When I first heard about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, I wondered why everyone was so worried about Heisenberg’s uncertainty. I knew lots of people who weren’t certain about any number of things.

I’m more sophisticated now, although not so much so that I’ve actually learned the mathematics. I’ve learned, for example, the basic idea behind the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — that the act of observing any phenomenon affects the observed phenomenon.

Here’s one useful application of this little Nobel-prize-winning insight. The next time you read a market analysis or prediction from one of the big market research organizations … Gartner, Meta, Forrester, IDC … consider this Heisenbergish notion: When these groups observe, analyze, and report on the technology marketplace and you act on their observations, you and they together distort the marketplace.

I’d love to tell you that I have a terrific solution to this dilemma. I don’t. Since Albert Einstein failed to find a loophole in the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; I’m not all that depressed that I haven’t found one either. It’s a fundamental property of the universe.

Speaking of the Gartner Group, I received quite a bit of feedback on my recent critique of its highly publicized total cost of ownership (TCO) model for personal computers. Several readers suggested a way to measure the value of the PC — “simply” figure out everything you’d have to spend to keep the work going if you got rid of them.

You’d certainly get a huge number, even if you didn’t include the cards your employees would need to continue playing solitaire. I’m afraid the number wouldn’t mean much more than the TCO itself, though. PCs have transformed the workplace in fundamental ways, defining new kinds of work that were previously impossible, invalidating other activities and skills that used to be of vital importance, and changing how communication flows, not just within the company but throughout the marketplace.

Since not all of the changes are for the better, calculating the cost of undoing them wouldn’t measure value. It would measure the cost of making time flow backward.

Good try, though.

I got lots of requests for the “Total Cost of a Day Planner” calculation from my debate with the Gartner Group at its 1993 Annual Symposium, so here’s the five-year calculation, based on Gartner’s standard $40 per hour fully loaded cost of an employee and 48 productive weeks per year:

Figure the day planner costs about $150. The time management course itself probably costs the company another $150. And it costs a day of employee time, so at $40/hour times 8 hours that’s $320. And every year you buy refills for about $50 — $200 over five years.

Add up the 15 minutes every morning you’re supposed to spend planning your day and you get $12,000 over five years. During the day you may spend 10 minutes putting things on your to-do list and scratching them off. Over five years that totals up to another $8,000. In the evening before you go home you’re supposed to spend another five minutes recapping the day — over five years, another $4,000.

Then there’s the time you spend fiddling with refills, because every so often you have to take stuff out of the book and put new stuff in. That adds another $600.

Add it all up and the TCO for day planners is pretty shocking: $25,420 over five years.

Okay, I’ve done my part. I’ve done my best to debunk the whole silly TCO idea. Now it’s your turn. If I’ve convinced you and you subscribe to Gartner or any other organization that calculates TCO, it’s time to let them know you don’t want to spend another nickel on it. Overhead costs? Yes. Cost per hour of use? Yes.

TCO? As Nancy Reagan used to say, “Just say no.”