Do you think in spreadsheet?

I’ve been observing something. I have thousands of spreadsheets and I suspect that over 95% of them are lists of things.

They are huge tables of information.

These spreadsheets often contain some calculations, but very few of them are performing anything more significant than a lookup here and a sum there.

  • They are massive check-lists.
  • They are elongated registers of information.
  • They are extensive task-lists.

One spreadsheet that I look at most weeks is 80 columns wide and 16,000 rows long. That’s 1.3 million pieces of information.

I’ve noticed that some people really love to delve deeply into these massive matrices of information. They are looking for insights to guide their thoughts. I can be like that.

There’s another set of people who go beyond using spreadsheets for analysis and understanding, they love to use the spreadsheet as their check-list/task-list of choice. They start at the top of a long list and work their way down. The driving force seems to be to get to the bottom of the list, ticking things off as they go. The ticking appears to motivate them. This way of working baffles me, not because it’s wrong, but because I don’t understand the motivation. I don’t work like that. Any task-list that has more than 5 or 6 things on it makes my eyes glaze over and results in less action, not more. A long list is just not a motivator, if anything it’s a demotivator.

Other people look at any spreadsheet and their eyes glaze over before they’ve even started. Anything bigger than a quadrant view and they are lost.  They are constantly battling with the previous group trying to work out what it is they are supposed to be doing – “what is today’s focus”. The kings and queens of the check-list are normally in charge of the list. The quadrant lovers sit in progress meetings with the spreadsheet fanatics and roll their eyes as they are subjected to a line-by-line-by-line review of the list.

I don’t think any of these groups are right, or wrong, they are just different. What surprises me is the belief that going through a long list is, in some way, progress. The opposite of that argument is that the people who want it simple are, in their own way, wrong.

Speaking as someone who hates being a slave to a list, I marvel at the people who make a huge amount of progress that way. I need to focus on a much smaller set of things and do those. I don’t think spreadsheet.

Are you picturing "The Millennials" correctly?

When I search Google Images for “millennials” these are the first five pictures that are shown to me**:

These images are typical of the images that Google gives.

Look at the faces in these images and ask yourself this question: How old are these people?

I’ll be a more specific: Are any of these people over 25? Anyone over 30? Anyone below the age of 20?

The Millennial generation were born between 1977 and 1997, as such they are aged between 39 and 19.

All of the pictures above seek to be representative of race, creed and sex but none of them (in my view) represents the breadth of age that the Millennial generation covers.

If these faces are what you picture when you think of the Millennial generation then you are missing most of the generation.

  • You are missing the faces of married people, and divorced people.
  • You are missing the faces of people who have worked for the same employer for 20 years.
  • You are missing the faces of home owners.
  • You are missing the faces of people with teenage children. Some of whom will themselves be millennials.

If we are going to generalise we need to make sure that we do it in a way that is reasonably representative.

** I’d expect your images to be different because Google delivers different results to different people.

Productivity and Laziness: Is it time to cultivate laziness as a skill?

There’s a hugely popular mantra in all productivity schemes:

Work smarter not harder

Every time I hear this phrase I want to replace it with a different phrase:

What’s the lazy way of doing this?

Smart working is really, let’s face it, lazy working.

Laziness may not be the first word that springs to mind when you think about productivity, but you should embrace it as your friend.

Think about it, we do all sorts of lazy things to make us more productive.

Whenever you ride a bike rather than walking somewhere you are being lazy. It might not feel like it, but the bike gets you there quicker and takes you further than you could go without it. It’s lazy to ride the bike.

If you are using a phone to talk to someone you are being lazy. It’s easier than travelling to where that person is to talk to them (unless they are sat next to you).

Lazy people are constantly asking “why should I bother?” That’s a great productivity question, remember:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

I’ve seen countless business processes that add no value and were best ignored. Lazy people ignore these processes.

Lazy people experiment with doing things in different ways to see if they take more, or less, effort – they stick with the one that takes less effort.

We are surrounded by an increasing number of automation techniques, particularly in IT, yet I see people endlessly doing the same repetitive tasks. Lazy people let the machines do it for them.

I think that more of us should cultivate laziness as a skill.

Concept of the Day: Norman Doors

A walk up to the door at the gym and pull it open, quite regularly there is someone on the other side of the door looking surprised because they were about to pull the door also. It’s my favourite Norman Door, everything about this door makes you want to pull it from the inside, all the visual cues say pull, but that just leads to frustration because you need to push.

The Norman in question is Don Norman who highlighted this phenomena in his book The Design of Everyday Things. Doors are just one example of things being designed in a way that don’t make sense to the person who uses them.

Once you start looking for these annoyances you see them everywhere.

In our house there are three light switches at the top of the stairs; two of the switches operate lights in the bathroom and one operates the light on the landing. The configuration of these lights confuses all visitors to our house.

This week Instagram added a feature that allows you to zoom into photos, why that was never there before I have no idea? Previously, using two fingers to zoom invariably resulted in you liking a picture.

Microsoft’s new browser in Windows doesn’t have an address bar until you click on where the address bar should be? How am I supposed to know that?

Why does double-clicking on my iPhone headset move to the next song? In what way is that user centred?

One of the reason I gave up on using an Android phone, at the same time as a iPhone was that I couldn’t cope with the hidden aspect of the two different interfaces.

The video below from Vox does a great job of explaining it:

A Quadrant Life

The tyranny of the two-by-two

Sometimes I wonder whether western business would completely collapse without the two-by-two matrix (I only say western business, because I don’t have much experience of eastern business).

You know what I mean? Four squares – two-by-two, most of the time with two axis.

You’ve seen the type of thing I’m talking about, a bit like this:

slide1

We’ve used them for all sorts of purposes with the SWOT chart being one of the most popular:

slide2

We also use them to define product strategies where we assess the business potential against our ability to compete which enables us to classify the stars and the dogs (poor dogs?):

slide3

Organisations like Gartner make a living out of defining the matrix and populating it, they call their’s the Magic Quadrant. I’m still waiting to see one actually do magic, but I’m sure they will if I keep looking long enough. Other organisations and other quadrants are available:

slide4

We define personality types in quadrants. There are many two-factor models of personality available, most of these focus the extent to which someone is introverted or extroverted compared to whether they are task oriented or relationship oriented.

slide5

Practically all of these charts are drawn with extrovert up and introvert down – is that because they are drawn by extroverts?

We’re even told to assess our daily work as a two-by-two matrix based on importance and urgency.

slide6

In most instances the two-by-two is constructed to suggest that the place where we need to be is in the top-right-hand corner; as someone who is left-handed I wonder why that is?

There are so many of them about there has to be something about them that we like that is different for three-by-two or four-by-three matrices.

Every day it seems like someone has invented a new one for me to look at, why is that?

Number 6 in The Prisoner famously said: “I am not a number, I am a free man”, sometimes I want to shout out: “I am not a quadrant, I am a free man.” I’ve wondered about being subversive and adding extra columns or rows in just to see what the impact was.

Why do they think I’m so interested in seeing things in two-by-two? What is so seductive about quadrants? I’ve done a bit of research (for which there are a set of quadrants define by Pasteur) but the answer doesn’t seem to be very straightforward, so much so, that someone has written a book on it.

I’ll leave you with one more chart:

slide7

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.

"Tech is the new perk" according to Adobe Future of Work Survey 2016

Eighty-one percent of U.S. office workers say state of the art technology is important at work, outranking food and beverages (72%), a beautiful office design (61%) and on-site amenities (56).

Only one in four (26%) of U.S. office workers believes that their company’s technology is “ahead of the curve.” Indians are slightly more bullish (30%) while the U.K. is especially pessimistic (15%).

In the U.S., those who said their company’s technology is “ahead of the curve” love their work about twice as much and feel about twice as creative, motivated and valued compared to those at “behind the times” companies.

These are some of the findings from Adobe’s Future of Work Survey for 2016. The survey results were published in May 2016 under the title: Work in Progress encapsulating contributions from over 2000 workers from U.S., U.K. and India who use a computer daily for work.

One of the significant conclusions of this report, in Adobe’s words, is that “Tech is the new perk”. People would rather have good technology than access to food and beverage, lounge and relaxation areas, personalised workstations, beautiful office design and access to on-site amenities. This isn’t quite true across the three nations surveyed – in the U.K. we regard access to food and beverage as highly as we do technology.

These figures aren’t surprising in a world were we increasingly rely on technology to do our work. Personally I wouldn’t rank tech alongside perks at all, for many jobs that would be like classifying a van as a perk for a delivery person. Having the right level of technology is essential to doing a good job and doing a good job is a significant factor in most people’s job satisfaction. The problem is, we often expect people to do a good job without the right technology which is a bit like expecting a delivery person to carry a 3 tonne load in a 1 tonne truck. It’s not surprising that people in organisations with “ahead of the curve” technology feel more creative, motivated and valued – they probably are.