Word of the day: Peremptory

One Strawberry, is that all you can manage?I was reading an article from the Harvard Business School today and came across a word I wasn’t entirely familiar with the meaning of: “peremptory”.

I like coming across new words, especially ones that might have a use. I sometimes run an experiment with them to see how long it will be before I hear someone else using the new word.

According to the dictionary it means:

peremptory puh-REMP-tuh-ree, adjective:
1. Precluding or putting an end to all debate or action.
2. Not allowing contradiction or refusal; absolute; decisive; conclusive; final.
3. Expressive of urgency or command.
4. Offensively self-assured or given to exercising usually unwarranted power; dictatorial; dogmatic.

I think this might be a word I use again, it describes a number of people I deal with every day. It also one that could be used of me, especially in my ADT moments.

We are still learning about e-mail

How did this grass get so long?I am regularly reminded how easy technology change is when compared to people change.

This week the New York Times looked at the things that we are learning about communication in the Internet age.

This is becoming more apparent with the emergence of social neuroscience, the study of what happens in the brains of people as they interact. New findings have uncovered a design flaw at the interface where the brain encounters a computer screen: there are no online channels for the multiple signals the brain uses to calibrate emotions.

Face-to-face interaction, by contrast, is information-rich. We interpret what people say to us not only from their tone and facial expressions, but also from their body language and pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say.

Most crucially, the brain’s social circuitry mimics in our neurons what’s happening in the other person’s brain, keeping us on the same wavelength emotionally. This neural dance creates an instant rapport that arises from an enormous number of parallel information processors, all working instantaneously and out of our awareness.

In contrast to a phone call or talking in person, e-mail can be emotionally impoverished when it comes to nonverbal messages that add nuance and valence to our words. The typed words are denuded of the rich emotional context we convey in person or over the phone.

Most people are a long way from understanding what is being said here. Many people have little comprehension that what they think they have written isn’t what people read.

Personally, I write this blog in the knowledge that most people won’t comprehend what I want them to comprehend. I’m also quite sure that I haven’t really comprehended what the author in the New York Times thinks they wrote.

There is a trend in many businesses that limits travel in favour of teleconferences, e-mail and video conferencing. It’s driven by a focus on the cost, rather that a focus on the value. I really liked this quote from the article:

“When you communicate with a group you only know through electronic channels, it’s like having functional Asperger’s Syndrome — you are very logical and rational, but emotionally brittle,” Professor Shirky said.

As we come to comprehend how we actually communicate I expect to see the balance between electronic and face-to-face interactions change significantly. This week I spent much of one day in a room with a team working on a single deliverable. We got much further together in a few hours than we would have done in a week as a virtual team. We recognised that we needed to be together to achieve what we needed to achieve. It was a high value meeting, it was also a high cost meeting.

We are a long way from fully understanding the extent our Asperger’s, until we understand it, we will not be able to design coping mechanisms.

eBay "Addiction"

Storm TroopersFollowing on from my post about Infomania and Facebook the BBC is today reporting on a set of workers who have lost their jobs because of ebay addiction.

Unison welfare officer Mark Fisher said people got “addicted” to certain web sites.

“People get very involved in eBay, Sky Sports and their favourite soccer teams. It happens in many, many offices,” he said.

“Obviously we cannot justify people spending a couple of hours of working time looking at these sites – but temptation was put in their way,” he added.

“We plan to push for the authority to make changes to its IT system, to help prevent workers landing themselves in hot water.”

He called for Internet access be limited to lunch break and that web access should be filtered at other times.

“We want them to take temptation out of people’s hands,” Mr Fisher said.

I suppose that’s one way of doing it, but is that really realistic. Is it actually practical to filter out every site that would potentially land people in hot water if they used it too much?

To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with the word “addiction” in this context either. If someone really is an Internet addict they shouldn’t be using the Internet at all. Alcoholics don’t go from over drinking to moderate drinking, they go to no drinking. It may be that for some people that is the case and they should stay away from the Internet all together, but I’m not sure that it’s really like that for everyone who overuses the Internet. I’d like to be able to suggest another word, but I’m not sure what that would be, perhaps “mania” is a better word.

