Predictions: “in about 15 years” | “within the next 10 years” | “25 years from now”

Imagine that the year is 2032.

What do you foresee?

What dramatic change has occurred?

How has your daily life change?

You are almost certainly wrong. We like to think that we can see the next 10, 15 even 20 years, but the reality is that we are very poor at it.

In 1955 we predicted: “Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.” Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

As I child I would watch Tomorrow’s World and marvel at the impending future that it outlined. Here’s one from 1969 imagining the Office of the Future (there are two articles in this clip, the Office of the Future is in the first couple of minutes):

Even then we imagined robots doing our bidding even if it was one that looked more like a teasmaid than R2D2.

It’s interesting to see how many of these functional predictions happened, but in completely different ways – look out for the huge camera that fulfils the purpose many people use a mobile phone camera for today.

This wasn’t really “tomorrow’s” world being shown many of the functions shown that have been revolutionised took another 20 to 30 years to become mainstream. Many of the functions still aren’t mainstream and i’m not sure we would want them if they were.

How about this one outlining “Cassette Navigation” from 1971:

The use of GPS based navigation systems is second nature to most of us, but that was only possible when the GPS network was completed in 1994 and even then it didn’t become mainstream until the mid-2000’s when the likes of Garmin, TomTom and Magellan created the market.  Whilst GPS based SatNav systems do a functionally similar thing to the Cassette Navigation system their implementation is completely different and I doubt that anyone seeing the Cassette Navigation system imagined a future SatNav system. Again, this wasn’t “tomorrow’s” world, this was a problem that wouldn’t be solved for another 25 years.

In 2010 Jerry Zucker said: “It’s Moore’s Law, everything will be obsolete in 10 years – I’ll be obsolete in 10 years!” in reference to the iPad. It’s nearly the end of 2017 and I don’t see the iPad, or Jerry Zucker, being obsolete in the next couple of years.

Whilst we are terrible at predicting the longer term future it is fortunately for us most things progress along predictable pathways most of the time.

Within IT we are currently telling ourselves that we are living in a world of unparalleled and rapidly expanding automation, but we’ve been in that would since the invention of the Spinning Jenny in 1764, and arguably for millennia before that. What we are seeing now is the next step in the pathway that has been running for over 250 years.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to imagine a future, or even try to predict it, we just need to be careful how much trust we place in our ability to predict.

I suspect that science fiction writers and film makers have done a better job than many of us deeply embedded in today’s technology. Minority Reports, which was 15 years old in 2017, was apparently a quite a good predictor of a number of technologies. I’m still waiting for my flying car though.

“I never think of the future, it comes soon enough.” Albert Einstein

Co-location – the Super Food of Collaboration

In the western world we have a huge choice of foods that we can eat. We know which ones are good for us, and which ones aren’t, yet many of us are overweight, getting fatter and suffering from the health consequences of poor dietary choices.

The obesity problem is worse in areas of low income – why? One of the  main reasons is that good, healthy food is expensive and for the most part cheap food is unhealthy. This cheap food is normally processed, has travelled a long way from areas of low cost production and is purchased on a whim without the burden of preparation. It makes us feel good because it’s full of sugars and fats that our addicted brains crave but it doesn’t provide a healthy nutritional diet.

Teleconferences are the fast-food of collaboration. We set them up without consideration because they are cheap and immediately accessible. They allow us to use resources from wherever they are in the planet without consideration for those resources and, sometimes, with little consideration for the quality of those resources. They help us to believe that we are collaborating, which we are, but only in the same way as a fast-food burger is food.

Co-located collaboration is different, like organic wholefood it’s more expensive but it’s significantly better for us. The extra expense makes us respect it more so we make sure that we get all of the value out of it that we can. Organic wholefood requires extra preparation to get the right ingredients together but the results are amazing and the same is true for co-located collaboration. Co-located collaboration feeds all of our collaboration dietary needs in a way that the fast-food teleconferences never can, we never really get to know people on teleconferences, they’re just voices. There is marked difference in the level of collaboration that we achieve with people that we have physically met compared to those we haven’t. The most healthy collaboration is achieved when we are co-located with people we know well, this is the super-food of collaboration.

