Changes we notice and changes we choose 


I suspect you are a mobile addict. You don’t have to be obsessed and have the device in arms reach at every moment to qualify. You merely have to rely on its always connected capabilities to keep you “plugged” in to your connections, and by default the world. 

The speed at which mobile technologies have been adopted has been unprecedented, and I am less interested in its occurrence, and more interested in unraveling its meaning and understanding what changes will unfold next. This post invites you to consciously evaluate the range of activities that tether you to this device, and the choices you can make next.

An overwhelming number of people check their device for “messages” within their first waking moments. In the not-too-distant past, messages waited to be picked up in the variety of places where they were left.

A missed caller could leave messages on answering systems, that replaced secretaries who made and pass a note. This task was automated by machines who accurately recorded the caller, and refrained from edits or shorthands. The machines soon became embedded into answering systems with retrieval now possible remotely.  You could call in to learn who had called.

Email, a desktop computer application, was faster than the post office, and quickly displaced the fax machines for sharing documents or lengthier detailed messages.  Cheaper computing, networks expanded Email from an office communications system to personal. Not only was it faster than regular mail, it was significantly cheaper than calling and more convenient. 

Now, all messaging systems are neatly available in your single mobile device, and your messaging interests and practices routine, if not obsessive.

How does this capability to be more on top of your communications make you feel?

Does this combination of access make you feel more effective, responsible, efficient  or something else? Are the experiences and emotions associated with interaction or the anticipation of the interaction? when and why does the experience become distracting or chaotic? 

Workflow

I’m asking this questions, because I have a hypothesis that needs testing. I believe it’s the small stuff we change that leads us astray from our original purpose or focused intent.

Distractions come in many forms and largely occur when our attention wanders. Driving for example, our focus should be on the road, the vehicles and conditions. Instead , we’re typically multitasking while driving, Whether the division of our attention happens by listening to the radio, engaging in conversation with a passenger, or on the phone ,  or just the flow of other thoughts.

Diversion is candy to the brain. It’s how small stuff easily adds up. The sideways glance that misses what’s ahead robs our attention,  scatters our focus, can delay our progress and mar our effectiveness.

Any efficiency we built in to our process are quickly filled by the abundance of new opportunities, the change in process enables.

Here’s the rub, it’s at the moment of learned efficiency that we choose either to keep learning or we move on to a new domain.  In both cases, we have reached a level of effectiveness and masters keep moving up while the rest of us begin a steady ascent of decline.  This has been documented as the learning curve aka the efficiency curve, and it’s that pivot moment that interest me.

My hypothesis is that it’s in those moments of awareness of the pivot point that innovation begins.

Process changes: Innovation, Invention or Improvisation

I invite you to consider the value of anticipation, or the expected emotions that flow in a particular situation. For example, we want a celebration event to end on a happy note.  Likewise we want our decisions to also produce positive outcomes, but that’s the problem, not all of our behaviors result from conscious decisions.  When driven by habit, the small stuff that changes escapes our notice. That’s both good and bad.

For example,  no matter where you live on the planet, the time of sunrise and sunset changes daily and we generally don’t notice or feel those effects. We do experience the differences relatively over long periods of time, such as the longer days of one season vs. shorter days in another.

The same is true over the little changes we make every day in the use of our mobile device. Perhaps you have grown aware that you are using it differently than you did a year ago, but you don’t know exactly why or what you are doing differently.  Of course some of the changes have been controlled by the businesses who are using agile methodologies to constantly release improvements in the look, speed and functions available on the screen.  The more these businesses issue changes, so does your behavior.

So, have you taken the time to reflect and assess your own set of personal habits and processes?  Have you considered the cumulative effect on your employees of these external changes and its effect on their productivity, their effectiveness and your overall efficiency?

I did, and reflect on my processes pretty regularly. It’s the bane of being a consultant, I need to understand and tinker with things in order to keep up to date and provide relevant information to solve client’s business problems.

I always asked lots of questions, the biggest difference in my process happens to be the research process.  In the past, I was a very avid reader of the New York Times and dutifully ventured to my front door half asleep to pick up the paper and begin scanning the headlines.  Later I went to the Wall Street Journal and slowly opted to skip the chore of recycling the old newsprint, and read the headlines on my phone through the convenience of their respective apps, or use my desktop.  The thing is, the biggest change? Neither one of these newspapers remains my #one information source or morning view.  In fact, I stopped reading the New York Times entirely for a while, because as email habits led me to click open the inbox, other publications had more interesting headlines and their content became a more interesting set of sources.

Better still, the minute I opt to share an article with a colleague, I’m no longer in email but a new application that the team chose to use less to keep our inbox clear, but to insure we were finding and able to keep and organize the messages.  Naturally some of our remote global team members would notice I was online and would shout out to me via Google Chat.  Those who were using the proprietary platform we built, would post and the site would automatically trigger an email notification to encourage other members to respond.

