I get bored easily.

Since my professions (writing and consulting) depend on my ability to persuade, this character defect has personal significance.

As a senior consultant of my acquaintance reminds me frequently, people rarely adopt new ideas before about seven repetitions. Seven? I’m bored by the third repetition!

Example: Last year I wrote a column or two in which I pointed out the cause of the productivity paradox: that productivity – items produced per unit of time – doesn’t apply to knowledge workers, who don’t produce the same thing over and over.

Computers can’t make knowledge workers more “productive” because the job doesn’t involve productivity in the first place. Computers make knowledge workers more effective, which is an entirely different matter. Effectiveness, of course, is hard to quantify, and even harder to turn into tangible financial benefits.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column on the “True Cost of Ownership” for personal computers, and of course I assumed everyone reading it understood the uselessness of searching for increased productivity. Nope. So think of this as repetition #2. More will be on the way.

Here’s an illustration of the difference between productivity and effectiveness: Executives used to either dictate memos and letters or scrawl them on a legal pad. Either way, their secretaries typed them and handed them back for revision. After several iterations of red pencil marks, their memos entered the mail.

From a productivity perspective, this was a wonderful process – the executive probably spent no more than five minutes on the whole process.

Now, those same executives compose electronic mail, twang the magic twanger, and launch their immortal prose into cyberspace. With any luck at all, the lucky recipients read their words within the hour.

The executive has lost productivity. Even without amortizing the time spent learning to type, the memo almost certainly has required much more executive time. Effectiveness, on the other hand, has increased by a huge factor – more than you may think, actually, because secretaries, no longer called on to interpret and type executive scrawls, now handle far more important tasks.

Think about everything that’s had to happen over the past fifteen years to create this result. The technology, by itself, had only a trivial impact. Coupled with the cultural change that accompanied it, the impact has been transformational.

The branch of anthropology called ethnoscience defines culture as the behavior people exhibit in response to their environment. In business, the environment is the behavior of other people. So, to change a culture, you either change the behavior people exhibit in response to their environment, or the behavior people exhibit that constitutes other people’s environments. You change the people, or the people.

Got that?

Take our executive. (Please.) Typing was beneath him. Female executives refused to type anything because they didn’t want their male counterparts to think of them as secretaries. Personal computers were useless on executive desks because execs looked at the keyboard and freaked out entirely.

When I first got involved in rolling out PCs in an organization, I suggested creating a typing class for managers. My boss told me this was an awful idea – nobody would take it. We could, though, create a class in “keyboarding skills” which would be useful to these guys.

Think about the changes between then and now. Then: an executive using a PC is wasting time doing a clerical job and not delegating effectively. Now: an executive not using a PC is too inept or lazy to learn the basic tools of the trade. And these attitudes are reflected in real behavior – who gets hired and promoted, how work gets done, and what we all expect of each other.

In the meantime, accountants manage to tally the “True Cost of Computing” at somewhere around eleven grand a year, but can’t seem to find any tangible benefit.

You’ll find this hard to believe, but I have an unfortunate tendency to wisecrack. Sometimes, they get out of hand, becoming the conversational goal. Function – communication – gets lost in the quest for form (and you’ll recall that “Form Follows Function” is one of the three great laws of management).

I victimized a perfectly good argument this way a few columns ago. Comparing the costs of mainframe and client/server computing, I described a small system – few users, low transaction volume, small table size – and then asked which would cost more, the mainframe or client/server version. Instead of just making the point, I tried to be clever (I said, “Hint: the word “COBOL” shouldn’t appear in your answer,”) successfully inverting my meaning.

I hate it when that happens.

This was a minor gaffe. Worse was another recent column in which I Salingered InfoWorld‘s readers. (To Salinger – v. transitive: to state as authoritative knowledge information gleaned from secondary sources, thereby perpetuating unfounded rumor. From Pierre Salinger, who repeated an unfounded Internet rumor as fact, trying to precipitate a major scandal.)

I’d read that the license terms for Microsoft Office 97 only allowed licensees to run it on Microsoft operating systems, and, trusting the source, I used this “fact” in my column.

For the record, the license terms do not – repeat, not – include this restriction. My sources of information were wrong. I should have read the license terms myself instead of relying on secondary sources. With too little time to do so, I took a chance instead.

Usually, when someone makes a mistake in print they run a correction, say, “we regret the error,” and move on.

I got to thinking, though. We all have too little time to absorb too much information, make sense of it, and decide on courses of action. That means we have to take shortcuts, relying on news articles, opinion pieces summarizing news articles, and even opinion pieces summarizing other opinion pieces.

Usually, this amounts to efficiently using limited time. It can, however, lead to embarrassing mistakes.

The Internet magnifies this dilemma greatly. It’s the nature of print media that you can make an informed judgment regarding the trustworthiness of what you read. It’s the nature of the Internet that you can’t. Any damned fool can create Web pages that look just as official and authoritative as InfoWorld Electric. The Internet may be the greatest source of information ever, but figuring out what constitutes information and what constitutes deception, rumor-mongering, or just plain trouble-making isn’t all that easy.

Here’s what’s needed: Some independent authority should establish a certification program for information providers. The program will define minimum standards for news gathering and editorial practice. Sites that qualify will be allowed to display the “TIP” (Trusted Information Provider) logo. Consumers of information can then look for the TIP logo before accepting what they read.

This – the ISO9000 of publishing – would be of awesomely high value for every information consumer on the planet. It wouldn’t guarantee perfection. It would let you know whether your source is worth attending to.

No TIP certification program exists today, and in its absence you have to make your own decisions regarding how to be sure what you’ve read reflects reality. As stated before in this space, you need a finely tuned BS detector.

This isn’t a new problem. There’s a branch of philosophy – epistemology – that deals with how we know what we know. It teaches that there’s no such thing as absolute certainty, just relative confidence.

Which, I guess, means we all have to gather information to the depth we think is appropriate, draw the best conclusions we can, and hope to get it right when it counts.

And to always acknowledge the possibility that we got it wrong.