The occasional fast-food teleconference collaboration isn’t going to kills us, but it’s not healthy to live on it.

Managing the white-space | Leaving the smaller screens behind in iOS 11

One of the things I’ve noticed as the user of both an older and a newer iPhone is that the 4.7″ screen that is on the iPhone 6/7/8 is now the baseline standard being used for iOS design decisions.

In iOS 11 Apple have made a number of design decisions that increase the amount of screen being used by items.

In the AppStore, as an example, the icons have got bigger and the titles have got bigger, so that the number of apps you see in the Update section have reduced and the titles are often truncated on a 4″ iPhone 5/5S:

20171003_104203000_iOS
AppStore Updates on the iPhone 5S 4″ Screen with iOS 11.

Another example of the design choices being made is the lock screen and associated notifications. If you have a clock on your lock screen and you are playing some audio then notifications are almost useless because you only get part of the first notification without scrolling:

Lock Screen
Lock Screen on the iPhone 5S 4″ Screen with iOS 11

Screen design decisions are a balance between content and white-space, white-space is the space between the content. Good design is defined by the white-space more than the content. That’s where the iOS 11 design decisions are being driven from, as screens have got bigger on the iPhone 6/7/8 (4.7″) and the 6/7/9 Plus (5.5″) Apple are increasing the amount of white-space so that the design stays good on those devices.

Anyone who has used a corporate application will know how awful it is when white-space is ignored and content is crammed on to screens. Apple could have used the extra screen space on the newer iPhone models to squeeze in more content, which I’m sure they’ve done, but they’ve balanced it with an increase in white-space. Those design decisions mean that the content on the 4″ screen feels like it’s a bit too spaced out.

The Huge Failure | Dilbert on Open Plan Offices

I’ve really enjoyed the recent series of cartoon from Scott Adams on open-plan offices:

Some of the comments on these cartoons are just as fabulous:

Let’s not forget that cubicles were a massive failure before open plans managed to out-fail them.

Open spaces are supposed to invite the open flow and exchanges of Ideas. And they do, ideas like……”How bad traffic was this morning?….Did you catch the game last night?….how was your weekend?…..etc” Maybe some work topics might get discussed

Working environments is a very emotive subject and rightly so. Many of us spend more time at work than we do at home and we want to be productive.

What fascinates me is that many organisations spend huge amounts of money creating something that people don’t want.

Here’s something I wrote earlier: Productivity and place: Where are you most productive?

Outsourcing our Brain and the impact of SatNav

On Tuesday this week the Guardian wrote an article with the title: “All mapped out? Using satnav ‘switches off’ parts of the brain, study suggests”

This article was reporting on a study that was investigating the processes that the brain uses when mapping our environment and planning routes. The headlines emphasises that when we are receiving instructions our brain turns off many of these processes:

The study found that characteristic brain activity linked to simulating the different possible routes for a journey appears to be entirely absent when a person is following directions rather than independently planning a route.

The brain is quite good at not doing things it doesn’t need to do, but that has consequences.

Having read through the article I thought to myself that this would make a really interesting extension to an article that I had previously written on outsourcing our brain functions.

The basic idea of the post was that we use tools to outsource our brain functions and in so doing we risk reducing our brain function. By not exercising the brain capabilities we find ourselves in the place where we are dependent upon the tools and struggle to function without them. A basic example of this is the ability to do mental maths which, on my own unscientific assessment, is completely missing from the younger generation that has always had a machine to do this arithmetic for them. Another example is the memory of phone numbers which people no longer need to do; if you’ve given me your phone number in the last 5 years I probably don’t know it, I still know numbers prior to that time. This time coincides with increased use of mobile phones and no longer needing to know the number to call someone.

So where is the link to the post that I wrote?