What’s not told in this story is what level of training these people were given and whether they have been offered some form of rehabilitation. Traditional training has always focussed on the practical side of IT systems – click here, type there – but very little training has been undertaken on the social elements. As I’ve said before, I think we are moving into an age where we need to start training people to be safe Internet users in the same way as we train them to be safe drivers. Safe for themselves and safe for others. We need to start doing this as early as possible, from children through to adults, if we are going to avoid an epidemic in the future.

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Infomania and Facebook

Sparkling Water at the Science MuseumThere are days when thoughts come together. I’ve been wondering about the impact of Facebook on infomania. This follows on from some of the reports in recent days about the productivity impact of Facebook and a newish report on Informania.

To recap, infomania is the condition that your boss (probably) has when they feel the need to checking emails on their Blackberry while they are talking to you. it’s the need that they have to make sure that they aren’t missing out on something.

As we increase access to information and information sources then we increase the infomania that these people all feel. Facebook is just the latest source of information.

This need to access information costs business lots of productivity, but is it really Facebook that is to blame. I’ve written before about the Blackberry effect on the work/life balance as another example.

My starting point is that infomania not the tool’s problem, it’s a human problem. We are still in control of the machines, we still have access to the off button (although I was in a meeting earlier this week where a senior manager didn’t know how to turn his Blackberry off). It’s our choice not to use it.

The numbers in the report are startling:

Intel employees spend an average of some three hours per day processing email. About 30 percent of messages (one million per day) are unnecessary.

On average, knowledge workers can expect three minutes of uninterrupted work on any task before being interrupted.

On average, a major interruption occurs every 11 minutes, the time to return to an interrupted task is 25 minutes …

The bottom line: Infomania causes a damage of about US$1 billion per annum for a knowledge-intensive company of 50,000 employees. As usual with such calculations, this value is conservative, representing only more direct aspects of the problem. Additional, harder to measure damages exist but are not included.

If those numbers are true, then we need to do something to protect people from themselves. If we were talking about a drug we would probably ban it. If not an outright ban we would at least have a huge education programme making sure that people understood the dangers they were entering into. Anyone can buy a computer and connect it to the Internet without any understanding of the potential dangers. A car is a dangerous thing, so we train people how to use it properly.

I wonder, though, whether we need to go further.

  • Perhaps we need global information rest days when we turn everything off.
  • Perhaps we need to run infomanics anonymous courses to help people.
  • Perhaps we need to remove network connections and ban blackberry’s from meeting rooms.
  • Perhaps we need to give children IT Education alongside Sex Education.
  • Perhaps…
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"Facebook will increase your network, but not your friends"

Anthony Gormley ExibitionDid this report really need writing?

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace do not help you make more genuine close friends, according to a survey by researchers who studied how the websites are changing the nature of friendship networks.
Although social networking on the internet helps people to collect hundreds or even thousands of acquaintances, the researchers believe that face to face contact is nearly always necessary to form truly close friendships.

Apparently all of those people who are in my list of friend on Facebook might not actually be real friends. Is anyone in IT naive enough to believe that anything that is displayed on a two dimensional screen can come anywhere close to replacing a real person to person interaction.

Previous research has suggested that a person’s conventional friendship group consists of around 150 people, with five very close friends but larger numbers of people who we keep in touch with less regularly. This figure is so consistent that scientists have suggested it is determined by the cognitive constraints of keeping up with large numbers of people. Larger numbers just require too much brain effort to keep track of.

But Dr Reader and his team have found that social networking sites do allow people to stretch this figure. The team asked over 200 people to fill in questionnaires about their online networking, asking for example how many online friends they had, how many of these were close friends and how many they had met face to face.

Five close friends that’s it – it’s not going to be changed by IT any time soon. As a task oriented person I’m not sure how people maintain a network of 150 let alone 200. As I have a people oriented wife I know it can be done, actually 200 seems a bit light .

via Wikinomics

What does collaboration and collaboration technologies mean to you?

