Do you have a wandering mind? It’s probably making you unhappy.

The other day we revisited the subject of multi-tasking and I talked about a few ways I try to remain focused. Focus isn’t just important for productivity, it’s also a core competency for happiness.

Back in 2010 Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert published a scientific paper titled: A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.

We developed a smartphone technology to sample people’s ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions and found (i) that people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and (ii) found that doing so typically makes them unhappy.

Let me say that a different way: spending your life thinking about things that aren’t happening is making you unhappy. You would be happier if you focused on the here and now.

So much of the multi-tasking that we do is an attempt to switch between multiple things that aren’t happening, it’s a type of active mind-wandering. How many times do we check our social media to see if something is happening only to be reminded that nothing is happening. How many times have you refreshed your social media site only to refresh it again, and then again without even thinking. The research tells us that this is making us unhappy.

Below is Matt Killingworth talking through his work at TEDx:

Matt also talked through his findings on the TED Radio Hour in 2014.

Facebook and Google dominate the 2016 Top 10 US Smartphone Apps List

According to data from nielsen the most popular smartphone application in the US in 2016 was Facebook, but that’s not the only Facebook asset in the top 10 – Messenger is #2 and Instagram is #8.

The Facebook number is impressive at over 146 million average unique users per month. The US population now stands at around 324 million which means that over 45% of the US population uses Facebook on a smartphone every month.

The other dominant force on the list is Google who take places #3 to #7 with YouTube at the top of the list at over 113 million average unique users.

The two remaining spots on the list go to Apple and Amazon.

The Amazon app is also the fastest growing application in percentage terms with Google Search and Google Play in the slower growth lane:

Viral Rumours, Human Behaviour and Twitter NOT shutting down

Have you heard the rumour that Twitter is shutting down because of abuse problems? It’s not.

Likewise, Facebook will NOT be charging from the Summer of 2016 (if Summer ever arrives around here)

As humans we love rumours and we love to propagate them, particularly alarming ones. There are situations where our love for the alarming causes false rumours spread faster than the facts.

Social media allows us to spread these rumours at a pace unimaginable in the past. But there’s more to it than that, the nature of social media makes these rumours highly believable and amplifies the rate of propagation.

People spread rumours for a reason, but there doesn’t seem to be too much consensus on what these reasons are. The list that made the most sense to me was this one:

  • People Spread Rumours When There’s Uncertainty
  • People Spread Rumours When They Feel Anxiety
  • People Spread Rumours When the Information is Important
  • People Spread Rumours When They Believe the Information
  • People Spread Rumours When it Helps Their Self-Image
  • People Spread Rumours When it Helps Their Social Status

From Social Psych Online.

Automated bad process is still bad process

Google has a new technology in Inbox called Smart Reply:

Smart Reply suggests up to three responses based on the emails you get. For those emails that only need a quick response, it can take care of the thinking and save precious time spent typing.

You might think that this is a brilliant idea, when I read it my heart sank and my head screamed “NO!”

This post is my attempt to unravel that emotional response.

In the early days of the BlackBerry my boss at that time took to responding to every email he received from his mobile keyboard. If you sent him an email you would receive a response in a few seconds, or not at all. The problem was that none of the responses were of any value. They would be quick responses, they would be short responses, but they rarely dealt with the questions that I needed a response to in enough rigour that I didn’t have to send another email for further clarity. I soon learnt not to send him emails with more than one question in because he would only ever respond to the first one. Smart Reply would have been his best friend, and my worst nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not the technology of Smart Reply that I have a problem with but the human behaviour that it facilitates. It automates what I regard as poor process, for me email isn’t the medium you use when you want a short reply.

In the GIF above that shows Smart Reply working the examples replies show my issue. These are the replies to the question: “Do you have any documentation on the new software? If not maybe you could put something together, it would be really useful for onboarding.” This is a sensible, valid, email question.

Let’s look at the available responses:

  • “I don’t sorry” – This would be an extremely frustrating answer because it only answers half of the question. The complete answer should be something like “I don’t sorry, but it is on my list of activities to do and should be available by next blue moon.” Getting half an answer is neither use, nor ornament, it’s just frustrating.
  • “I will have to look for it” – This is, again, an incomplete answer.  When are you going to look for it? Why can’t you look for it now?
  • “I’ll send it to you” – This is the chosen answer, but in many ways it is the worst answer of all. Why didn’t you just send it to me? Or, more appropriately for a Google focussed answer why didn’t you just share it with me? Now that you’ve replied and got it out of your inbox my suspicion is that you’re going to forget to send it to me. Why didn’t you just wait to respond when you could send it to me?

Rather than sending me a short incomplete answer I’d rather wait for a slower but complete answer. I’ve sent you the question on email so I’m not expecting an immediate response anyway. Rather than automating poor process I’d rather encourage good process.

I’ve not had chance to look at how Smart Reply works in production. Reading the description and looking at the mock-ups it shows that the Smart Reply is only the start of a message for you to build from, which is great, my concern is that the start might not lead to a complete response, just a response.

The rapid-fire-mobile-emailer can shoot out hundreds of responses an hour and leave anarchy behind them. My concern is that Smart Reply helps them fire quicker a just increases the anarchy.

I’ve used these words from Peter Drucker on several occasions:

“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

I think they sum up my emotional response.

On a more humorous note: Seven Sinofsky suggests that Smart Reply is kind of what Microsoft were trying to do with Clippy all those years ago:

Now let me see:

I'm being a bit less social

I suspect that I’m like most people when I say that my on-line social activity has gone through a number of phases of evolution.

If you were to look through my Twitter feed or Facebook newsfeed from a few years ago you will see that they are much more active than today. One measure of this activity would be frequency of posts, which has dropped significantly. Another measure would be the number of direct posts where I write something directly in Twitter or Facebook, which has all but stopped. If you could measure openness you’d also notice that I’m less revealing about my emotions, my location, my family, my faith even. I’ve made a conscious choice to be less publicly social.

There are a number of reasons for this, some of them are about simplicity and basic privacy. One of the major reasons, though, has been the realisation that we are all public figures now and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

At first I thought that being publicly social would in turn give the opportunity to be famous, I’m not talking about global fame just recognisable-in-my-own-little-world famous.

Then I started to see some people become social-media famous and it wasn’t a good thing to witness.

At one end I saw situations where people were trying to make a serious point only to be misunderstood and ridiculed. This isn’t a new phenomena, fame has always been like that, Francis Bacon put it like this:

Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.

At the other end of the spectrum I saw people’s lives torn apart by being exposed to the shouting-mob. Jon Ronson researched the experience of many people including  Justine Sacco who he highlighted in this TED talk (below). The research resulted in him writing a book with the title: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

There are many cases of ‘ordinary’ people being thrust into the public glare and shamed:

I’m not condoning any of these actions, personally I wouldn’t do any of them. What is scary is to see that these are ‘ordinary’ people thrust into the public glare with a few clicks on a screen and the amplification of the social platforms.

I’ve never liked mobs and I certainly don’t want to be part of one, or even associated with one. So, for now, I’ve decided to be a bit less public.

I did wonder about going far more private on my settings, but I’ve decided against that for now.

"Performance ratings data within companies is all bogus"

Most of my exercise is accompanied by podcasts. Whether I’m out for a walk or in the gym I’m likely to have someone speaking in my ears.

This morning something went “YES!!!” in my head when I heard these words:

“Performance ratings data inside companies is all bogus. It doesn’t actually measure what it says it’s measuring. Which, of course, is hugely problematic because we end up promoting people, and paying people, and training people, and deploying people based on those rating data and they’re invalid.  “

These are the words of Marcus Buckingham speaking on The Future of Work Podcast in which Jacob Morgan.

Sometimes you hear something and you know intuitively that there’s something significant about it, and that’s what happened to me this morning.

I’ve been subject to a number of rating systems in my time, some of them with forced bell curves others not; some of them have had a few points of assessment others with many areas of assessment. These assessments have always been done on an annual basis with the occasional mid-term review. None of them have made a significant difference to what I’ve done day-to-day and they’ve all felt like they were being done to tick-a-box for the corporation. I’ve always been diligent in ticking that box because the numbers in the assessment have made a difference to the money in my pocket but little else.

There have been a number of high profile organisations switching away from these systems:

Marcus’ own article also cited Deloitte – Reinventing Performance Management.

The Performance Review systems that I’ve experienced tend to link together development and reward. Often they are the only conversation about development and reward that an employee has with their manager. Everyone knows that this shouldn’t be the case, but it’s what happens.  I can’t remember a time when a Performance Review has resulted in a change of my Development Priorities. The times that I’ve developed the most have always been whilst working for an effective team leader, hence some other words from the podcast resonated:

“I strongly suggest the future of work should be built around the practices of what the best team leaders do anyway, and they do not do a one every six-week conversation…what they do do is check in with each person each week about the work, it starts with the work.” Marcus Buckingham

We may not be in a position to change the performance rating system, but we can all make a different to people’s development in the places where we lead.

I like Marcus’ principle of 5 minutes to tell me about 5 things for the next 5 days.