I discovered that my own process, work habits and overall effectiveness ebbs and flows with the connected capabilities of the underlying platforms I find myself using.  I’m not suggesting that having one is a good idea, but I also know that it’s valuable to impose some discipline and standards for the teams in which I work.  It’s way too easy to be online, for example this post began as a voice transcription using my phone.  The longer it got, the sooner I had to move to a bigger screen and so I jumped to my desktop to continue.  Inevitably, there was a sync delay. Later, I  had to reconcile the two versions on the two separate devices.

I would welcome thoughts on if and when you personally, or your team revisits your work processes and to what extent efficiency or effectiveness plays a role.  Please share, and if you would be willing to be part of larger research drop me a line.

 

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When Technology doesn’t work


If like me, you have a fairly stable morning routine. The usual sequence of activities from the time you step out of bed until you step out the door, or in my case step into your home office. Each takes different amounts of time but nothing is too complicated that you need to do any active thinking. The result is your mind is free to wander in any direction, alight on any object or thought that it finds interesting.

Technology likely plays a supporting role, whether its the alarm that goes off to wake you, make your coffee, or the phone that connects you to the world through email or news sites. The support role isn’t supposed to hijack but rather simplify, and reduce unnecessary steps.

For example, I used to have an all in one grinder-coffeemaker. I merely added the beans and the water, and set the timer. Its automation saved me a little effort.  It spared me a few steps: hitting the button to grind the coffee ,empty the grounds into the coffee filter, press start. (Remember either way I added the water, and the beans.) It saved me maybe a minute or two, when it worked.

The key to support? It’s got to be reliable. In this case, more elaborate automation increased chances of breakdown as well as mechanisms that needed cleaning. When it didn’t work, the few minutes I saved daily, and some were taken back.

Worse I couldn’t anticipate when the breakdown would occur, and inevitably the disruption to the expected regularity of my routine proved intolerable. So, I changed back.

I’m at that point with MS Word and close to the edge with everything about Microsoft’s operating environment. I’ve not been an Apple user, until the iphone was part of an irresistibly good offer years ago.

Today, I am using an older version of an open source program called OpenOffice. Oracle bought them, but I never had to pay Oracle. The application sits on my desktop, it isn’t linked to the cloud and it doesn’t pop up with assistance when my fat, less accurate fingers hit the wrong keys. BEST of all it doesn’t stop my train of thought as I’m typing by doing me the favor of saving. Or if it does it still doesn’t stop me from continuing typing.

This past week I was very busily writing a rather complex article. Because I’m not that organized, I like to synthesize my ideas in real time using the blank page in front of me surrounded by lots of other open documents, and websites. After the first draft was out of my head , I saved it. Sounds simple enough, right? Saving, now becomes a more complicated choice than simply titling it and placing it in a folder for future retrieval. I had too many choices, partially my own fault—I did admit to disorganization right?

I have an account on DropBox that one of my client prefers I use because we share lots of big documents and images, and it’s just easier for version control.

Microsoft in its competitive wisdom, now offers its own cloud and that too becomes an open office option…presuming I remember the password or have the OS remember it for me, on every device I use.

Lest I forget there are the different drives on my computer, I could save to a portable thumb drive device? Or the hard drive on the computer or the home network that allows me to save to my home office desktop.

Of course the different options come with different advantages. At the moment none of them were relevant, as I was just in draft mode and operating under a self-imposed deadline to preserve my sanity.

So I decided save to the cloud, its safer and I won’t have to worry about what drive it’s on?

That turned out to be a bad move.

Remember the coffeemaker story and the trade-off on time savings that went upside down on me? The same happened with this project.

In full disclosure, the topic which had owned me for a few weeks was the notion of readiness and positioning with respect to technology advantages.

I don’t know of a single writer who doesn’t find themselves pausing every now and then to gather their thoughts before continuing to organize the words. I’m older and still use long hand and then transcribe my own scribbles, which means there are lots of fits and starts due to difficulty deciphering my own handwriting. Then again, I may also decide to put my typing skills to work as I’m doing now, looking at the screen while trying to organize my thoughts.

Again, it’s the natural fits and starts in the writing process that Microsoft’s engineers seeking to support the task, or simplify and anticipate got completely wrong.

Ok, I just saw open office do the same thing. It tried to anticipate what I wanted to type. Perhaps yo too have experienced these new features. I begin to spell a word only to have it suddenly appear in its full form highlighted in blue. I have no idea how to do something with this information. Am I supposed to use it to avoid spelling errors? Or (yep the system just corrected the o and capitalizing it for me) ignore it. If I’ve managed to describe the problem well at all you too should feel a bit irritated and frustrated, or at least empathize with mine.

You see I really want to focus on my own thoughts and getting them out. I don’t want more distractions or suggestions popping up at me. It’s why I still prefer long hand and the absence of automation. Sure I can save myself some time by typing my drafts directly into the computer, they may even be more readable. But I can’t afford the distraction or disruptions…even if as I just noticed the suggested words appear relevant.

Again, I’m not looking for a collaborator when I type. I’m merely trying to express myself. Did you get that? I want to express MY thoughts, MY ideas, MY word choices.

When I need an alternative I am happy to take the extra time to open up the thesaurus, or do a google Define to get other ideas. I want my dumb typewriter back, PLEASE.

WHEN I’m ready for your assistance, I’ll ask.

I Business I keep hearing the phrase to best to go ahead and ask to be forgiven later then to wait for permission.

The biggest offense Microsoft made, was having a ridiculous inefficiency set of tools. Rather than allowing me to type and save the document in the background, it froze the screen and swapped the cursor for its spinning wheel to tell me to hold on. So after fighting with this for a few days, I re-saved the document to my hard drive. Guess what it didn’t stop the problem. Worse the document would literally jump, when it was finished. The contents on the screen would shift sometimes a few pages.

How exactly they do that I don’t want to know, that it happens and that I can’t stop it, well that’s why I’m saying bye bye.

I have been typing continuously for a good hour and other than the few annoying word suggestions and auto grammar fixes, I’ve not been stopped once by a spinning cursor.

Thank you Oracle and Open Office. I’m grateful

Now I’m going to paste and post to word press. If something surprises me over there, I will let you know.

[PS, wordpress took the pasted text beautifully. Identified my spelling mistakes ad in a few minutes I was at the bottom of this input, ready  to post. SEE Technology can be well designed for the user.]

ROA- getting the most out of your assets


Interest in Generating Earnings?  why wouldn’t you be?

Return on investment after training and resour...

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Measuring hope

If your business found 2011 challenging, the business press heralding the boom in 4Q sales may restore your faith and hope that 2012 may prove to be a better year.  I know the President remains hopeful, as his re-election may depend on it.

More than an uptick in sales needs to support your growing confidence in a brighter future.  The political, environmental and ongoing commodity pricing volatility that occurred in 2011  challenged the most sophisticated analysts and their understanding of cause and effect relationships. This breakdown  in understanding seems to force the hand of management to reassess their own behaviors, expectations and adapt to the new reality that technology enabled connectivity introduces.

I’m not a finance person but too often the media and an organization’s management focus on revenue drivers in their discussion of a firms’ relative performance.  They overlook the significance in which a  firm’s existing resources or assets contribute to realized earnings –though they don’t miss noticing  when the resources drain earnings.

In every business, management sees merit in measuring investments, competitive business activity and computing ratios to test their own relative performance. Other, more peripheral measures however seem to be contributing to organizations that out do their peers if not lead their industry.   What am I talking about?

I’m proposing broadening the strategic applications of  ROA and ROE, or Return on Assets and Equity respectively, as well as ROI-Return on Investment.

Scale and Efficiency

Technical management consultants for decades leveraged their understanding of growth based on efficiency or the inter-relationship between cost, time and output.Think about it, the more you do the same thing, the faster and better you get. Popularized by the likes of BCG, the experience curve framework demonstrates how a competitive advantage results when this value gain accrues to the firm in time making it more capable of increasing its level of output without having to increase its labor costs.

Many organizations benefit from incorporating this thinking into their decision-making and planning.  Experience curve derive easily from existing data, and thanks to champions like Jack Welch, prediction help can be readily found in subcultures obsessed with perfecting scalable efficiency.  Though powerful this approach is not a sustainable strategy.

In 2011, innovation consistently appeared at the top of many a CEOs wish list. The uncertain economy compromised many intentions and capabilities to invest in organizational transformation to realize this new agenda.  Falling profits, reduced stock prices and investment capital dried up. Where or how could a new initiative find finding?  Even if resources could be identified, the nature of innovation incorporates uncertainty.  Few firms are capable of estimating innovation’s payoffs to plug into a P&L model let alone calculate an acceptable,  timely ROI.

John Seeley Brown, John Hagel at Deloitte and Peter Senge, among others, identifies an alternative that uses technology and its ever-growing connectivity.  (see http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/apr2009/ca2009043_775383.htm)

Six sigma and the experience curve’s efficiency framework estimations project learning curves to flatten or plateau over time (because production and training costs fall off proportionally as total volume accumulates.) Collaborative environments by contrast naturally welcome increased connectivity and impact the growth rate on the learning curve.  In this latter environment, innovation occurs organically. Correspondingly so will returns on your existing assets with little or no additional investment required.  For too long the focus has been to build process around efficiency of scale.  Don’t get stuck in the  that Dan Pink describes as the mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Appreciating value

Traditionally, returns like savings occur when an underlying investment appreciates in value over time. It can also occur when costs come in lower than expected and create a budget surplus. How often are you measuring appreciating asset values?  If you limit design of your measurements and set corresponding rewards too narrowly, the quality and impact achieved will be equally narrow.

Recently, I sat in on a conference call  while being logged into an interactive collaboration platform called think-tank by Group Systems.  The other participants, primarily  video conferencing system consultants, used ROI to make their financial cases.  The C-Suite teams, always looking for bankable savings, could instantly understand how to self-fund implementing video conferencing using savings they could collect by reduced travel needs.  This approach pressed the comparative price points between the vendors except Group Systems whose presentation surprised me.  They weren’t talking about new installations, but about upping the usage of existing systems, already installed and, sometimes, fully depreciated.  In other words, they sought to convince firms to realize the appreciation in value from their underlying investments and calculate the Return on their existing assets.  For fully depreciated assets, even higher earnings can be realized  merely by changing internal operating behaviors.

In an environment where investment capital is scarcely flowing, the need to understand ROA  and raise its profile among all levels of management offers some interesting opportunities.  The number of desktops with intranet access within your organization offers the best start.  Chances are your IT department has plenty of tools at its disposal that with  support from training , leadership and example from senior management, together could release a sea change in communications, boost productivity, generate measurable return on human capital and offer additional cost benefits.

A lesson in Magnitude

Beyond your IT department who is looking at the volume of internet related activity or even monitoring the communications activities within your organization?  Perhaps your administrator or facilities staff track the usage rates of your conference rooms.  What do either of these volume metrics offer by way of generating insights  to your organization on how work gets done, or the efficiency and effectiveness of internal communications?

The Following statistics are offered as a  perspective frame for  technology enabled changes in communications.

  • There are close to    1.97 billion – Internet users worldwide and 1.88 billion email users (June 2010).
  •  25% of all email accounts are business accounts and
  • Corporate users typically send and receive about 110 messages daily—18% comprising both real spam and “graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters, alerts, etc.).  (see  The Radicati Group, Inc  reportas of April 2010)
  • 73 percent of Americans use their mobile handsets for both text messaging and picture taking. (see The Pew center for internet research report).

Note that in the wider world,  people are communicating in greater numbers on platforms other than email.

175 mill

600 mill

1.88 bill

1.97 Bill

Twitter

Facebook

Email users

Internet users

Sep-10

end of 2010

end of 2010

Jun-10

I’m betting that your communications behavior is one sure source of inefficiencies in your organization.  Try studying the electronic trail of decision-making, project management and progress reporting that transpires on redundant email threads and see for yourself.  Alternatively, if your office inbox has any message threads in which you are one of a series of recipients…chances are great that you’ve identified a large source of communications inefficiency, confusion and  redundancy.

Communicate to further learning

How many conference rooms or meetings, principally focus on getting work done vs. updating project or activity status? Cristobal Conde, CEO of Sungard in a New York Times interview articulates not only how to reap the time-saving benefits  micro-blogging offers, but  how deploying Yammer  (an enterprise social network like Twitter) across his organization was a boon to overall performance.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/business/17corner.html) He gladly swapped the hours on his schedule tied up in meetings to review results for time spent in the field talking directly to customers and clients, or helping teams solve problems.  How did he do it?  Leading by example–using SMS and the open accountability from shared, real-time BI.  Meetings were now always working sessions, never updates on project status.   The phrase Time is money takes on new meaning when considering people’s  time as a valuable asset and as such should waste it with activities or behaviors that fail to offer measurable returns.

Now,  I’m not suggesting a return to the days of time and motion studies to extract every ounce of productivity.  Rather I am suggesting that injecting some new discipline will generate returns and rewards that don’t all directly hit the bottom line.  How much continuous learning is going on in your organization?  I’d love to learn how others are acknowledging or even tracking that learning.  Impersonal  communications  or skipping direct interpersonal engagement deprives people and organizations  alternative perspectives and perceptions–the critical catalysts that lead to innovation.  Unlocking the thoughts and migrating the energy expended on routine note-taking, or email dialogues into a think-tank, such as group systems virtual collaborative platform  guarantees to accelerate results.

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating informally with several different professionals who all understand the value of experience to differentiate and rank preferences.  One of the  more valuable insights helped me to understand that when we share news, we often intend to increase our knowledge or further our learning.  The more we all know that more likely we are to make use of that knowledge to mutual benefit.

Try focusing on optimizing learning efficiently  and you may surprise yourself with the value add that results.