In 1994, I wrote an editorial in Upline about an experience I'd had doing a training on live video-conference at a Kinko's. It was an amazing experience...I was flabbergasted and enthusiastic...I could see the future unfolding before my very eyes. I closed by breathlessly predicting that within a year, we'd all be using live video-conferencing as a staple of our training methodologies.

I was wrong. Never happened.

Pop quiz: what do all the following have in common?

 

The paperless office. Video phones. The demise of book stores. The worldwide takeover of communism. Genuine election reform.

 

Answer: They are all vivid and perfectly rational predictions--none of which have come true, because they all overlooked one critical scientific principle:

 

People do what people do.

 

I recently consulted to a startup networking company that was swamped with customer service problems in its first few months. Being an Internet-based company, they had planned to handle all customer service and distributor service issues via an e-mail response system. Logical enough, one might think...and one would be wrong.

As the stream of customer service issues swelled to flood tide, they continued in their stalwart insistence: 95 percent of the problems people were having would be avoided, if people would simply read the manual, extensive on-line help files, and regular e-mail newsletters.

The real problem? That pesky word, "if."

Because in the real world, people won't read the manual, nor the online help files, and they either won't read or won't understand the newsletters--no, not even if you pay them.

They told their distributors: only prospect people who are tech-savvy enough not to have these technical challenges--a strategy worthy of King Canute. (Legend says this early English king had his throne placed on the shore and commanded the tides to abate. History says, he actually did so to demonstrate the limitations of kings.)

The next step was to castigate the distributor leadership: if the leaders would only teach their networks properly, people wouldn't be having these issues with the technology.

Hmm. Perhaps not. But how many people do you know who ever learned to program their VCRs? If your business depended on people's VCRs being properly programmed, which would you put your energies into: redesigning the VCRs--or the people?

What these well-intentioned but misdirected strategies fail to grasp is a principle of human nature that I recently heard summed up beautifully by a friend, Craig Case: "If you make something idiot-proof, the world will build a better idiot."

People do what people do: smart education starts there.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Editor of Networking Times.