“Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it…

Six Laws of Technology

  1. Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.
  2. Invention is the mother of necessity.
  3. Technology comes in packages, big and small.
  4. Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.
  5. All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.
  6. Technology is a very human activity – and so is the history of technology.

Melvin Kranzberg

Is it me? What is “an unusually high volume of calls”?

If you’ve not heard these exact words, you’ve heard something very similar to them:

We are currently experiencing an unusually high volume of calls, please hold and a member of our team will be with you as soon as one becomes available.

You are then tortured by some music that is completely inappropriate for the narrow frequency response capabilities of a phone until there’s a short pause, just long enough for you to think “ah, a person”, and then you are again greeted with:

We are currently experiencing an unusually high volume of calls, please hold and a member of our team will be with you as soon as one becomes available.

You continue this experience until your ears are number and your brain is craving to do something more intellectually taxing – like watching daytime TV.

As is often the case, the person that you eventually get to talk to sounds plausible, and makes you believe that they have resolved your problem, so eventually you hang-up. You say to yourself, again, that there’s another hour of your life that you aren’t going to get back, but there at the back of your mind is a question, what constitutes “an unusually high volume of calls”?

You leave it a few days before you check on the progress of the thing you wanted sorted only to discover that it hasn’t and submit yourself to the inevitable second phone call to the service centre. It’s a completely different time of day, it’s a completely different day, and yet, there it is, ready to greet you like the smell of a dog that has been playing in a stagnant pond:

We are currently experiencing an unusually high volume of calls, please hold and a member of our team will be with you as soon as one becomes available.

Another hour later you still have that question, what constitutes “an unusually high volume of calls”?

What is the measure? Is this statement made on the basis of the average across a day? Or a week? Is it based on a model that factors in seasonal and regional differences? Has some significant national or global event happened that I haven’t been aware of meant that everyone needs to phone right now? Or, as I suspect it is, the definition of “unusually high” is one more than the number of service personnel that the organisation decided to roster for that time, on that day, and that the staff scheduling has little do with customer demand. The volume of service staff is almost certainly governed by the finance team with little relevance to the poor individual wanting to get a refund on their overcharged insurance bill. (Anyone guess what’s happened in my house today?)

I have wondered about setting up a web site where people can see the times and days when an organisation is normally experiencing “an unusually high volume of calls” based on crowd sourced input from people. My hope would be that people could then phone in during the non-unusual times with a high probability of speaking to an actual person, but I suspect that for some organisations there are no non-unusual times. And there is my problem, if there are no non-unusual times then sitting waiting for a service person is normal and that shows utter contempt for customers and we should all leave such organisations. Who’s with me?

(No, we won’t be using that insurance company again).

Stop the Self Inflicted Pain | How Much Better Could Your Life Be?

I have a physio friend and people regularly go up to him and say: “It hurts when I do this!”

His response is to say: “Well, don’t do that then.”

Pain is often our body’s way of telling us to do things differently, yet we all do things every day that cause us pain, or am I the only one? Many of the practices we regard as sacrosanct in modern business have no basis in science, yet a global peer pressure enforces them into the life of millions. Some of these practices are just a bit unhelpful, but some are dangerous to health and well-being. Many of the things that we do outside of work are likewise unhelpful and dangerous and yet we continue to do them, and I’m not talking about rock climbing. When questioned we would struggle to articulate why we do them, we just do.

Although I quoted my physio friend, I’m not primarily talking about physical health things, though that can can often play a significant part. My principal focus are those practices that impact upon our productivity and ultimately our well-being.

Perhaps you are living in splendid ignorance, so I’m sorry if this post opens your eyes to things that will now frustrate you when you see them, as all good 12 Step programmes know the first step is to move out of denial.

The first thing to note is that I’ve constrained the length of this post to keep it readable, but the list of self inflicted pain is very long indeed, and I may return to it at some point in the future, it may even become a series, I’ll see.

Are your wasting your productive time?

Many people plan their day around a focus on important work and urgent work with little attention to the timing of the work during the day.

If your diary is anything like mine it is littered with meetings. There is no pattern to the types of meetings and when they happen, they are scheduled at the time when the person arranging it decided it should happen.

We each have different times in the day when we are better, or worse, at different types of work – we have a chronotype. For most, our chronotype is somewhere between extreme morningness or extreme eveniningness, as such for most of us we are more alert in the morning, have a slump in the afternoon and then have another peak in the evening. Yet, how many of us waste our alert productive time in the morning on the trivial tasks that would be better suited to our afternoon slump? We are making our lives significantly harder by expecting our performance to be the same across the day and our schedule of meetings isn’t helping.

This is a particularly difficult challenge for international teams where people are in different time-zones with some in the middle of their most productive time and others in the middle of a slump.

Are you getting outside?

If you are going to recover from a slump one of the best ways of doing it is to get outside into the nature that’s probably around you. Even if you work in a city there is likely to be parkland or some other form of green space available.

Remaining inside and expecting your body to recover from a slump is likely to just extend the slump.

You don’t have to be outside for long, a few minutes is enough to make a huge difference to your focus and ability to get work done.

Are you wearing the right footwear?

Do you work in an environment where you are expected to wear shoes? Perhaps you are expected to wear “smart” (uncomfortable) shoes?

Research in schools has shown that shoeless learning spaces perform better. Is it too much of a stretch to think that work environments, particularly for knowledge workers may also perform better if people ditch their shoes?

I’ve often pondered whether it’s one of the reasons why people prefer home working. Work always feels different at home in my slippers.

How much of a culture change would your organisation need to allow slippers to become the normal footwear in the office? Would the productivity increase be worth it?

Are you wasting time with long meetings?

Back to you diary. How many 1 hour meetings will you be attending today or this week? How many 2 hour meetings? Of the 1 hour and 2 hour meetings how many of them include break times? Not many? None? That’s my experience also.

What is the ideal length of a meeting for maximum concentration? Well, there doesn’t appear to be an absolute definitive answer on that, some say 15 minutes, some say 45 minutes, there’s some evidence for a sweet-spot of 18 minutes, whichever option you choose they are all less than an hour and way less than 2 hours. There are different ways to engineer longer meetings with mini-breaks, perhaps getting everyone to change position, or change subject, another way is to do something interactive but these mini-breaks are only partially successful.

There’s a good reason why the daily stand-up meeting in Scrum is only 15 minutes. Extending the meeting beyond that time can, quite quickly, suck all of the energy out of the meeting.

If you routinely schedule meetings for an hour then you are almost certainly wasting people’s time. Remember the project management adage:

Work expands to the time you schedule for it.

One other thing to be aware of. People are more productive at the beginning and end of a meeting, but only if they know it’s the end. This is where sticking to a timer is really important. People’s productivity will lift as they see the finish line coming into view.

Two 30 minute meetings will be more productive than a single one hour long meeting.

Are you frustrating everyone with a blended remote and face-to-face meeting?

The worst type of meeting is the blended remote and face-to-face meeting. The people who are face-to-face are frustrated by the slowness caused by the people who are remote. This frustration is particularly acute for people who have travelled and are sitting there thinking that they wished they had decided to join remotely. The people who are remote are frustrated by their inability to understand everything that is going on in the meeting room and often get distracted.

  1. All face-to-face meetings = best
  2. All remote meetings = OK
  3. Blended remote and face-to-face = worst

I speak as someone with significant experience of each.

Oh dear, I’ve run out of room…

I think that will do for now, if each of us manged to make these few changes we would all be in a better place, but I suspect that for many of us even these are beyond our grasp, we clearly prefer the pain. There’s definitely more examples to come, so I suspect that there will be another round.

How weatherproof are your headphones?

On the 28th August 2018 I went out for a walk in the mountains of the Lake District. It was a glorious day of contemplation and enlightenment, and quite a lot of water.

When I returned home I was unpacking my somewhat wet equipment and getting out of damp clothes when I noticed that my Anker Bluetooth Headphones were missing. I’d definitely had them on my walk because I’d listened to part of an audio-book on them. How frustrating.

I like these headphones because they are light, have good battery life and are supposed to be waterproof which I’d tested a bit and it seemed to be the case, but I’d not gone swimming in them or anything like that.

But now they were lost.

I searched the various nooks and crannies of the car, I searched the many pockets of my rucksack, but no headphones. I even checked the many pockets of my walking trousers and waterproof coat, several times!

A eventually came to the conclusion that they must have fallen out of a pocket, or the car, probably in the car park near Thirlmere.

Today on the 29th September – a month later – and just to show how often I do gardening, I found the headphones. They were about a metre from where I get out of my car, laid on some plumb colour slate. They weren’t wholly disguised, not were they very visible, I’d obviously not looked there. But, I did need to look there whilst I was weeding.

In the last month we have had rain and wind in the form of storms Ali and Bronagh, as well as the usual English September showers, we’ve even had sunshine and our first mild ground frost.

Would these waterproof headphone survive a month laid on the ground outside my house? I’m please to say, absolutely! One of the ears is a little quieter than the other at the moment, but I suspect that may ease as they get dried out a bit. How’s that for resilience?

If anything, the biggest impact has been from the sun and bleaching, some of the black isn’t quite as black as I remember it, but they work, and that’s what counts.

Anyway, I’m off now to enjoy another audio-book with my headphones on. Hopefully I won’t loose them this time 😀.

Because it’s Friday: “Happiness” by Steve Cutts

Sometimes I pick something on a Friday because it is light and funny, other weeks it’s because it’s beautiful, at other time…well, I pick something because it appeals to me in a different way. This is one of those weeks (for those of you needing one more clue – the title of the video is ironic):

“Two percent of the people think; three percent of the people…

“Two percent of the people think; three percent of the people think they think; and ninety-five percent of the people would rather die than think.”

George Bernard Shaw

(I don’t think that there is any scientific basis for this quote 🙂 )

Because it’s Friday: “The Most Unsatisfying Video in the World ever made”

This video has been viewed nearly 6 million time – not bad for something “unsatisfying”.

I’d be interested to know how you respond to it. It made me laugh, but I suspect for some of you the reaction will be very different. Just remember, whatever your reaction it’s likely that millions of other people had a similar reaction: