Business Overwhelms LO13113

Eric Bohlman (
Thu, 3 Apr 1997 20:55:50 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO13111 --

On Thu, 3 Apr 1997, William J. Hobler, Jr wrote:

> The cause of too much e-mail is people send too much e-mail, it is not a
> technology issue. There have to be leadership strategies that get an
> organization to the right amount of e-mail. I guess this is the seed your
> oysters model.

I agree it's not a technology issue. It's a cultural issue, and it can be
the result of subtle and probably unexamined cultural issues. For
example, if an organization's culture values being the first one to bring
something up, then people who learn about something are naturally going to
scramble to be the first one to tell everyone else about it. This is the
"scoop" mentality that affects journalists and often causes them to report
stories incorrectly because being the first to break the story is
incompatible with waiting until all the details are in (remember how the
Heavens Gate group was initially made up entirely of males in their early
20s?). The perfect e-mail example of this is employees scrambing to be
the first one to warn their co-workers about the Good Times virus.

Or maybe the culture says that a leader must know every little detail of
what his subordinates are doing. In that case, there's going to be an
enormous amount of "FYI" email floating around, and in most cases at least
that many messages that do nothing more than acknowledge that the FYI's
were received.

Yet another issue is the tradeoff between "type I errors" (acting on
something that turns out not to require action) and "type II errors"
(failing to act on something that does require action). An organization
that considers type I errors more significant will probably generate lots
of CYA emails; one that considers type II errors more significant will
probably generate lots of alerts.

A related issue is that of which the culture considers worse: a
communication that lacks sufficient detail, or one that has too much
detail. A culture where asking someone a question about his communication
is viewed as a challenge to that person will lead to people trying to
cover every possible detail and every anticipated objection. On the other
hand, a culture where anything that can't be summed up in a single
paragraph isn't considered worth saying will encourage lots of
one-paragraph emails.

Finally, there's the degree to which the organization values "looking
busy." The generation of emails is a highly visible form of activity, and
it's one that can be recorded and measured quite easily. In certain
cultures, the ability to make a mountain out of a molehill is highly
valued (probably stemming from the Puritan conception of work as a means
of avoiding "idleness"). Email provides lots of opportunities for people
to work harder instead of working smarter.


Eric Bohlman <>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>