"Something called e-mail" – the difference ten years makes

Stephen Roach, who is always worth reading for economic insight, posts a wonderful reflection on ten years of publishing Morgan Stanley’s Global Economic Forum on the Internet.

We were immediately engaged in an animated discussion about an article in the Wall Street Journal that described a late-breaking monetary policy development in Germany. I told Don that the information was already dated — that I had spoken to my colleagues in London early that morning before driving to the train station, who gave me a more up-to-date assessment of the Bundesbank’s policy stance. Furthermore, I told Don that when I got to work I would show him something called an “e-mailâ€? that provided far more insight into this development than he could possibly find in the Journal. Remember, this was 1995.

A light bulb went on. Don asked me how many of these so-called e-mails were likely to be awaiting me when I got to the office that morning. I told him there would be several from economists in Asia and Europe — all of whom had been hard at work while we were sleeping. We had recently started using the e-mail to help us “pass the bookâ€? — in effect, flipping our insights from one time zone to the next over the course of the 24-hour workday. He was interested in how and why we were doing this. In response, I noted that several months earlier, the global economics team had something of an epiphany — we had discovered the benefits of e-mail. After figuring how to send, receive, and forward these electronic messages, I actually issued one of my first team-wide orders: I set up a group email address — let me assure you, a huge effort back then — and asked each member of our far-flung global team to file a daily 100-word dispatch describing a development in their respective economy.

Roach’s lessons are worth heeding: content should drive technology, IT can bring teams together, real-time communications can drive the debate, technology is not a substitute for creativity and beware of the time-consuming pitfalls of IT.

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