Picnic by DerwentwaterIt’s a question posed by Stu to which I was going to write a comment, but the comment got too big, so I turned it into a post.

Some thoughts.

Working together is a good thing

In most situations working together is a good thing. There are all sorts of sayings down through time that would support this:

  • Many hands make light work.
  • Two minds are better than one.
  • Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. (Proverbs 1000-600 b.c.)

So it’s long been recognised that working together produces more.

There are constraints to working together

Although we know that working together is a good thing we work within a set of constraints. Some of these constraints are physical, some of them are more to do with our individuality as humans.

The time and space barrier

Two of the major physical barriers to working together are time and space, we cannot all be in the same place at the same time.

One of the ways we overcome these barriers is to arrange a time and a place where we can work together – we call this a meeting. Meetings are as old as mankind, we’ve always done it. Overcoming the time and space barriers by having a meeting is an expensive thing to do, but it’s also a very rich experience where we use all of our senses and all of our intelligence if it’s done well (considering how long we have been doing meetings it’s a mystery to me why there are so many bad ones).

One of the reasons we write, draw, paint, sculpt, model is to overcome the time and space barriers. Art creates an expression of our thoughts or feelings that transcends the time in which it was created, it can also transcend the space in which it was created. Expressions in art may not, however, provide the richest experience. When I visit art galleries I love to read the labels next to the art because it gives me a richer experience. At one gallery I went to they had a recorded commentary from the artist, this gave an even richer experience, I suspect that had the artist been there in person the experience would have been even richer.

The human barriers

We are all individuals, as such we work with other people in different ways. There are some things we love to do together, there are some things we prefer to do on our own. Each of us has individual preferences. If we are to work together in an effective way we need to build a whole set of things between each of the individuals: trust, respect, experience, understanding, etc.. These things do not necessarily come easily and normally do not come quickly.

My best experience of working together has been on teams where we had worked together long enough, on a common goal, where the human barriers no longer existed and we were able to work in freedom from them. I’ve recently been on FranklinCovey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course. They call this type of working “synergistic working”. As a British person there is something about the word “synergistic” that sticks in my throat, but I know what they mean. Synergy is about working in such a way that the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Another way of thinking about it could be the principle of resonance.

What does collaboration mean to me?

So, back the Stu’s question.

Collaboration is working together in a way that tends towards synergy.

What does collaboration technology mean to me?

Collaboration technology is a set of technology that is aiming to enable collaboration outside the time and space barriers while still providing an appropriate richness of experience. It’s the richness of the experience that helps us to overcome the human barriers.

I’ve talked before about the different ways that we talk on a telephone conference call. I am sure that I have a completely incorrect impression of some people because I have only interacted with them on conference calls. Conference calls are definitely not a synergistic experience, there isn’t enough richness for that.

There have been many occasions when I have built up an impression of someone from their emails, only to have it smashed to bits by meeting them in person.

I regularly find myself in the situation where the technology has enabled me to overcome the time and space barriers without providing the appropriate richness of experience. In that sense then, for me, collaboration technology is still a yet to be fulfilled promise.

Online Music Still in Flux – The Fight for Primacy

Jimmy and Grandad watch CricketThere have been a couple of events over the last couple of days that show that the online music industry is still in flux.

The struggle that seems to be at play here is the struggle between content and content delivery; who dominates? Is it the content owner that has the primacy, or is it the content deliverer?

This struggle is one that we are going to see in many areas.

Many web sites owners have already handed their primacy over to Google as the content deliverer. Some of them have lived to regret this as they fall down the search rank and their business suffers.

Many retail businesses have already handed their primacy over to eBay as the content deliverer. Again, some have lived to regret this as eBay changes its policy and their business suffers.

It’s difficult to know whether the advertisers still have primacy over Google, or whether it’s Google that now has primacy over advertising.

The music industry seems to have decided that it is going to fight to retain primacy. Whether they are successful or not remains to be seen.

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