Making Knowledge Work

May 15, 2018

People and Tools: Encouraging Rewarding Interaction in the Workplace

Filed under: Change Management, Collaboration, Communication, Knowledge Management — virginiahenry @ 8:07 pm

 

An article I wrote for Business Information Review:

The Humane Factor

As a knowledge manager, responsible for supporting others to use technology to ‘work smarter’ by sharing information and knowledge, and collaborating effectively, I have a lot of helpful advice and models to draw on.

From Harold Leavitt’s 1960s Diamond Model featuring People, Task, Structure and Technology through to the 21st century specialised knowledge management assessment tools, maturity models, frameworks and implementation processes – there is a wealth of knowledgeable reference resource.

Most of these incredibly helpful tools, models, guides and studies will, in one way or another, emphasise the importance of three factors: people, process and technology.
In many cases, these three “ingredients for success” are awarded equal emphasis.  I don’t disagree with the analysis – successful organisations obviously must take their people, their processes and their technology into account.  But I believe greater focus should be placed on the people than on the processes and technologies they use, and I’m convinced that investing care, thought and effort in them as the primary “ingredients for success” is a more reliable way to achieve genuine success.  Over the years, I’ve come to regard this as paying attention not so much the human factor, but the humane factor.

In this article, I want to explore the powerful effect of the humane factor.  I’ll explain why I think it is sometimes overlooked and often underrated, and examine the subtle, but important, contrast between theories and the realities of working life.   And I’d like to begin with the most difficult aspect of adopting the humane factor – being honest with yourself.  Time for some introspection……

Not them, but we

If I’m claiming this: That in order to encourage rewarding interaction between people and their workplace technology, it is vital to invest care, thought and effort in working with people. Then there is an obvious admission I have to make:  that I am one of them.
Laughably obvious, you might think.  So apparent that it goes without saying?  On the contrary, I think it is worth examining the implications of acknowledging that I am one of them.
Most profoundly, there is no longer a them, only we.

How many workplace conversations have you been party to, or overheard, in which “I’ve given them the tool/software/application, but they won’t use it”?  I’ve heard it many times: when an IT manager has iintroduced SharePoint in an organisation, but staff insist on ignoring it in favour of their shared drive folders; when a director has “told them” they must use the new CRM system, but rebellious teams are using spreadsheets instead and claiming the CRM is “not fit for purpose”; when a communications team or knowledge manager has launched an intranet only to find their colleagues determinedly stick to sharing updates on email.
Perhaps you have also worked in organisations where there are multiple (usually incompatible) solutions, fulfilling the same business purpose, being used by different teams or departments?  Invariably, there are as many reasons for this as there are software solutions, but I’ve found a recurring theme is the persistence of “them” (“we are different to them, so a different system suits us better”).

Another implication of liberating oneself from the notion of them, is the need to accept (however reluctantly) that we all, in one way or another, have trouble with tools.  Sometimes it’s because we lack personal discipline: as a knowledge manager, managing my electronic documents and files should be second nature – but I tell myself I’m too busy to be rigorous in sorting them sensibly.  Sometimes it is caused by reluctance to let go of the familiar: I’ve encountered numerous instances in which teams are using software that is several releases out of date.

With estimates varying from fifty to seventy percent of business IT projects failing, there is strong motivation for understanding how to succeed with technology adoption in the workplace.  Much business consulting and academic thought had been devoted to investigating our behaviour in relation to technology.

Some interesting work was published in the Journal of European Psychology Students.  Called “Understanding adoption of new technologies: Technology readiness and technology acceptance as an integrated concept”, the research paper analysed data employing two paradigms.

The Technology Acceptance Model – which is used to determine:

  • perceived usefulness (how much someone believes using a particular system would enhance their job performance)
    and
  • perceived ease of use (to what extent a person believes using a particular system would be free of effort)

and the Technology Readiness Index – which looks at people’s inclination to embrace and use new technologies using the categories:

  • Optimism “a positive view of technology and a belief that it offers people increased control, flexibility and efficiency in their lives”
  • Innovativeness “a tendency to be a technology pioneer and thought leader”
  • Discomfort “a perceived lack of control over technology and a feeling of being overwhelmed by it”
  • Insecurity “a distrust of technology and scepticism about its ability to work properly”

The researchers concluded that it was important to take into account users’ general attitudes toward technology when introducing new systems. But that even in organisations where people are generally optimistic towards technology some systems are rejected because perceived usefulness and ease of use may be low.

