Our Berlin Wall

It seems the consumerization of the enterprise is over. In this article Owen Thomas, reporting that oil giant Shell is to allow its 135,000 employees to bring their own devices, declares the debate over. For him, at least, it’s no longer an interesting debate, “what’s next?” he calls.

Well let’s just hold on a second. This is, after all, a momentous occasion. Traditional beliefs and customs are tumbling down. I for one would like to stop, contemplate and enjoy this revolutionary milestone.

Approaches such as agile development and the growth of cloud based products created a two tier system. Those businesses that embraced cloud technologies got to experience freedom and a superior experience to those that were stuck using the old enterprise applications. Like East and West Germany the advancements in mobile and improved user experience became the illegal tv sets picking up western TV shows. Where those without watched enviously as those with gorged themselves on the spoils of a decadent capitalist lifestyle.

We sat at our desks looking at the depressing blue/grey of a SAP transaction while we dreamt of cute kittens on Youtube or poking long forgotten friends on Facebook. Allowing employees to bring their own mobile devices to the office seemed like a small concession to keep the masses happy. But then they began to take photos of their colleagues over lunch and published amusing edits on Flickr. Before long they were spending more and more time updating statuses (or is that statii?) and tending to their virtual farm animals.

Some even learnt how to connect these devices, against IT policy, to collect work email. They no longer needed to hide the device when the boss walked in, they could now claim to be checking the latest sales figures or sending out a contract. Like the East German police, there were pockets of resistance, some tried to stop this from happening but they soon realised the cost of doing so was unacceptable. Powerless to stop the crowd they just stepped aside and let the wall come down.

I #love process workshops

I’ll say that again, I love process workshops. Over the last 10 years I’ve run hundreds of workshops working with teams to reach a common understanding about ‘how things are done around here’ or to design new ways of working. In that time I’ve never been in a workshop that I didn’t enjoy.

There have been times when it’s been hard, generally participants resisted participating for a variety of reasons. But they always ended in everyone getting some value from the experience and I’m not talking about a bunch of flow charts!

If you’ve not been in a process workshop before, or at least one that I’ve run, it goes something like this: you gather a group of ‘stakeholders’ in a given area of process. I say ‘area of process’ but in truth it’s normally existing teams or departments that are not really organized around process. The goal is to reach a shared understanding of the existing process (sometimes called the As-Is) or to design and agree a new process (To-Be). The output is a set of documentation and recommendations.

process workshop

For me it’s always been about communication and understanding. Get the team together to talk about things they generally assume each other knows but in reality don’t, or don’t see it in the same way. As a result the approach is simple; who are you, what do you do and why, next. With such a simple approach people engage quickly and easily with it. Conversations develop, especially around the why, that gives the team a deeper understanding of what each other does, the challenges they face, the value they add and the help they need. It’s about the team working effectively together and at the end of the session they know it.

A byproduct of this interaction is a set of documentation and lists including pain points and improvement suggestions. As far as the participants are concerned this may well disappear into the ether and resurface as some sort of automated solution in the future. But right now they don’t care as the chances are they learnt something new today that will make their lives easier.

why do we lie to our kids?

I recently saw this video by TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadivé about why lying to our kids is bad. The underlying argument is that in doing so you are eroding America’s ability to compete against countries such as India and China in the future as this behavior destroys competitive nature in children. Ranadive tells us about ‘little Johnny’ the hapless softball player that, despite repeatedly missing the ball, is congratulated for a great swing. It clearly wasn’t a great swing but everyone cheers regardless. This story of a group of parents apparently lying to Johnny sets up the argument.

OK I agree we shouldn’t lie to our kids but I want to challenge the premise of the argument used in the video. Maybe this does happen all the time just not anywhere I go, nor with any of the family activities my family and I get involved in. In fact this recent report from the BBC suggests our children are under pressure to be competitive, maybe it’s just in the UK.

I write about this now after seeing this discussion on LinkedIn in the same week and made a connection. Here the thread starter uses a story, that turns out to be an urban myth, in order to make a point. For me, the fact that the story is not even true puts the whole argument in question. The discussion that took place followed two threads, one about whether the story was indeed true and one about how simple solutions are better than complex solutions, which in turn spawned a series of further anecdotes of dubious origin. I found the former thread much more interesting.

In the case of whether simple or complex solutions to business problems are better, I find it hard to understand how so many contributors could claim one side, or the other, based on the limited amount of information available. In fact everyone blindly, in my view, agreed that simple trumps complex every time. The argument that people can, and frequently do, overcomplicate things may well be true but to be discussing it without even a real story to analyze seems like a complete waste of time.

Why do so many well educated, and clearly bright people, waste their time taking part in  pointless discussions based on myth?

I’ve referenced Daniel Kahneman before and will here again, the problem is that it’s easier for us to accept a story that sounds probable, and we like a good story, than to question its validity. What Kahneman calls “the illusion of validity”. We come up with interesting hypothesis but instead of ‘really’ testing them it’s easier to make up a good story that apparently confirms your argument. When written in a blog or other article it takes a certain type of reader to challenge these assumptions and those people don’t turn up as often as you might think. That is of course if your readers are even allowed to comment, and if this is published in a trusted news source there’s even less chance anyone will question it.

Facebook IS infrastructure

Have you seen this article on Cnet about Facebook becoming more ‘meh’ for teenagers? Shock horror, apparently Facebook’s popularity, as teenagers’ number one social network, has slipped. I mean, according to the survey, it’s still number one but it’s losing ground to other ‘cooler’ social apps.

I this the beginning of the end for Facebook?

Er I doubt it. In the conclusion the author states:

But there must be so many budding — and perhaps teenage — entrepreneurs who know that they need to find just one small emotional hook that will pull vast numbers of teens away from Facebook very, very quickly.

Sure there will be other cool things for teenagers to look at, and sure they don’t like their parents hanging around but Facebook is hardly the street corner your kids hangout on. Besides how many teenagers use only one social network exclusively? Many teenagers, especially those that have become teenagers in the last few years don’t see Facebook as the ‘cool new thing’. It’s just there, in the same way computers are, in the same way telephones and cars and all the other things we can’t imagine living without are just there.

Facebook, and to a large extent social networking in general, has become part of the everyday infrastructure of life. Is making a phone call cool? The fact that you can pickup a handset and dial a short set of digits and speak to someone no matter where they are in the World. I mean that’s awesome but how often do you hear teenagers calling it cool?

Recent #UX experiences

I’ve been fascinated by the psychology of how humans interact with the world around them for years. Here are some examples of poor user experience I picked up recently.

water cooler

IMAG0057This was installed in our office in San Francisco, it took two days before facilities were forced to stick those white labels below the hot and cold buttons. Clearly the manufacturer had overestimated our ability to associate their icons with hot and cold.

hand dryer

02386928132We had this hand dryer in one of our UK offices. This manufacturer got a bit carried away with the rather creative diagonal design on the front cover. Every time you washed your hands you naturally put them under the right hand side of the unit below the pattern. The problem was that the air flow came out the center so the back of your left hand always dried first!

Despite knowing this your brain forced your hands to drift back to the right side. I guess if you were short enough to see under the unit you’d be be OK.

local bar

This happened to me yesterday as I drove through a local village looking for somewhere to stop for coffee. Two bars sat next to each other on the same side of the road. Both advertised they were open daily and served coffee. We decided to take the one nearest our parking space. The first door we approached appeared to be the entrance to the kitchen so we carried on past the windows that looked in to empty tables. We didn’t find another door so we went to the other bar.

Only later did I discover, from a neighbor, that the entrance to the first bar is through a narrow gate that leads to a door on the opposite side of the building to the road. I guess next time I happen to stop there I’ll take a look. If I remember.