"The Rise of Dynamic Teams" – Alan Lepofsky and Bryan Goode

Continuing my review of some of the sessions from Microsoft Ignite 2015 the title The Rise of Dynamic Teams caught my attention.

When I saw that the presenters were Alan Lepofsky and Bryan Goode it was definitely going to be one to watch.

This session has an overarching question raised by Alan:

Could you be more effective at work?

Well of course I can.

All I had to do is to think back to the last time I was frustrated at work and there clearly presented was an opportunity to be more effective.

Promised Productivity

Alan also highlight that we’ve been promised improved productivity for decades now, but in his opinion not really been delivered it.

My personal opinion is that we have improved our productivity, but mostly by doing the same things quicker, rather than working in different way. A good example of this is email where we send far more messages far quicker, but definitely less effectively.

Framing the problem

Many of us can recognise the issue of information overload. We use many different systems and are fed information all the time.

Alan frames a different problem which I also recognise – input overload. This is the problem we experience when we think about creating something and can’t decided what it is we are creating or where we are putting it – Which tool should I use? Where did I post it?

The point is that we now have a multitude of choices of tools so we don’t necessarily need more tools, but we do need to tools to be simpler and to collaborate together.

Best of Breed v Integrated Suites

Alan reflects on two distinct approaches to collaborative tooling – one which focusses on the best of breed capabilities and one which takes a suite of collaborative capabilities.

These are illustrated below:

Best of Breed Collaboration Tools

Suites Collaboration Tools

The key to the suites approach is the content of the centre combined with the ability to integrate third-party capability and have data portability.

I’m not sure I would put everything in the centre that Alan does but I wholly agree with the principal. One of the significant challenges with a suite approach is that by choosing a suite you risk creating a lock-in situation. This lock-in isn’t necessarily one of data lock-in, what’s more likely is capability lock-in.

Intelligent Collaboration

Alan explains what he means by Intelligent Collaboration:

“This is poised to be the coolest shift we’ve had in collaboration tools we’ve had in 20 years”

“The ability for us to start doing really cool things based on intelligence is really going to dramatically change the way we work”

In the Microsoft approach this intelligence will initially be focussed on the individual, but will then extend to teams and organisations.

The systems that we have today have a very limited view of context and what view they do have they tend not to use with any intelligence. Take the simple example of email build-up during a holiday period. You can set up an out-of-office response, but wouldn’t it be great if something more intelligent happened.

If we take that simple example and add onto it all of the sensors that will soon be reporting on our well-being and location. You can then imagine getting a response from your bosses intelligent assistant asking you to attend a meeting on her behalf because her flight back from holiday has been placed into quarantine due to an outbreak of a virus for which she is show the initial symptoms.

Adding to the context will enable many more intelligent interaction.

Imagine a digital assistant system that made decisions based on – location, time, time-zone, emotional state, physical state and many more.

The Rise of the Dynamic Team

This is the point in the session where Bryan Goode adds the Microsoft perspective. He does this by focussing on:

Modern Collaboration

The perspective defined by Bryan is that teams will continue to utilise many different tools and will be increasingly mobile.

Microsoft are also investing heavily in meeting experiences, something that is in desperate need of improvement for all of us.

Intelligent Fabric

In order to enable modern collaboration Bryan talks through the Microsoft view of the need for an Intelligent Fabric.

Two examples of this fabric being built are Office 365 Groups and Office Graph.

Office 365 Groups provide a unified capability across the Office 365 tools for the creation of teams. A group created in one of the Office 365 tools will be visible in all of the other tools – Sites, OneDrive, Yammer, Exchange. Doing this makes a group a fabric entity rather than being locked into any particular tool.

Office Graph brings together all of the signalling information from the Office 365 tools and any other integrated tools. It’s role is to bring together the meta-data from different interactions and activities.

Personalised Insight

An Intelligent Fabric is one thing, but creating value from it is the important part.

In the presentation Bryan demonstrates Office Delve which utilises the signalling from Office Graph to create personal insights.

The personal insights currently focus on the individual, but they are being extended to provide insights for groups and organisations.

“Teamwork is becoming a first-class entity across our products”

Bryan Goode

I’m not going to explain the demonstrations other than to say that they are worth watching, as is the rest of the presentation.


Productivity and collaboration are going to be a defining features of future organisations as can be seen from the posts that I wrote on the Productive Workplace.

Microsoft is in a position to generate a lot of innovation and disruption by building on top of the Office 365 ecosystem. Groups, Graph and Delve are just the start of that. Having released themselves from the shackles of delivery by Enterprise IT organisation they can potential move at a pace that places them ahead of the pack.


The presentation and video for this session is here.

The video is also embedded below: