What software features don’t you know you’re missing?

This morning I took my car to be repaired. The mechanic shook his head: “This is a new model,” he said. “I’ve no idea how it works.” Later, I visited the hospital to discuss a planned operation. I asked the surgeon if she would use a new technique I’d read about online. “Oh, that sounds interesting,” she said. “I’d never heard of that before.”

Okay, okay: none of this actually happened. But imagine how shocked you would be if it did. We simply assume that professionals keep up to date with the changing state of knowledge that’s necessary to do their job.

But if you’re in the kind of job that uses tools like Word, Excel and PowerPoint on a daily basis, do you also make a point of updating yourself on what new versions of these tools can do? Or do you keep doing things in the same ways you’ve always done since you first learned to use a much older version of the software, many years ago?

Recently, I’ve found myself telling many people about new features they had no idea existed. Did you know, for example, that PowerPoint can automatically subtitle your slides in 60 languages? Or suggest attractive ways to to integrate a photo into your slide design? Or even create a whole initial set of slides for you when you tell it what subject you’re researching?

I’ve found that people’s eyes widen as I demonstrate these features and they realise how much more efficient their work can become. Sometimes they ask me why they didn’t know about these features already, as if it were my fault. (I work for Microsoft).

To which I reply: the last time you saw a splash screen telling you that your software had been updated, and inviting you to click to learn what’s new, did you just impatiently close it so you could get on with your work? Usually the response is a guilty-looking smile.

Sometimes I ask: have you ever searched online for a YouTube video or how-to blog post when you want to learn how to do something – say, to cook a new dish, or create a new photo effect? Most people say yes. Then I ask: have you ever searched for YouTube videos or how-to blogs to learn about new features in software your daily work depends on? I find that most people don’t do this.

It seems that we’re highly motivated to learn about cool new tips and tricks when it helps with our hobbies or social lives, but less proactive when it will help with our careers. If we’ve been familiar for years with one way to do a work-related task, it simply doesn’t occur to us that there might now be a quicker, easier way to achieve the same thing – or do something even better.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise. We know from other aspects of our lives that technology is developing all the time. Software, too, tends to become more capable with each new release.

It’s not always down to the individual, of course. Many employers could do more to provide training for workers to keep abreast of new software features. Yet even though my employer offers access to all the training in the world, many of my colleagues don’t fully grasp the opportunities this presents.

If I’ve inspired you to learn more about whether the software you rely on could be doing more to make your life easier, where can you go to investigate? You could start by browsing the blogs on Office.com, or the videos on the Microsoft Mechanics Series YouTube channel. But there is much more out there. It’s really a question of developing the mindset that makes you remember to find out.

Written by Dave Kurth
Thriving within my current role as Product Marketing Manager, I am the leader and voice of the Microsoft Azure within the Swiss subsidiary. Views are my own.