This is just a quick posting to let readers know this blog is on temporary hiatus while I’m on out on paternity leave with my new son Daniel, born on October 17th. I’ve written many times before in this blog about how the information seeking and management behaviors of Gen Y kids (millennials) are impacting the workplace. But now I’m getting my first experience with the next generation (Gen Z?). I only have a small sample size here (n=6 lbs, 10 oz), but still I think I can extrapolate from what I’ve seen and provide some insight into how organizations can prepare to leverage the abilities of Gen Z.
Here are my conclusions so far about Gen Z:
1. Even shorter attention spans. Much has been made of the short attention spans of Gen Y workers, who jump between multiple tasks, switch jobs at the drop of a hat, scan many documents rather than reading each one start to finish, etc. But Gen Z seems to be distracted from even the most traumatic events by little sounds, funny faces, or swinging them around, although 10 seconds later they are back to crying again.
2. Even more casual. Gen Y’ers have stated in surveys that they eschew the suit-and-tie formality of the workplace and instead want to be dressed comfortably. From my experience, Gen Z takes this even further, often crying and flailing about when attempting to put any clothes on them. Sometimes they even kick off whatever clothes you manage to snap on them. I can predict that if Gen Y wants business casual, Gen Z will petition for full nudity in the office.
3. Sensitivity increases. Gen Y’ers are noted as being the most coddled generation, requiring constant positive feedback or they will get upset. Well, that’s nothing compared to Gen Z which tends to break into tears and screaming at the slightest (or even no) provocation. I expect project meetings with Gen Z’ers to be long, raucous affairs with several breaks where distraught team members will need to be held by team leaders or have the vibration devices on their office swivel chairs turned on and rocked.
4. They’re awfully cute (see below).
Sellen and Harper’s “The Myth of the Paperless Office” (now with built in irony! Buy it in a paperless Kindle edition, delivered wirelessly via Amazon Whispernet) argues that paper usage has increased despite the rise of technology and that technology is unlikely to displace paper in the workplace. This is because paper has inherent advantages that techno-geeks overlook. These “affordances” of paper define what people can do with it (e.g., grasping, carrying, maniuplating, folding, writing on it, bindable, can be spread out or stacked) versus the affordances of digital content.
Sellen and Harper would be interested then to see that paper use is finally declining for white collar workers according to the October 9th edition of The Economist:
American office workers’ use of paper has actually been in decline since 2001. What changed? The explanation seems to be sociological rather than technological. A new generation of workers, who have grown up with e-mail, word processing and the internet, feel less of a need to print documents out than their older colleagues did. Offices are still far from paperless, but the trend is clear.
In a recent blog posting, I wrote about my research and upcoming document on Next Generation (NextGen) Content Authoring trends. I find that the trends I defined provide a useful method to frame the decrease of paper use in organizations that The Economist describes.
One of the trends I discuss is “living documents”. A living document is one that may never be “finished”. It is continually being changed and updated. Wikipedia articles or a wiki-based tourism guide are examples of content that is constantly getting updated and where the concept of being “finished” or “published” doesn’t mean much. In fact, in another book on the IMF, Sellen and Harper pointed out that documents have lives, careers, and even social lives of their own. Such dynamic documents do not lend themselves to being printed unless that paper will be thrown out after it has been read. Put simply, dead trees form a poor foundation for living documents.
Another related trend I discuss is “freshness preference”, where quality is compromised to some degree in exchange for timeliness. Since the shelf life of content produced under this trend is lower, this decreases the archival value of printing.
In any case, paper still exists in abundance in my office and I’m sure it will always exist in the offices of information workers. Sellen and Harper’s book came out in 2002 and they would surely point out that their book goes to great lengths to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of paper and digital reading/writing. Paper has stayed the same since 2002 and digital reading/writing has improved dramatically, which tips the balance. I’m also happy to say that environmental awareness has increased dramatically and this “green” view, absent in “The Myth of the Paperless Office”, may now play a part as well. It is certainly a combination of these factors that is slowly reversing a very long increase in the use of paper in organizations.
There’s an old coding joke: when presented with a bug in your program you try to pretend it is intentional by saying “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” I’m reminded of that when told about the rich ecosystem Microsoft has nurtured around SharePoint 2007. More information is coming out about the parts of SharePoint where a sophisticated enterprise has to look outside of what is in the box, such as our half day of sessions at Catalyst entitled “SharePoint: Fixing a Hole Where the Pain Gets In” or this article today in InternetNews. And the more that information comes out, the more I think back to that old coding joke, except now it is Microsoft saying “It’s not a gap, it’s room for an ecosystem!”
Now, I am not saying that all gaps in SharePoint are mistakes. Honestly, I don’t know how many of the gaps filled by the ecosystem are due to intentionally leaving some portions of SharePoint to communities, developers, and vendors and how many simply happened because Microsoft didn’t forsee common needs that it should have. It’s probably some of both. The best way to determine that for yourself is to look at the feature sets from the long and growing list of partners filling gaps in SharePoint (not just integrating, but filling gaps) and determine if those are niche needs that a vendor should correctly leave to the ecosystem or basic needs that should be included to fit the way the vendor advertises its product should be used.
Too many SharePoint implementations wind up causing pain because a promising demo or proof of concept led planners to underestimate the difficulty of the full solution. The same implementation might have been considered a roaring success if time and resources were understood upfront and did not follow a winding path with multiple failures before completion. If you’re in charge of an enterprise-wide SharePoint plan or a specific SharePoint site, you don’t care if a gap in SharePoint is intentional or not. The task for you is to quickly assess what users will need from SharePoint and to set expectations up front that SharePoint out of the box may not get them there. Determining what combination of built-in SharePoint capabilities, partner products, community-provided bits, and custom in-house coding will be required to deliver the expectations of the users will help paint a realistic picture of the time and resources needed.
To summarize, perhaps a cartoon (from our Catalyst track) will help:
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.
The most common questions I get about enterprise portals are around portal governance. And while I provide as much of an aggregated view as possible into what others are doing about portal governance (for example, check out my podcast on Understanding Web Governance), it’s been difficult to provide actual examples of what organizations are doing. My discussions are confidential and companies rarely talk publicly about a topic that involves so much internal politics.
That’s why I was thrilled today to talk to Elaine Walsh at United Health Group, who is conducting a benchmarking survey about portal governance. Participants all benefit by getting a copy of the final benchmarking report that abstracts out any specific company information. If you’re interested, you can contact Elaine per the contact info below.
Here is the announcement:
United Health Group is conducting a benchmarking survey on Portal Architecture Governance. The standard benchmarking code-of-conduct will be followed and results will be shared, but blinded. The survey has 30 questions covering organization, process and tools topics.
If you are interested in participating please contact Elaine_Walsh@uhc.com (908-696-5090) or Aaron_gaalswyk@uhc.com (952-931-5052) . We hope to have all survey responses by October 24, 2008.. Again, we will hide participants’ identities and companies in the report, so no proprietary information about your company (or you) will be divulged to any other party.
Planning before doing seems like common sense, but then I wonder why content planning seems to get skipped over so often by information workers in a hurry to write their deliverables. I’ve been researching next generation authoring trends for a report due this month and, in turn, looking into how information workers create content. I think there are three main reasons that enterprise information workers jump straight to writing without planning.
First, many people and organizations delude themselves into thinking they know exactly what to do and therefore don’t need to step back and think, plan, or organize. The document may not seem to be big or complex enough to warrant serious thought before action. Only after getting halfway through the deliverable does a writer realize how much they don’t know or how they’ve boxed themselves in by organizing things in a manner that isn’t going to work. I’ll admit, that writer has sometimes been me and I’m kidding no one when I have to restart after a failed approach with the phrase “well, back to the drawing board” and the truth is I never sat down at the drawing board in the first place – I skipped the drawing board and just starting laying bricks.
Second, when others see you spending unexpected time planning something that most people around you just start doing, it can reflect poorly on you. As I mentioned with my posting “Email Interruptions as Avoidance Mechanism …” there’s a bias towards getting hits of accomplishment. Lets say you are told on Monday to deliver a business proposal in the form of a Word document on Friday. If your business partner comes to you on Wednesday and you don’t have even a skeletal Word document to show, how is it going to look? The answer lies in how difficult the business partner thought this task was. If they thought this is straightforward and it isn’t, you look like a slacker or a newbie who is doing this for the first time. Even if you can show a bunch of thoughts on a whiteboard or mind map or sticky notes on the walls, the deliverable is a Word document formatted as a proposal and they may see the completion bar at 0%. You’d like to think that in the end the quality of the planned, well-though-out document you deliver would change opinions, but corporate life isn’t always the meritocracy it should be.
Third, I think the culture in many enterprises is biased against creativity – at least in roles that don’t consider creativity to be key attribute. I distinctly remember one occasion when I was in a meeting with a business-side client and heard an idea of mine described as creative (picture wavy, ghoulish Halloween text for “creative”), where the word “creative” was voiced in a euphemistic, sarcastic way. I had recently come from a very creative job and was getting an introduction to a corporate culture where “creative” had become a derogatory word!
Besides, when do you really have time in your schedule for uninterrupted time to think and reflect? Probably not too often – you have to make it yourself.