Google's new Inbox app made headlines: it promises to control everyone's avalanche of email. Of course I am cynical. Gizmodo proved that it can read my mind (note to self: replace tin foil hat) when it posted this headline earlier this week: "Google Can't Fix What's Really Wrong With Email: Us." Exactly! But Gizmodo didn't go far enough.
The Gizmodo article concludes, "Inbox won't stop humans from being dumb about abusing it, ignoring it, relying on it, and letting it distract us while we work. That, sadly, is a problem no algorithm can fix."
You can't fix dumb. But -- most email overload in our company is not about being dumb. It's about the "CYA" factor. Don't want to take responsibility? Shift it to your boss with a cc! Not sure who owns a project? CC EVERYONE!
That is the real reason for email overload.
What makes gigantic, geographic progression? What makes an avalanche? What makes something go viral? Social media people know. You make something go viral through everyone sharing. Because of CYA we have "unintentional" virality in corporate email. And it is now OK, somehow. It is tolerated because those in charge are clueless.
[Get the inside scoop: Google Inbox: 5 Things To Know.]
Back in the day, IT would cancel someone's email account for sending chain letters TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. We would scold people new to email: no, don't do that.
Now, it is accepted company procedure to cc all. Email goes viral every day. Except it is not cute and there are no cat pictures. It is all about thoughts like this:
Hm. Should I pick up the phone and resolve this in 30 seconds? Oh, I don't know. So much plausible deniability. The other party could easily say we never agreed to that. I don't want to get in trouble. There needs to be a virtual paper trail. And email. It's so easy. I don't even have to write a memo. I just have to spend 30 seconds jamming out an email. And I might as well cc everyone who has anything to do with it because that's super easy, too. Plus! I don't have to actually face anybody!
Never mind that those emails hit 10 inboxes, generate five replies TO ALL, and go viral in a very bad way, since your other colleagues are also CY'ing their A's.
I have even seen self-abuse: colleagues who cc themselves when sending out anything that they are nervous about. Memo to colleague, never sent: You're not fooling anybody, we know that cc to yourself means "CYA to yourself." Your CYA is showing.
Sure, email overload is partially about being dumb and abusing email for things it wasn't meant for. But the avalanche part is mostly about just being lazy, wimpy, and covering your own rear.
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