I searched this blog for the post.

I searched Google for the post.

I searched my Evernote for this post.

I couldn’t find the post.

Without one of these tools telling me where this post is I’m stuck. Having outsourced that part of my memory I’m completely dependent upon them.

The irony wasn’t lost on me.

Consumer technology in the business world – today’s example

Today I was at a relatives house who needed to get their heating boiler fixed, so we called them a service engineer from one of the large utility companies here in the UK.

Due to the particular circumstances they came out quickly and started to take the boiler apart.

Unfortunately the boiler needed a part which the service engineer didn’t have.

The corporate ordering system would get him one by the next day, but he wanted to get it fixed before that, so what could he do?

That’s where the consumer technology came in.

The service engineers who work in this particular area of the UK had a WhatApp group so they could help each other out: “Give me a few minutes and I’ll check the group to see if anyone else has one of these parts so we can get it fixed today.”

In just a few minutes it was clear that no-one else had the part and we’d have to wait for the morning, but at least he tried.

I have no idea whether this was a company sanctioned way of working or whether this was something the engineers had decided to do, but it showed how deeply consumer technology has ingrained itself into the way that we work and play.

We talk about Shadow IT which I recently heard someone describe as “an abomination”, I don’t see it that way. Consumer technology will always move ahead of what a corporate IT organisation can, and should, do. Corporate IT needs to move to be the broker that enables people to get access to the tools they need to best do their job, where that needs to be something regulated then fine, but when there’s no value to be added corporate IT organisations should get out of the way.

Working with the Double Negative – Is my microphone on, or not?

I’m in a Skype for Business call and I’m getting confused by the blue button in this screen:

Skype for Business Microphone

In maths and in the English language it’s quite clear that a double-negative is a positive:

“I can’t not smile when she does that”

Means:

“I smile when she does that”

Or in maths:

0-(-1) = 1

likewise

0+(-1)= -1

The icon on this screen is the mute icon – so that’s (-1) and the icon is highlighted so that’s + resulting in -1 which means that the sound isn’t flowing therefore I’m on mute?

That’s makes sense, and that it exactly what happens.

mute icon highlighted = on mute

But, I can’t help thinking that this is all more complicated that it needs to be. It would be far less confusing to use a microphone icon rather than a mute icon. Then icon selected would mean microphone on and icon not selected would mean microphone off. I wouldn’t have to run an logic equation in my head to be confident that I wasn’t that annoying person on the call who’s disrupting everyone else by the high levels of background noise.

For me it’s just not intuitive for it to be a mute button.

I suppose it’s back to Norman and his doors.

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:

Your data in their hands | When was the last time you read a privacy policy?

Last week Evernote got themselves into a public relations storm by updating their terms and conditions relating to privacy of data. They then had to hastily update the policy, stating that they would no longer be making the changes as planned.

The other month I wrote about digital exhaust, but there’s a lot of data that we place into others hands deliberately. When you type an email, upload a file, fill in an online form do you think about who may have access to that data? I’m not sure we often give it the consideration it deserves.

You should assume that the data is going to live forever, so our actions have lasting consequences, and so do the actions of those people who have access to our data.

Each of us have signed up to many terms and conditions that have included privacy statements, but few of us have read any of them.

Those privacy policies were mostly written for a relatively static world but we are entering a new era of data privacy concerns as more of our data gets given to artificial intelligence and machine learning to assess and give value on. That was one of the aspects of the Evernote situation:

“Human beings don’t read notes without people’s permission. Full stop. We just don’t do that,” says O’Neill, noting that there’s an exception for court-mandated requests. “Where we were ham-fisted in communicating is this notion of taking advantage of machine learning and other technologies, which frankly are commonplace anywhere in the valley or anywhere you look in any tech company today.”

Evernote CEO Explains Why He Reversed Its New Privacy Policy: “We Screwed Up”

The reality is that Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple have both been using machine learning for a long time, that’s how they know to tells us interesting things like pre-warning us about traffic problems on our journey home when we haven’t told them where home is.

Most of the time we don’t even give the privacy of our data a thought, and we should. Did you know:

  • Many site reserve the right to change the terms without telling you.
  • Many services claim copyright over parts, or all of your data.
  • Some sites don’t let you delete your account.
  • Many sites track you on other sites.

It’s terms like these that enable adverts for an item I searched for just a few minutes ago to now be showing in my Facebook.

When was the last time you checked the PrivacyGrade of an app before you downloaded it? Or check Terms of Service: Didn’t Read before agreeing to the terms on a site? I suspect that for most of my readers they’ve never visited these sites.

Ultimately the only lever that we have over these services is the commercial one and most of them aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize that, but that won’t stop them pushing up against the edges of what we regard as acceptable. What we regard as acceptable is greatly influenced by whether we feel like we are getting something for free.

This constant pushing against the barriers will then influence what the next generation regard as acceptable. The Facebook privacy policy runs to 2719 words and was last updated on the 29th September 2016. Even if I had read the privacy policy in when I started using it I couldn’t tell you how many iterations it had been through or what changes had been made.

We are trading our privacy for access and I’m not sure we really understand the cost.

You're buying a service now! You don't get to set the pace of change.

There’s a huge power shift taking place in corporate IT.

Previously Jane in Manufacturing would use the tools that were deployed to her by Frank in the IT department at a pace defined by Frank or Frank’s boss, Mary.

Vendors would provide updates to Frank annually and Frank would decide whether to deploy the updates or not. If Frank didn’t like the update, or didn’t have enough time to deploy the update because Mary had him busy on other things, Frank would skip an update and wait for the next one.

Before Frank could deploy anything, though, he would have to prove to Mary and the business management that the planned change wouldn’t impact the business too much. He’d do this by putting the updates into a number of test environments. There would be a ‘sand-pit’ testing area where he’d get to see what the update looked like. He’d then move on to the ‘pre-production’ environment where he’d show that the update didn’t impact other system. He is likely to use a ‘pilot’ before eventually deploying the updates to the rest of the business. In each phase various people would be involved to make sure that the planned change did what was expected of it.

If Jane wanted something that was in the new update she just had to wait. Likewise, when Frank decided that an update was being deployed Jane didn’t have much choice whether to accept it or not, she normally didn’t even have a choice about when the update was happening.

In recent years the IT market has adopted as-a-Service as the way of delivering capability to the people like Jane.

Previously Frank in IT decided when updates were going to occur, now the person who decides on whether an update gets deployed isn’t Jane, it’s someone in the provider of the Service. The rate of update is intrinsic in the Service being used.

The pace is no longer being set by Frank, the pace is being set by the Service Provider. Frank, and Mary, just need to keep up. Frank is still involved in this as-a-Service world because he is still providing support for the tools to the business but he’s no longer in control of the rate of change.

To compound Frank’s problems, the Service Provider is no longer updating the Service on an annual basis, they are updating the Service every day with significant changes coming, at least, every quarter. The Service Providers need to keep up with their competition and that means rapid change. Some of the time Jane is delighted by the new capabilities, at other times she’s dismayed that something has changed or been removed.

The previous testing process has lost most of its relevance because it’s the Service Provider doing that testing, but there are still areas where the Service integrates with other Services that Frank would like to test but there simply isn’t the time to keep up with the pace of change.

There are times when Jane comes in to work and needs to do something quickly, only to discover that everything looks different and she’s no idea how to do what she needs to do. She phones Frank, but he has no idea either and it’s going to take him a little time to talk to the Service Provider and work it out for her. The work that Mary had planned for Frank will have to wait because operating the business is always more important than the IT department’s priorities. Jane asks if she can talk to the Service Provider directly, but the contract with the Service Provider only allows a set of named people to contact them.

