the most sense in. Along with that is the idea of policies and limitations. If everybody is using PowerPoint in presentations, does it actually make things better? Is it distracting people? Has it become a crutch? What are the meetings or scenarios where having a phone or a tablet or something open on the desk is helpful, and what are the ones where it’s distracting? Are there times in a work environment where having an hour carved out where people put their devices away is going to be more productive?
What’s the overall goal?
To allow different types of conversations and different presentations and different interactions to come. I think it’s about having the courage to say we need to create this digital-free space in order to see what comes of it. And it doesn’t cost anything. That’s the best part, right?