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Call it information technology's dirty little secret. The productivity payoff doesn't come with out an enormous amount of work.

"If you want to become a craftsman with your information tools, you need to set aside a lot of time to experiment and practice," says James V. McGee, a partner with Diamond Technology Partners, a high-technology consultancy.

"Otherwise," he says, "you fall back on only what you know about the tool, or only use the 1% of it you actually know. If you want to be a good public speaker, you have to get up and speak. And if you want to be a good copywriter, you have to write a lot of copy.

"They both take practice, and technology is no different."

It's no wonder, says Mr. McGee, that there's a sense of disappointment over the impact of technology. Fault lies with marketers who oversell their products' benefits.

"They don't want to tell you how hard achieving productivity really is," he says.

Those who seem to be making the best use of information technology are individual practitioners, such as telecommuters or operators of home-based businesses, says Mr. McGee.

Perhaps because they're operating in a more sink-or-swim environment than their corporate counterparts, the individual practitioner seems "more willing to stumble across the best uses of technology," he says.

Tim Koelzer, a former media planner and account exec for two Chicago ad agencies ( Ogilvy & Mather and Tatham Euro RSCG), now studies how technology can improve innovation for clients of management consultancy Kuczmarski & Associates.

"Technology has helped people become more efficient or more productive, but it still hasn't allowed people to do things better," says Mr. Koelzer.

Until technology can enhance creativity rather than simply boost efficiency, skepticism will linger, he says.

"Technology can't be easily used in the innovative or creative process because it won't spark new ideas," says Mr. Koelzer.

That may change in the age of interactive multimedia, especially with the development of video-teleconferencing.

"At an agency, for example, there is that critical interplay of reactions between a copywriter and an art director in the creation of an ad," Mr. Koelzer says.

"Video-teleconferencing can help replicate that brainstorming process on a remote or virtual office basis."

While marketers and creatives wrestle with all the new high-tech gizmos and gadgets in the productivity and creativity chase, there is still the old standby productivity tool-paper.

"There will always be a place for paper in helping people become more productive with their time," says Robert G. Pedersen, senior VP-marketing and training for the technology division of Franklin Quest Co., a marketer of personal information managers.

After all, loyal users still call them the "brains."

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