Not only is Frank in IT having to get used to the pace of change, so is Jane in Manufacturing and so are all of her people. With a higher rate of change the impact of each change is lower, which is a good thing, but the overall volume of change is much higher.

The issue for Jane isn’t just about getting today’s job done though, the other challenge is keeping ahead of the competition. The services that she uses are evolving rapidly and she can’t afford to be behind her competitors who are using the same services. The competition gets the new capabilities on the same day that she does and her ability to exploit them has become a competitive differentiator.

Many services mitigate some of these issues by giving service users a time when they can choose whether to adopt the update. In these schemes, though, the update eventually becomes mandatory and you no longer have a choice. Other schemes include pioneer approaches that allow businesses to give some people insights into the next set of changes prior to the majority of the service users. This approach would allow Frank to use the next iteration of the tools before Jane gets them so that he could be ready, this doesn’t help Jane keep ahead of the completion though.

Rather than treating change as a constant risk it’s time to step aside from the old ways of doing things and adopt new ones that support change as a mechanism for growth.

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional”

John C. Maxwell

Human Behaviour, a Printer and a Ream of Paper

Today I went to the large multi-function-printer in the corner of the office expecting to pick up some printing that I’d just sent to it.

(You might be wondering what I was doing printing, but that’s a question for another day.)

I was expecting to be greeted by a set of pages on the side of the printer, but instead I was greeted by a red-light and a message on the screen.

The message told me in very clear terms that the printer was out of paper. This particular printer has four trays, three of which are dedicated to the type of A4 paper that I wanted to use, all three of these trays were empty.

Being a good office citizen I opened the cupboard next to the printer where the spare paper is stored. Having open the cupboard I was accosted by a sight I’ve seen in every office I’ve ever worked in. Instead of the cupboard containing full reams of paper it was littered with ripped open paper wrappings containing loose collections of paper. Some of these collections had barely 50 sheets in them, some a 100 sheets, but all of them less than half a ream of paper. There were so many bits of reams that I couldn’t see the full reams.

Most home printers only take a few sheets of paper, but for some years now, decades even, designers of office printers have understood something quite basic. These design geniuses have understood that the basic design requirement for a printer tray is that it takes a ream of paper. I don’t think I’ve seen a paper tray that takes part of a ream for a very, very long time. Yet, despite this being obvious to the designers of printer trays it’s clearly not obvious to the users of printer trays. What could be simpler:

  • Open paper tray
  • Remove ream of paper from cupboard
  • Remove wrapping from ream of paper
  • Put full ream of paper in paper tray
  • Close paper tray
  • Dispose of wrapping

Instead people prefer, for some reason, a different process:

  • Open paper tray
  • Remove ream of paper from cupboard
  • Open wrapping covering ream of paper
  • Remove a handful of paper from wrapping
  • Place this portion of paper into paper tray
  • Place partial ream of paper back into cupboard
  • Close paper tray

The only logical conclusions I can think of for this behaviour are as follows:

  • People haven’t understood, even after all this time, that the paper tray can take a full ream of paper.
  • Disposing of the paper wrapping around a ream of paper requires such special skills that this step is to be avoided. Possible, but I’ve not come across it.

I wonder what the designers of paper trays think about this situation. They’ve done the design work, they’ve created an optimised solution, and yet people prefer to work in a way that creates extra work.

This silly little example shows to me the difficulty of adjusting human behaviour. Even when there is an obviously simpler way of doing things we prefer to follow the tried and trusted path. We prefer to put too little paper in the printer because we are afraid that putting too much in it might break it. This is just a tiny example, but there is evidence of this type of behaviour everywhere you look. The challenge that many organisations face is that these tiny examples scale up into huge areas of inefficiency.

Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine

One of the methods that I use to keep up-to-date with technology is to listen to all sorts of podcasts and then to look into some of the people that they highlight.

Today I was listening to a TED Radio Hour episode where they highlighted the work of Chris Milk and his use of Virtual Reality as a way of deepening the connections between people.

The films are beautiful and moving, even without a VR headset: