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Why The Work Tools We Use Matter

January 7, 2024
Kevin Giffin
9 min

We all know the work tools we use matter. We know the right tools can help us produce better work, stay focused, improve productivity, align our teams, and reach our goals. And we all like to think we’re using the best work tools at our disposal. We’re wrong.

Yes, the work tools we use matter. But over time, without really realizing it, we’ve shortchanged our potential at work by sticking with that “right” tool—time and time again. Because as time changes, so must the tools we use. The ones that don’t fade into irrelevance and obscurity, along with the people, teams, and companies who cling to them until it’s too late.

Right now, teams of all sizes are leaving bulky, bloated work tools behind. They’re switching out add-ons and app-switching for simple, streamlined tools. It’s the same reason we created Ledger.

And as much as this exodus from the old may frustrate some of the titans of the SaaS industry, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This process of shedding the “right” tools for something better has been a staple throughout history.

We thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of that history—and what it can tell us about why the work tools we use matter.

The Calculator Revolution

The calculator may not seem revolutionary now, obviously. But of course, at one point it was. In a big way.

When the first solid-state electronic calculator was created in the early ‘60s, it totally transformed the way a person could handle quick—or not so quick—calculations at home or at work. You’d be crazy to use pen and paper when a cheap alternative is so readily available. So when pocket-sized calculators finally became available for most average Joes and Janes in the ‘70s, people (rightly) flocked to them.

Now every single person you know has a calculator. Unless you’re cramming for a college math final, the odds of using a pen and paper to do your calculating are lower than they’ve ever been. The calculator was the golden standard. And then, the computer changed everything. 

Home Computing Changes Everything

Aside from your phone, your computer is probably the most common place where you access your calculator these days. (Unless you work in finance and have a Texas Instruments in your desk for posterity.)

We’re not going to spend too much time on this, because obviously the computer was a game changer. But we want to underscore just how much it changed the game.

Obviously, the computer took the idea of calculation and processing to the next level. But just as importantly, it helped us to organize our information and communicate in newer ways than ever before. It was a super tool. 

It didn’t just change how we processed information, it changed how we organized and communicated that information. And it opened up anew host of opportunities to push data organization and communication even further.

How Acrylic Paints Changed Art

The process of trading the old tools for the new even applies to the art world.

Before the twentieth century, painters basically had two choices: They could use oil paints, or they could use watercolor paints. Both had (and still have!) their own benefits, and both had their drawbacks. Longer drying times and issues with fading and weathering affected paintings for hundreds and thousands of years.

The introduction of acrylic paint in the ‘40s opened up new doors for artists, you could create faster and longer lasting works of art. While artists now may have their preferences just like film directors may prefer certain cameras over others, most painters now realize the general utility and advantage of using acrylic paint over others.

Other paints may give different looks, but for speed and longevity, acrylic is just the way to go.

What does any of this have to do with my work apps?

Our work tools are constantly evolving. But while we may have found tools that we think best support our work, when we look much closer, we may realize they’ve grown to hold us back. That’s become ever more true when our work tools have evolved into a game of niche efficiency tools.

Example: The trackpad vs. the mouse.

The mouse came first, along with the computer. It was the standard tool for navigating your desktop. Some changes may have occurred overtime, like wireless connectivity, but it was the first real way of connecting with your computer without using arrow keys.

Then the laptop came along. And with the introduction of the laptop came the trackpad. The laptop revolutionized how we used computers by revolutionizing where we used them. And so the trackpad took off.

But have you used a trackpad? They’re challenging and finicky to use, and a lot slower than a Bluetooth—connected mouse. So why would anybody use a trackpad when they have the choice?

The truth is that when we think we’ve found the right tool, or the best option at the moment, most people stop questioning them or looking to improve upon them. And that puts them at a severe disadvantage when time—and the tools available to us—change.

That includes the calculator and computer, as well asSalesforce, Slack, Basecamp, and probably a few other icons on your laptop.

Why the SaaS Tools We Use Matter

As a work tool, many teams use email in the same way people used calculators before computers. They haven’t really looked to improve the toolset, resulting in less efficiency and more mental strain. On the other side of the scale, some of the “hot new” options that some teams have selected may have been the best option at the time, but three, five, or fifteen years later—not so much.

Even though better, more connective, more efficient tools are available, teams have just gotten used to a way of doing things and it feels comfortable, even with the small headaches and challenges we experience as a direct result of using these tools every day.

With time and perspective, in twenty years you may finally realize, Wow, I wasted so much time and energy doing things that way when a better, newer way was right in front of me.

Or, you may not.

Welcome to Ledger.

Unify your teamwork.