Why the best companies may dump the laptops, PCs and programs their employees love


Stay up to date. Don’t let your desk look like this. (William C. Shrout/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Most of us sitting at a desk do all our work on laptops and PCs, and use programs such as Microsoft Word and Outlook. These habits are so ingrained in the experience that it’s difficult to imagine using anything else. But there was a time when typewriters, printers and phone books appeared irreplaceable.

In an a16z podcast, Steven Sinofsky, board partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, discussed the dramatic changes happening with what we use at work.

“The only thing we know for sure is that the processes that are currently in place are essentially being disrupted by all of these new tools,” Sinofsky said. “And the companies that go and are forward looking and adopt these are simply going to be more modern and more productive. Just like the companies that were the first to do word processing and spreadsheets, were then the first to do GUI, the first to do networking, the first to use laser printers, the first to use color.

“I mean these are things that come to define differentiation between organizations. It’s the speed of thought. It’s the speed of decision making. The speed of communication. The speed of working with customers. These tools that are out here are all about solving those problems. They’re not problem free. They’re going to create a new set of problems which is then in itself going to get rolled into solutions and new ways of work. And that’s just the fun part of being down here and seeing all of that stuff in play.”

“The stuff you actually need a desktop for has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk and shrunk,” added Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans. “And now it’s really only like hard-core video editing or something you need an enormous screen for.  And I think tablets in particular — to some extent smartphones — sort of sit in that continuum. What is it you’re actually trying to do?”

“This is such an emotional debate for people,” Sinofsky said. “You can not take away my laptop, it defines my job, it defines my work, and a huge amount of this is also additive. You don’t define the new thing as always assuming all of the old.

Sinofsky compared the developments in modern work tools to the way movies evolved from theater:

“It turns out that movies would’ve gone long ago had people just defined movies as putting one camera in front of actors on a stage. It’s a very boring way to watch a theater presentation. And then all the sudden someone said you know these cameras they can move around, they can go outside, we could use more than one and a whole new form got created. That is actually what’s happening in business right now. It’s not that you’re going to look at the 15-page status report and say how can I do a 15-page status report in this tool or get this giant tracking spreadsheet and say how do I redo this in a tablet. What’s happening is new tools — the tools are now five years old — or at the very least two or three years old. And all of the sudden we’re seeing this explosion in new approaches to the work products themselves. And that’s what’s particularly exciting right now.”

Sinofsky cautioned against a reluctance to adopt and try new tools. “The enemy of the good is the perfect. If we all locked ourselves in a room until there was the perfect tool for doing work in a company it would be out of date, too big, too hard to roll out, all of those things.”

Anyone here want to try turning in their work PC for a tablet? I’m not going to the front of the line.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland · April 10