Golden Business Ideas

In Praise of Paper
The computer revolution held the promise of the demise of paper. PC designers envisioned all those paper reports converted to digital blips and stored neatly in colorful icons on our electronic desktops.

How wrong that prediction was: Per-capita paper use has been rising.

Is that an indication we’re not making full and efficient use of the computer, that we’re stubbornly resistant to modern technology?

Not at all. We’re using more paper because in many cases it’s a more efficient data-storage medium than the computer. It can be piled in neat stacks on our desks (and contrary to the advocates of pristine, no-clutter-on-the-desk control freaks, many of us can reach into that stack and instantly find the piece of paper we need); it can hold scribbled reminders that are then taped to the side of the computer or the edge of the keyboard; and memos can be easily annotated in the margins.

But more important, paper is better than the computer in some cases because we use it pretty much like we use our brains: It’s spatially flexible (it can be spread out and arranged to suit our needs), it can be easily scanned (you can pick it up and flip through pages, reading bits and pieces at will) and it’s perfect for performing cognitive tasks (by laying it out open on your desk, you can more likely envision how one piece of information is related to another). If you doubt that, ask yourself why you pile documents on your desk rather than immediately filing them.

So why do we prefer piling to filing? In the book, The Myth of the Paperless Office, (MIT; $24.95) by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, psychologist Alison Kidd says the piles represent the process of active, ongoing thinking, and knowledge workers use the physical space of the desktop to hold ideas they cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use.

So, don’t assume the messy desk is a sign of disorganization. It’s where ideas are easily viewed, shuffled and sorted, and where thinking is going on.

The computer, on the other hand, is perfect for converting all those piles of paper to a digital format so they can be conveniently stored or searched, copied, revised and forwarded to some other computer—when and if needed.

Psst! What’s My Password?
Studies at Bell Laboratories showed that insisting on regular computer password changes actually reduced their security.

The reason for that is obvious: People can remember only so many things, and by insisting they change their passwords every few months, they quickly use up the kinds of passwords they’re likely to remember—such as the kids’ birthdays or anniversary dates. Once they’ve exhausted their bank of easily remembered passwords, they feel compelled to start writing down the new ones so they don’t forget them and then they hide the slip of paper, figuring it’s less risky than picking a poor one.

So those memory-impaired who need a mnemonic trick to remember their passwords, consider this: There is a Web site that converts phone numbers into words: plug in the number and it calculates all the available phone “dial” words that can be made from them. Its URL is .

Best you write it down before you forget it. And on a separate slip of paper, note where you filed the mnemonic.

An Invitation
The JofA publishes a monthly collection of Golden Business Ideas and invites readers to contribute their favorites (for attribution, if you like).

Send your ideas to Senior Editor Stanley Zarowin via either e-mail ( ) or regular mail at the Journal of Accountancy, Harborside Financial Center, 201 Plaza Three, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.


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