In a famous Ted Talk in 2008, Jill Bolte Tayor, a neuroscientist well versed in the theory of how the brain works, described what she learned about the way the brain processes information, in particular the distinction between the way the left and right hemispheres function.
Likening the brain to a computer, she says that the right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor, while the left hemisphere functions like a serial processor. Whilst the two hemispheres do communicate with one another through the corpus callosum, in the main they are completely separate. The right human hemisphere is all about the present moment – the here and now, while the left thinks linearly and methodically and is all about the past and the future.
The way we store and use information and things in the workplace exhibits a similar dichotomy. We might term them the difference between storage and stowage.
Storage is the equivalent of the left hemisphere. It is methodical and focuses on what has gone before. It is the core of information we use to plan the future. It is the things we file away and archive so we know how to find them at some possibly undetermined point in the future. It is categorised. It may never be used but we keep it just in case. In a business context, it is often shared and available to all. It is typically kept in one place, even if that place is increasingly the cloud.
Stowage on the other hand is all about the now. It is about the things we need today or tomorrow. It is the stuff that energises our working day and makes it possible. It may not even be information, but the personal items and paraphernalia we need or which make our working day better and more productive. It is also the stuff that allows us to work anywhere and at any time.
The distinction is important in the contemporary workplace because we are seeing a profound shift away from storage to stowage. Storage is increasingly available to us in digital form, but stowage incorporates by definition the physical items we need to work.
This trend from one form to the other will continue as work becomes more agile in response to profound technological and cultural change. We may welcome the ability to work anywhere, but we still need a place to go and a place to keep things. The dichotomy exists, but the balance between its two sides is shifting.
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