This week’s news mentioned 2 intertwined stories, one of which is a hoax.
Last week, India’s Business Standard reported Typewriters about to become a page in history since an Indian typewriter producer was running out of the typewriters they stopped producing in 2009 (sounds kind of inevitable to me but I digress). Subsequently England’s The Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal’s India site and no less august an institution than the Huff Post ran the same story.
Just one problem: as it turns out though, the typewriter (at least the electronic version) is far from dead – heck you can even pick one up at Staples according to the Washington Post. (Thanks HuffPost and WashPost for debunking the story).
The True Story
The Dwindling Secretarial Corps
It’s curious that the story ran so close to Administrative Professionals’ Day (April 27) since the secretaries who preceded administrative professionals, were so closely intertwined with typewriters as reported in The New York Times article, Do Secretaries Have a Future on Tuesday.
So what do typewriters and secretaries have to do with solutions? As it turns out, quite a lot. Solutions are complete offerings that solve a problem. You might also think of them as systems, which Dictionary.com defines as:
An assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole
And if you think about it, a secretary and a typewriter combine to make a system or solution. To be more precise, a secretary, a typewriter, a typewriter ribbon, and paper form a system or solution that produces a finished piece of communication.
R.I.P. Secretaries or Typewriters?
So secretaries and typewriters go together. But once computers began to overtake typewriters, suddenly any office worker could create a finished, typed page (albeit with some computer or word processing training). And when that happened, we didn’t need secretaries as much for typing. Which is one reason why nearly 2 million clerical and administrative workers lost their jobs in the Great Recession.
Business Problem: Create a finished piece of communication
Solution, circa 1961: secretary, typewriter, paper, typewriter ribbon, paper
Solution, circa 2011: office worker (do it yourself), computer, word processing software (e.g., Microsoft Word), printer, toner, paper
As I’ve written before, business problems remain relatively constant – we still need to communicate after all. It’s the systems that often change as new technologies become available and more prevalent. Business problems change slowly while solutions evolve rapidly.
In part II, we’ll take a look at lessons from the secretary/typewriter system.
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