Interesting, and certainly worth bearing in mind.  On the other hand, I think it’s equally helpful to refer to practical experience: perceptions of usefulness can change with use (we might all know somebody who couldn’t see the point of smart phones, but will not be parted from the one they now own), and our “technology readiness” can shift markedly over time.  Where we once felt discomfort, we may now feel optimistic about certain technologies.
Knowing about the factors that feed failure is useful, but it’s up to us to figure out how to even up the odds.

Where’s Your Conviction?

Again, a good starting point is with oneself.  Before implementing a new system in an organisation, you and/or your team will have done the groundwork.  For example, you will have:

  • a clear understanding of the strategic business case
  • analysed users’ needs
  • identified all the stakeholders
  • carefully chosen the appropriate software
  • classified the risks and benefits
  • have a dazzlingly thorough implementation strategy!

Your knowledge of the new software and its capabilities, your trust in the implementation plan and your understanding of the ways in which adoption will be of benefit to people, are crucial components of the Humane Factor.  It is from these practical understandings that you draw your conviction that the technology is right for the organisation.  It is important not to underestimate the confidence you feel, because it can be genuinely influential.  This isn’t simply a ‘rose-tinted spectacle’ belief of my own, there has been a lot of research into the influence of confidence.

A detailed study published in the Journal of Neuroscience entitled “Independent neural computation of value from other people’s confidence” looked at the ways in which another person’s confidence can influence our own.  In the authors’ own words:

“This study finds that using cues of the reliability of other peoples’ knowledge to enhance expectation of personal success generates value correlates that are anatomically distinct from those concurrently computed from direct, personal experience”.

The team used Neuroimaging to track effects in the brain during experiments such as the way participants predicted the colour of marbles being randomly drawn from an urn, based on their observations of the apparent confidence of other observers.  The study is illustrated with colourful fMRI images and the team concluded: “our findings provide new neurobiological insight into the transmission of value information between individuals and the mechanism by which confidence expressed by others assures or discourages us in our decisions.”

So, there are very good reasons to show how confident you are in the benefits of the new software you are implementing.

Do as I Do

Frankly, the best way to demonstrate your confidence in the value of a software application is to use it yourself.

Remember my example of the director who told staff that they must use the CRM?  The demand had most likely been accompanied by missives or PowerPoint illustrations of the business value, the benefits to be gained in customer or relationship management, even screenshots of the impressive reports that could be run from the new system.   The advocacy might not have included an admission that the system was somewhat unwieldly and would demand dedicated commitment of time and effort to use.  There almost certainly wouldn’t have been a confession that the director disliked using the interface just as much as the staff, and had rarely accessed it since having an initial training session!

Perhaps the director has mitigating reasons for asking staff to do as they say, rather than as they do.  After all, they are very busy and might see it as less crucial that they adopt the new technology, but vital that the staff do.  Those of us whose job descriptions include responsibility for supporting others to use our workplace technology don’t have any excuse.  We must master the technology if we are to have a hope of inspiring others to do the same.

In order to become confident in using the technology, it’s important to set aside sufficient time to learn how to use it.  I don’t mean that you should spend some time becoming familiar with the system’s main features and functions.  I mean you need to really learn how to use it: explore it, find out what it does and what it can do for you.  If your experience of vendor or supplier manuals is like mine, you will already know that in many cases these documents offer scant assistance.  I’ve often wondered who writes these things, and what kind of audience they think they are speaking to……
Even in those cases that the out-of-the-box documentation is compiled to be helpful, your organisation’s customisations might make large parts of the manual redundant, and the rest of it is unlikely to align well with your organisation’s priorities or culture.

