But early knowledge work was still quite different from our modern professional lifestyle. To get from the “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” era of long lunches and secretaries screening calls to our current experience of constant frantic connection, we must wait until the arrival of networked desktop computers during the 1980s and 1990s, which connected us digitally through tools like email, followed by the smartphone revolution in the 2000s, which made this connectivity ubiquitous. The approach to cognitive work that Mr. Rheingans’s “radical” plan seeks to upend, in other words, is at best 10 to 20 years old. The history of technology and commerce teaches us that we should be skeptical of the idea that we’ve somehow figured out the best way to conduct knowledge work in the network age in such a short time.
To believe, in other words, that our current approach to knowledge work — which is brand-new on any reasonable scale of business history — is the best way to create valuable information using the human mind is both arrogant and ahistoric. It’s the equivalent of striding into an early-20th-century automobile factory, where each car still required a half day’s worth of labor to produce, and boldly proclaiming, “I think we’ve figured this one out!”
We’re driven to these extremes by some vague sense that all of this frantic communicating will make us more productive.