Superhuman? - Next Action Associates

When we started the business 10 years ago, ‘inbox zero’ was a bit of a holy grail for our clients. If we let slip in conversation that we had a means of attaining and sustaining that standard, ears pricked up all Spock-like.

A decade later, most still like the sound of an empty inbox, but the conversation has changed. High time, because email wasn’t the problem, and it isn’t now.

Instead of complaining about email, the most pressing issue for many is unfortunately now much broader and more pervasive. What we are now seeing in our clients is a form of techno-exhaustion, caused by the sheer number of channels they are trying to monitor on a daily basis.

One email inbox – even a very full one – starts to look like a fond memory when faced with inputs from multiple project channels in MS Teams, Slack, or other, Linkedin, Xing, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Trello or equivalent. All that before one gets to all of the other messaging services that are provided ‘free’ in numerous other apps. Faced with all of this, to speak of digital despair would not be an exaggeration.

Given all the pressure from new channels, I was surprised to learn that someone has launched a service that – for $30 per month – claims it will get you on top of your email inbox. Called ‘Superhuman’, it has been a viral hit, and has a current waiting list of 180,000 Clark Kent wannabes.

If you dig a bit under the headlines, there are some interesting ideas here:

There is explicit acceptance that email is a critical part of any communications strategy, despite the growing number of tools that have been heralded as the ‘end of email’.

I have an opinion: email is a good tool, and it is here to stay. Let’s get beyond the wishful thinking that it will be magicked away by some latter-day techno-fairy; accept that email is a part of our work and that you should get really good at handling it. Living in the illusion that it shouldn’t exist because it is outdated will only lead to the same problems that people experience who are trying to pretend there is no longer any paper in the world. That thundering noise? It’s the sound of millions of balls dropping daily….

Interestingly, you can’t get ‘Superhuman’ unless you engage with a human coach who teaches you how to use it. I think we’ll see more and more of this. Great tools without instruction are tools that get left on the bench.

Beyond that, even a great tool will be unhelpful without a systematic approach to using the tool. I’m reminded of one of my favourite ditties for those avoiding living their life by searching for a perfect tool to organise it in:

A fool,

With a tool,

Is still a fool.

More than anything, what struck me about this service is that much of what it is offering is available to anyone who is willing to do a bit of research and a bit of practice with the available shortcuts in their current email provider.

I won’t even bother to mention that for most, the biggest thing they could do to positively impact their mastery of email would be to simply learn to type.

I have nothing against someone charging $360 per year for an email service. If they can find customers, why not? Some will definitely get benefits, but I suspect it will be the same crowd that will actually use their gym membership, and have already learned to touch type.

Reading about the service prompted some thinking about what is perceived as ‘superhuman’. Some other things that are available to all that will soon be considered ‘superhuman’:

  • Long division
  • Touching your toes
  • Conducting a face to face conversation unsupported by devices

Getting into the spirit of the thing, watch this space; I’ll soon be launching an app that will teach all three. Package deal, just $30 per month.

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