Punching the “Clear Your Head” Button: The Xconomy Q&A with David Allen

10/16/12Follow @wroush

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rewrite the subject line so that it’s clear what it is. You are still going to have to manipulate it. It’s not just automatic.

The guys out there who are trying to build some level of AI into how you filter your email shouldn’t bother, because you’re still going to need to think about how you’re going to think about what you need to think about. You’re still going to need to think about how you’re going to think about what you need to think about. You just want to see a flat list and make a quick executive decision and park it based on that result. I keep watching to see if anybody is coming up with anything that is a game changer, and I haven’t seen anything.

But I’m now partnered with a pretty deep-bench software crew. It’s Charles Simonyi, at Intentional Software. His CEO, Eric Anderson, is a big GTD fan, and he turned Charles on to GTD, so the two of them have got a deep bench of very, very cool folks. And we’re not promising a product. What we have is a deep bench collaboration about what’s missing. What pain needs to be solved that’s not being solved by what’s out there? Instead of the Balkan Wars of all of these things being so distributed, how do we begin to integrate them? This company has an expertise in how you build meta-systems around systems.

They’re the only people that came to me tabula rasa and said, “David, we don’t have a product, but you have something that could fit into the methodology we have built.” That’s what they were looking for, a good IP that could utilize their value-add. Which is building meta-systems, building a knowledge dashboard for any kind of a knowledge base, and giving the people who input to the knowledge base the opportunity to reconstruct and reconfigure it so they don’t have to bring programmers in every time they want to change that knowledge base. A change is replicated throughout the system and every piece of hardware, so they don’t have multiple fronts every time you try to make a change to how knowledge is being configured or viewed. You don’t have to change anything but that and it’s all connected together. It’s hard for me as a lay person to understand what they’re doing but these guys are doing some deep work with some big organizations.

X: There wasn’t an official GTD app five years ago, or one year ago, so what’s changed? It sounds like you feel this company has made an advance here in the science of knowledge management or databases?

DA: It could be. Again, the jury is out. The reason I hadn’t picked anybody is that everybody who came to me already had a product. They just wanted me to endorse it and to say good things about it. Whatever. The guys who did the Outlook add in, they did have the GTD imprimatur. We looked at that and it’s a cool way to do it, but even then we said it’s not required. These guys came to me tabula rasa and said “We don’t know what’s needed, but we think we have a technology that could be utilized to help knit together a lot of this stuff.”

X: You mentioned Evernote. And OmniFocus is really popular. And Siri is changing the game in how you get data into the phone and back out of it. With all those advances, do you really feel like we haven’t gotten any closer to that “magic GTD thing”?

DA: No, it’s just speeding it up. None of it is game-changing. You could do all of this before. There will come a point where yes, there will be a step change. I think it was Windows 3.1 where it hit a sweet spot where now I could maneuver between my applications much as my minded wanted to, and that was game changing. There has not been a lot of game-changing stuff, really, in terms of really changing how we think. It more just speeds up how we slice and dice information. I’m talking about game-changing in the sense that … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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