The humane factor takes careful account of the need to inspire confidence in others by preparing well yourself.  The time you invest in getting to know as much as you can about the technology you are implementing will pay dividends for everyone.

Means of Support

By becoming a confident user of the new technology, you will have equipped yourself well to support your colleagues through the critical stages of launch, adoption and embedding into business as usual.

Launch

There are a number of dos and don’ts to bear in mind when launching a new software application in an organisation:

Do Not

Do

  •   Make your colleagues’ first experience of the new system a “big bang” launch day of banners, presentations, demonstrations from vendors and general disruption orchestrated by the internal communications team or the marketing department.

Enthusiasm is likely to fizzle out long before your branded launch balloons become deflated.

  • Lead up to launch with regular short and informative briefings, and bite-sized familiarisation sessions delivered by early adopters across the organisation.

    This should help set realistic expectations, and show that real users are confident that the system works for them.

  • Launch the system by ensuring it suddenly appears on everyone’s desktop or laptop without explanation.

How would you feel if that happened to you? 

The software could become the totem focus for a range of negative emotions – about the organisation’s attitude to its employees, the cold indifference of management, the unreasonable demands made on overworked staff…..  You really don’t want to engender “hate at first sight”.

  •  Consult with staff, well in advance, about the options available for accessing the new system.
  •   Listen carefully to their responses, you will learn from those who have reservations and misgivings as well as from the enthusiasts.

 Even if, for sound business reasons, you decide to deliver access in a way a number of people do not desire – explain the reasoning and reassure colleagues that you have not ignored their concerns.

  •  Launch with a “show and tell” demonstration for users, then reassure them that there is a video on YouTube if they want to learn more.

 

It is unreasonable to expect everyone to dash back to their desks and immediately start using the system with the knowledge they’ve gleaned from your overview session.
Sure, some people will pick it up with ease – but they would be just as likely to figure out how to use the software without sitting through your demo.
Also, the usefulness of videos, unless they are produced in thirty-second segments showing specific interactions, is much over-rated.

  •  Make sure you have organised training sessions tailored to users’ needs, and their capacity to absorb the new information.
  •   Use your knowledge and experience of the system to create a set of user guides – with screenshots and step-by-step instructions – so that colleagues can refer to them as they need them.

 

Just-in-time learning is often more useful to people than intense training room sessions.

  •  Make the mistake of believing that launch day signals the end of your project or your responsibilities.
  •  Remember that although you have been living with this system for long enough for its features and functions to be very familiar to you, that is not the case for your colleagues.

Adoption

When the implementation of new technology is a case of replacing an existing resource, such as introducing higher-spec multi-function copiers, launch and adoption may run relatively smoothly.  Although it can take time for users to become familiar with the new features, and they are likely to need those user guides you prepared for a while.

However, in most instances people will not only be adopting a new technology but new processes, and new ways of working and collaborating.  The change brought about by new software systems is cultural as well as functional.  The humane factor is a powerful resource at such a time.

The humane factor will ensure that the cultural impact of implementing the new technology was recognised in your business case, identified during risk/benefit analysis and carefully planned for in the implementation strategy.  It is during the adoption period that the full implications of that cultural change will become apparent.

If you have prepared well, you will have:

  • created training materials that incorporate strategic aims and behavioural change with the “how to” learning
  • made sure there are enough early adopters and “local experts” for team members across the organisation to turn to when they need guidance and support
  • planned for the regular communication of success stories

What may have been overlooked (and it’s easy to do so) is preparation for the unexpected.  But when people come together with new processes and technology, the unexpected is likely to occur.
When you think about it, this is inevitable:  People are curious and inventive, so if we are given a tool we are likely to experiment with it and explore what it can do.

Your organisation may have a post room, where incoming mail is sorted and distributed by hand.  Before email, that was also the method by which internal mail – memos, agendas, minutes, reports etc – was transferred person-to-person.  I doubt that anyone foresaw the profound reality-shift that would occur once internal mail had been replaced by corporate email.  People found ways of employing email that could never have been envisaged, and the dominant role it now plays in our working lives is far more intrusive and demanding than internal mail ever was.

Perhaps you remember a time you discovered a function in Excel and realised that a world of possibility had opened up at the click of a mouse?  You might now work in a very different way than you did before you got to grips with such a formidable software application.

What I’m saying is that for each individual in an organisation, adoption of a new system will be an individual experience, and it is important that you support, and learn from, all of them.
If we go back to the perceptions described by the Technology Acceptance Model – there will be people who see the system as useful to them and easy to use, and others who don’t feel that the rewards for them and their work are worth the effort of mastering the system.  Where one individual will need greater support, and help to realise the benefits of adoption, another will embrace it and look for additional benefits to those you initially envisaged.
There will also be individuals who share characteristics with the types described in the Technology Readiness Index:

  • The Optimist might be included in your group of early adopters. They can help overcome glitches with the system, as well as demonstrating the benefits they experience from using it.
  • The Innovator will also be on the scene early. They might discover unforeseen advantages of the system and, as a consequence, its impact on the way the organisation works.
  • The person who feels Discomfort is not likely to be an early adopter. They can, however, help you to develop robust training and support resources.  If the materials enable them to feel in control of the technology and more confident about using it, you can be assured of their quality.
  • The individual whose Insecurity is demonstrated by scepticism and distrust of the technology might also be the person who asks the most challenging questions. Your confidence (and, sometimes, your patience) may be tested, but providing clear and reasoned answered to the difficult questions will help you strengthen your business case, and sharpen your communication skills.

All of these features of the humane factor mean that the adoption process across the organisation can be a lengthy process.  It is iterative, rather than linear and finite.  It may continue at the same time as you move to the phase of absorption into business as usual.

Business as Usual – the way we work here

Encouraging rewarding interactions with technology in the workplace is not the role of a single individual or discipline.  It may, though, be your responsibility to help everybody – from the Board and the CEO to the newest intern – to understand that it is the organisation’s culture and values that set the expectation of interaction.

This might sound like a tall order.  However, because the humane factor doesn’t recognise them and us, but only we, it is very helpful in dealing with this issue of the way we work.   It is the people that express an organisation’s values and bring its culture to life.  The use of adopted technology is an integral part of the life of the organisation (business as usual), therefore it should be reflected in how the organisation talks about itself and how it behaves.  This means that the expectation of interaction with the organisation’s essential tools and technology needs to have a presence in:

  • Recruitment advertisements
  • Job specifications
  • Induction and onboarding processes
  • Appraisals and objectives
  • Corporate websites
  • Annual reports

By acknowledging that the way we work, and the technology we rely on, sits at the heart of our organisation’s life and culture we weave it into our organisational narrative and make a collective commitment.  The latest “IT project” is no longer an irritating disruption or an irrelevant distraction.  Getting the best from the software we have is not simply the domain of the geeky optimists and innovators.  We are all invested in using technology successfully, and our expectations of ourselves and our colleagues are that we will collaborate and support one another in the way we work here.

 

References:
Godoe, P. & Johansen, T.S., (2012). Understanding adoption of new technologies: Technology readiness and technology acceptance as an integrated concept. Journal of European Psychology Students. 3(1), pp.38–52. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jeps.aq

Independent Neural Computation of Value from Other People’s Confidence
Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, Arndis Simonsen, Chris D. Frith and Nathaniel D. Daw
Journal of Neuroscience 9 December 2016, 37 (3) 673-684;
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4490-15.2016

 

July 1, 2017

The Benefits of Collaboration

Filed under: Collaboration, Communication, Work environment — virginiahenry @ 2:42 pm

I wrote an article for the Jinfo  team on an issue that takes up much of my thought and time.  Here is a shortened version of the piece:

The Way We Were

Last century (but not a lifetime ago), when the only electronic device on your desk was the typewriter, and computing was carried out by big machines owned by large, wealthy, institutions such as banks – your experience of communication and collaboration was very different.  To fix meetings or ask questions, you would use the internal phone system.  To communicate with several people at once, you would type a memo with a number of carbon copies, drop them into the internal mail and wait for the responses.

You would leave your office and go to the print room to use the photocopier, or run off some Gestetner or Roneo copies, and encounter colleagues from different disciplines and functions.  You’d meet them in the corridor, on the stairs, in the tea bar or by the notice board (where much of the organisation’s shared information was pinned).
In today’s offices, it might feel strange to phone someone a few desks away to ask if they have a moment to speak.  But before open plan, it was the norm to phone or pop your head around an office door to talk to a colleague.   The constraints of old tech and outdated architecture didn’t get in the way of getting to know others.

Today: Coping Strategies

The move to large open office spaces, in which people share islands of desks, was expected to deliver greater opportunities for communication and collaboration.  The walls, literally, came down.  Interestingly, in many offices, the opposite effect has been observed.  It’s not uncommon for people to send emails to colleagues just a few feet away – rather than speak directly to them.

Do you work in an open-plan office?  If you look up, how many of your fellows do you see with earbuds firmly in place?  How many are scowling at the person opposite them indulging in an amplified and animated call?  A number of recent reports  (for example, Rachel Morrison’s “Get out of my face!” published in The Conversation and Oxford Economics’ “When the walls come down“) have highlighted the disadvantages of close-proximity work spaces.   Noise levels and intrusive distractions rate highly as problems for employees and, rather than increasing opportunities for communications and collaboration, these “in your face” environments can make people much less receptive to interaction.

 Opening the Doors to Empathy

Another common feature of contemporary office working is the project team: often multi-disciplinary, formed to deliver a tangible product or result, time-bound and target-focused.

A project team can include members from across the business who know little about each other.  People from Management, IT, HR, Sales and Marketing, Finance and other areas may never have spoken to one another (except, perhaps, via email). Their perceptions could be formed from a negative experience “IT took three hours to get back to me when my laptop died, and when they did they couldn’t retrieve the document I was working on”,  or borrowed judgements “I’ve heard that Sales promised a client we would deliver services we don’t even have!” simple ignorance “I have no idea what those folk in HR do all day”, even aggregated prejudice  “I’ve never had a manager who knew the first thing about managing”.  Yet it’s within project teams that the hidden benefits of collaboration can be uncovered.
When people come together with a shared purpose, confident that their skills and experience will contribute to the team’s success, they are primed to collaborate.

The Collaboration Climate

Much depends on the project leader, perhaps with support from their sponsor, creating the collaboration ‘climate’.  A thoughtful project leader will ensure the ‘rules of engagement’ are clear and explicit.  For example, not only notifying relevant team and sub-team members of the frequency and focus of meetings, but demonstrating respect for them with consistently unambiguous agendas, defined start and finish times, agreed actions and follow-ups.  Overt demonstrations of respect for peoples’ time, and understanding of their workloads are effective ways of encouraging empathy.

Equally enabling behaviours the insightful project leader will exhibit are –

  • Learning about team members’ skills and interests: reading the profiles they’ve created on the internal system, looking them up on LinkedIn, getting to know what their role in the organisation entails
  • Using that knowledge to draw on experience: if someone’s been engaged in a similar project before, what they learned is worth knowing about
  • Identifying and explaining complementary strengths within the team: without getting bogged down in Belbin (or any of the other type-defining tools), it’s worth explaining to team members why their unique perspectives are of value to the project and of benefit to one another
  • Asking for assent, rather than assuming compliance: silence may indicate confusion rather than agreement
  • Enjoying, rather than enduring, debate: making time to talk demonstrates that peoples’ views are valued

 You don’t have to like me………

Making new friends can, of course, be a hidden benefit of collaboration – many of us enjoy friendships that extend beyond project deadlines, or survive long after we’ve moved away from an organisation.   But friendships are added bonuses to the hidden benefits.
More common, but very valuable to us as individuals, is our increased understanding of the varied approaches and perspectives of colleagues from different parts of the business.
This empathic attunement can help free us of misperceptions that might cause tension and conflict – allowing us to move away from assumptions and toward deductive reasoning.
For instance, you might now realise that when Colin seizes some marker pens and starts to sketch a flow chart on the whiteboard illustrating the simple process you just, very clearly, explained, he’s not obliquely criticising your communication skills.  He simply needs to see the information, rather than hear it.  Or when Sue closes her eyes, she’s probably not signalling boredom but more likely fitting pieces of the project puzzle together in her own mind map.

Along with increased empathy, or enhanced emotional intelligence, can come improvements in negotiation skills.  An experienced and much-admired negotiator, Chris Voss, founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group emphasises the powerful role of empathy in successful negotiations.  He believes that “emotions aren’t the obstacles to a successful negotiation, they are the means.”

Tuning in to others’ language and communication styles also sharpen listening skills.  If your day-to-day colleagues are in the same department or discipline, you might share a common language and have established communication routines.  If you’ve been immersed in a collective or corporate style of communication, you may feel it’s entirely normal – until you are exposed to the equally normal, but very different, approaches of members of your multi-disciplinary project team.

As a project team member, you can uncover these benefits for yourself.  But, as is the case in many work situations, the tone of team dynamics is inevitably set by the leader.  In a small study involving business students, researchers found their satisfaction levels in collaborative assignments were heavily influenced by the listening, negotiating, collaborating and assertiveness behaviours demonstrated by the group leader.  The study’s title: “You Don’t Have to Like Me, But You Have to Respect Me” .

 

March 3, 2013

LIKE 43 – Coaching without the Why

Filed under: Communication, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 3:27 pm

It’s been my experience that only the most expert of practitioners can explain the basics of their discipline in simple terms.
Where those who are less-than-expert blather and quote theory at you, the expert converses with you, sharing their personal knowledge in accessible language.

Karen Drury  is an expert Executive Coach, and at last week’s LIKE she provided us with an impressive and accessible introduction to Coaching.

LISTENING

Karen started by getting us to listen to her explanation of four levels of listening we engage in:

Cosmetic Listening: Familiar territory for nearly all of us!  The kind of listening that engages your face and body (so the speakers feels you might be listening) while leaving the mind free to roam from shopping lists to planning the next hour or the next holiday.
Engaged Listening: During which you actually listen, but with maybe half an ear – whilst preparing what you’re going to say when the speaker draws breath.

Active Listening: These conversations progress quite slowly, because the listener is really listening and, when they speak, asks relevant questions – rather than making statements or offering unsolicited advice.

Deep Listening:  The intense level of focused listening that professional Coaches are capable of.  This deep level of listening entails noticing not just what is said but the way it is expressed, the accompanying non-verbal signals and the thoughts behind the words.
it’s skilled and difficult work, because the Coach is not simply a sounding-board, but a trusted guide – helping the person they’re coaching to investigate issues, examine options, decide on courses of action and find the resolution to act on those decisions.

So the questions asked by a Coach must be carefully chosen and worded.  Karen told us it was important to ask open questions (those which begin, for example, with ‘What’ or ‘How’), and very important to ask only one question at a time .  And, she explained, a Coach should avoid beginning a question with “Why…..?”.  “Why” questions are likely to throw those questioned onto the defensive – implying they should justify a decision or action.

wheel_of_life

 

REFLECTIONS AND INSIGHTS

Karen then got us to examine the balance in our Life Wheels (similar to this one) where the outer rim was 10 out of 10 and the inner scores decreased to zero in the centre.

When we’d all completed our wheels, Karen pointed out that it was as much an exercise in identifying how blessed one was, as it was in noting areas for attention.  And she was right – we all had a number of high-scoring spokes near our wheel rims.  But if we’d taken any of the wheels on the road, they’d have made juddering progress, as specific spokes, such as Self-image and Recreation/Fun, dipped toward the hub.

 

 

So we paired up and, using our new awareness of active/deep listening, discussed with each other what could be done about these neglected areas of our lives.

As Karen had predicted, being listened to in such a focused way was enough for some of us to diagnose the problem, examine optional actions and come to a resolution – while the listener barely uttered a word.

It’s amazing what you can get done in the hour before dinner.  Especially with the help of an empathic ear and an expert guide.

DSCN1461

Before we settled to dinner and further discussion Karen gave us lots of tips on free online resources to follow up on – but those notes are lost………I’m still working on the “organise your note-taking” resolution!  Just don’t ask me “why is it taking you so long?” – you might undermine my resolve 🙂

April 25, 2011

Mobile Information. LIKE 23

Filed under: Communication, LIKE — Tags: , , — virginiahenry @ 3:46 pm

On the last evening of March Mark Needham – the far-sighted founder of Widget (UK) Ltd – presented us with information at the speed of LIKE 😉

Just a few days before we welcomed the 500th person to join the London Information & Knowledge Exchange, it was especially appropriate that one of our newest expert members should give us a lightening review of the evolution of ‘pocket computers’.

Mark told us how a Starship hero in “The Mote in God’s Eye” had used a pocket computer in 1974, long before they were available to us in this tasty world.  By the 1980s you didn’t need so much imagination to see the future coming.  Mark was then working at Psion and their Organiser 1 . was a revolutionary device.  Its 2k of RAM and 8k or 16k memory cards may seem puny now but, Mark told us, the evolutionary line from Psion to Smartphone is clear.  And the great inventions – microprocessors, the worldwide web and wireless networks – that enable us all to carry pocket computers have been around for over two decades.

Mark compared the delay between the emergence of such innovations, and public uptake of them, to the time lapse between the invention of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century and the mass production of the Model T Ford in the 1920s.  And, just as cars have remained basically recognisable for the past century, handheld computers are likely to undergo lots of minor improvements, but remain consistently familiar to us.  It may become common practice for us to use our phones for video calls and to make movies – but Mark’s iPhone will still carry the data he’s been transferring to each new device since he first saved it to his Organiser 30 years ago.

Henry Ford, with his vision of consumerism as the key to world peace, would probably have been delighted by the ubiquitous Smartphone and, maybe, even more chuffed that its development is so obviously being driven by user demand.

Andrew Swaine, another expert member of LIKE, runs knowledge sharing and internal communications at ARM 

Andrew explained the powerful influence Smartphone users were having on the evolution of his industry.  The focus used to be on how fast a computer was, now it’s all about power consumption: pocket computers need to run for an entire day (his Smartphone works for 10 hours, but his laptop battery lasts for 2 hours!).  And although battery technology isn’t progressing very fast, people are writing programmes taking into account not only how fast they are, but how much power they consume.

Speed of performance is high on Users list of must-haves too, so Andrew foresaw a pretty rapid evolution from multi-core (lots of phones are now dual core) to many-core.

And platforms are being consolidated – impatient users will demand a single working environment across all platforms.  Andrew hoped one day to be able to plug his iPhone into a docking station, as he currently does his laptop.

There’s lots of change happening in his industry, not least because it was taken rather by surprise at the big deal applications on phones became – in such a short time.  The web wasn’t really ready for it.  Andrew reckons that we’ll end up using web applications a lot more, to overcome carrier and storage issues, and improve user experience.

Users rule!  When, as is the case, the interactive experience is more important than the underlying hardware – anything that irritates a user is “officially” a bug (music to the ears of anyone who has worked with uncompromising, unempathic Developers :-))!   If you’ve lost data because you didn’t save a document, you are not a stupid user – the interface is wrong.  So on mobile phones and tablets, you don’t need to remember to save stuff.

Andrew said it wasn’t because there’s anything special about mobile:  it’s just that at this period of change in the industry it has been possible to change underlying assumptions about user behaviour quite rapidly.

After the inevitable comparisons of what mobile devices we all had on us (to my perverse delight – it’s not like I don’t know how desirable Apple stuff is – we HTC users seemed to outnumber the iPhoners, and lots of us had business Blackberries) we got down to a pre-dinner exercise. Groups around different tables were asked to identify the kinds of information different professionals need to access via their pocket computers, and the barriers to doing so.

Requirements included:

Office documents, contact details, schedules, spreadsheets etc, legal information, research papers, reference sites, Hansard (for MPs), news reports, business systems, audio and video, sites for the co-ordination of activities (in case of Aid Agencies), lesson plans and registers (in the case of Teachers)

And among the Constraints were:

Tiny screens, the need for the device to be as effective at ‘ input’ as it is at ‘consumption’ of data, lack of single sign-on, lack of  voice recognition, unreliable infrastructure, employer policies, information management issues such as document versioning control and lack of confidence in data security – eg of cloud hosting under US regulatory system.

Well, Ford cars may not be the most inspiring of analogies, but the Maserati brothers  started creating their steel symphonies just a couple of decades after Henry’s Model T first came out – and look where that’s led in a relatively short time!  It surely won’t be long before our pocket computers can do all the stuff we want and need them to do.  Probably rather stylishly.

Talking of innovative chaps, my wonderful husband has just ordered me a Kindle.  On the basis that “you’ve always got your nose in a book, might as well have a lightweight collection to carry around”.  Among my first downloads will be a chapter or two of Mark Needham’s new eBook “66 Famous Plots Updated with Modern Technology”   Apparently it all started with Bill Proud’s tweet from Anna Karenina……

August 28, 2010

Active Listening

Filed under: Communication — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:03 pm

Do you find it difficult to read to the end of an email message before deciding what it’s about?  Have you ever scanned the first few lines of a missive then hit ‘reply’ and dashed off a response?

I’ve done it lots of times, and had it done to me far too often!  It’s frustrating and time-consuming.  You end up having to send another email, repeating the question you asked or the statement you made in your original second line or paragraph.  What should have been a straightforward exchange can become a convoluted maze of misinterpretation…..

So now I try to keep email communication as clear and brief as possible: unambiguous subject line, short sentences, clear statement of the action I’d like the recipient to take.

I try to do that every time, but don’t always succeed.

Active listening is a much harder habit to adopt.  When listening actively you need to give the person speaking your undivided attention – it’s important not to allow intrusive sounds or other conversations around you to catch your ear.  You must fight the temptation to begin formulating your response before you’ve fully heard what the speaker has to say.  You have to let the other person finish their point – not jumping in early, for example, to counter their argument.  On top of that, you need to avoid assumptions – if you’re not completely sure what’s being said or meant, you need to ask for clarification.  And, when it comes to responding, you have to “do as you would be done by”:  delivering your reply with the same respect and consideration you expect to receive.

Demanding stuff!  It takes a lot of concentration and self-discipline (well, I find it so), and it’s hard enough to do in ideal acoustic circumstances.  So in the pub the other night after the LIKE picnic I was finding it darned near impossible.  Moving from the relaxed environment of the York & Albany’s downstairs room to the Edinboro Castle was too great a contrast for my ears to cope with.  I was fine when sitting very close to my conversational companions, but the minute they moved more than arms length away their voices were drowned in a tidal wave of music, clanking glasses, hearty laughter and dozens of other deafening conversations….  Found myself wishing I could lip-read.

The chats I had and heard were well worth actively listening to though.  LIKE members invariably share fascinating insights to their expertise and interests.  And it was good to have the chance to talk to Luisa Jefford and Tracey South about the next LIKE meeting where we’ll focus on what it means to be an “Info Pro” in the 21st century, and strip away the jargon to examine the practical skills we all use to build the businesses we’re associated with.

The group gathering at the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell will have a great range of backgrounds, experience and skills.  So there’ll be lots of opportunity to practice active listening, and learning.  And the upstairs room, the Apollo Lounge, should have just the right acoustic – an off-switch for the music speakers, and a solid Victorian door to act as a baffle against the bar noise from downstairs.

Active listening is, of course, only part of the successful communication equation.  Considered speaking is another essential component.  Organising your thoughts, employing brevity, eschewing jargon – all come into play.  If a person, or an audience, has extended the courtesy of giving you their attention, it’s your duty to be as clear and concise as possible.

So, if you’ve read this far, thank you.  Enough said!

Blog at WordPress.com.