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June 8, 2022

🚀 Revolutionizing the way we work: from 1st gen Productivity to 2nd gen Productivity

Discover folk - the CRM for people-powered businesses

Breakthrough product innovation doesn't happen in a day. It's not brutal or sudden. It tends in reality to happen smoothly overtime.

Incremental improvements are shipped and compounded to eventually create massive value. It takes years before the innovation is clearly developed, packaged into a product and distributed in the market. And it always goes through a series of iterations, adjustments, improvements & debates.

Before getting to its final form, product innovations always goes through intermediate states. These intermediate states look, in hindsight, like transitional products — a bridge between the old and the new, the future and the past. The first car, pictured below, dates back to 1886. It doesn't look like the classic modern cars everyone knows today. It's not a car or a coach. It's making the bridge and timidly announcing the incoming Industrial Revolution.

What's true for cars is also true for the first-generation of productivity tools — such as Excel, Word, Powerpoint to name a few — they are the intermediate products paving the way for a massive revolution in the way we work: 2nd gen Productivity

About 1st Gen productivity

For years, work happened thanks to office supplies: the accountant’s spreadsheets, the typist’s paper, the teacher's slides.

In the 80s, Microsoft, a soon-to-become internet giant, spotted an opportunity to increase workers' productivity by replacing handwriting and bringing the magic of iteration onto documents.

At the start, they aimed to mimic the traditional working tools we used.

  • From the real-life desk to the desktop on your Operating System. Where all your work now happens.
  • From filing cabinets to Folders on your desktop. Simply use them to categorize and store documents.
  • From office supplies to the Productivity tools used to create Docs. The typing machine was replaced by Word processors (such as Word); Physical spreadsheets were replaced by digital ones (such as Excel); Presentation Transparents were replaced by Slides (e.g. PowerPoint); Digital address books replaced the Rolodex; Paper was replaced with illustrative software (e.g. Photoshop). The reproduction of the physical world into the digital world goes as far as the icons used for these apps which represent the physical object the app has now replaced.
  • The above tools got packed into Office suite, as a direct reference of all the tools you need to make a physical office work!

Needless to mention Microsoft experienced massive success. They laid the foundations of 1st gen Productivity, shifted behaviours and built the tools millions of people use every day. Contracts, invoices, documentation, articles, research, presentation, databases… You name it. For a very long time, everything happened on Office Suite tools.

1st gen productivity is a transitional innovation...

This approach to work is yet inherently flawed. These tools mirror the way we used to work in the physical world and simply shifts it onto a computer. 1st gen Productivity takes office supplies, transforms them into digital tools but forgets to take into account the full breadth of the digital era.

  • DESIGNED FOR SINGLE-USER — Paper is conceived for a single-user experience. Because first-generation productivity tools have replicated this, they aren't built to be natively collaborative.
  • MADE UP OF PIXELS AND CHARACTERS — There are different types of objects living on the web: date, string, file, contact, image, etc.. 1st gen Productivity doesn't provide this level of complexity. It's only about pixels and characters.
  • BUILT IN SILOS — By splitting the work into documents, all the knowledge is trapped in different "silos" working in standalone. Docs aren't connected to each other and are even less connected to other apps. This in turn creates massive amounts of administrative work to match the data across documents, software, and databases.

... and lays the ground for a massive revolution in the way we work: 2nd gen productivity

2nd gen Productivity is about leveraging the power of technology to redefine what work and collaboration mean in our connected era. Conversely to 1st gen Productivity, we're no longer constrained by the real world.

  • NATIVE COLLABORATION — Collaboration isn't a layer built on top, productivity tools are natively collaborative. Collaboration isn't simply about live edits and comments. It's about rethinking the collaboration process by building team customized workflows with their own collaboration rules and roles.
  • MADE UP OF OBJECTS — While 1st gen Productivity focused on using characters and pixels, 2nd gen Productivity leverages objects. Files, images, contacts, contracts, deals, opportunities. This better render the way we really work.
  • NO MORE SILOS — Today's productivity tools are run on browsers built for continuous delivery with the added comfort of version history. Work is continuously saved at the same pace it's edited, in a more flexible way by leveraging the power of relational databases. Storage isn't necessarily hierarchical, as in the real world, but in networks. Every data point can refer at any time to any other block of knowledge, or even to other software and databases. In that sense, while 1st gen Productivity is for shipping individual Docs (e.g. a contract), combining storage and edits in one place help 2nd gen Productivity be about building systems (e.g. a knowledge base, a design system)

The new generation of productivity tool are smoothly revolutionizing the way we work: "We shape our tools and then our tools shape us".