Leave it to the Onion to nail down an issue – in this case the amount of trust so many people are putting in a megacorporation that promises not to be evil. Personally, I don’t put that much out on Google, but if they buy Yahoo, Zoho, Netflix, and my health insurance company I’d be very afraid …
The Onion: “Google Responds To Privacy Concerns With Unsettlingly Specific Apology” (3/2/10)
Our European Catalyst conference is coming up in April. It’s a beautiful time to be in Prague. The “Collaborate or Perish” track (on Wednesday, April 21st) should be especially interesting. We’ll be casting a critical eye on the Microsoft’s 2010 releases while also discussing non-Microsoft alternatives.
I have a discount code to use while registering (“INSIDER”) that gets you a discounted price of €995. I’m not sure what €995 is worth these days, but it sounds like a good deal to me.
Larry Cannell pointed me to a good posting by Daniel Tunkelang called “You Can’t Hurry Relevance“. Mr. Tunkelang obviously believes in the idea of attention management. I especially like the way he states the holy grail of attention management: a system that understands what is important to the user and dispositions messages accordingly. Well, I’ll let his own words shine here:
As an information consumer, I’d appreciate an interface that explicitly and transparently adapts to my priorities, and that manages interruption of my workflow accordingly
Here’s what I commented back on his entry regarding the statement above:
There will not be one tangible “thing” that manages interruptions based on priorities. But there will be a collection of technologies and capabilities that, taken together, can be used to manage attention. I call this collection of technologies and capabilities that manage attention the Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture. I posted this architectural model on the KnowledgeForward blog in 2006. You can find it here:
Since it is not one, purpose-built, tightly integrated set of pieces, it takes a walk-through to apply it to any particular problem. The problem you mention in this posting is e-mail, and you’ve provided 3 good suggestions on how to take advantage of urgency. I applied the EAM model to e-mail as an example and yielded 15 examples where technology could help, many of which are indeed available in some e-mail systems (although often buried or cludgy). You can see my list and how the EAM architecture helped derive it here:
I really like your thought that urgency should be taken into account in the e-mail process. You have some good ideas for the receiving end of e-mail. I still wouldn’t give up on the sender’s side too. When sending letters and packages, people don’t mind picking between a number of options (ground, express, signature required, etc.) that indicate urgency. If we can do a bit of behavior change (or possible force people via a token system), it’s interesting to think about how much e-mail could be improved. Easier said than done though.
I took a lot of vacation time at the end of the year for a big project – a complete home redecorating including wood floors, painting, furniture, and little stuff too. My wife and I started running into some disagreements about various decisions and had to take a step back to analyze the situation. I realized these issues seemed familiar. Of course – SharePoint governance! I just can’t get away from it.
My definition of SharePoint governance popped into mind and really helped clarify the problems that needed to be addressed. I’ll relate it here in the hopes that it helps to illustrate how to use the SharePoint governance process in light of a much smaller, simpler situation that most of us can identify with. My wife indulged me in this experiment. (Note: she is a very special woman with a strategic IT background and patience for my technology experiments. Do not try this at home!)
My definition goes:
Website governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization.
These were indeed the issues we faced. The ambiguity about who was allowed to make buying and design decisions and how each party needed to be consulted was causing frustration. Balancing the short range and long range was also difficult: Should we quickly acquire cheap stuff that we can replace in a few years or spend more time and money to get higher quality pieces that last? How much do we concentrate on furnishings that work safely for our baby knowing he’ll soon outgrow those needs? And the need to mitigate conflict – keeping the disputes from ever getting to a frothy head in the first place – was obvious.
It was validating to see how the same problems that the governance process addresses were the ones we were having. But how to solve them? Well, this definition is more than just a definition, but also illustrates how to proceed with solving the problems. Back to my SharePoint governance process, I knew I needed to create a statement of governance that we could agree to. It consisted of people, policy and process. I have posted it up here: Home Decorating Statement of Governance.
People: I started by defining a set of roles (designer, user, consultant) that clarified the responsibilities that needed to be assigned for each room. Then, for each room, we agreed on the ownership by assigning the roles. My wife is the designer of the living room, while I’m a user (but a consultant for the stereo setup). I’m the designer of the deck, with my wife as user.
Policy: We had some discussions about our overall goals for the house. Believe it or not, we hadn’t done this – we had just jumped into talking about specific colors and drapes and such. Once our policies were codified, we felt better about leaving someone else to make decisions without approval as long as those decisions adhered to the policy. In other words, the designer had freedom to make decisions, but only within the bounds of the agreed-upon policies. These policies included items such as the Pricing Policy (anything over $200 requires review), Babyproofing Policy (we agree that unless a room is designated as an adult area, it should be babyproofed), and Gender-friendly Policy (nothing too lacy or too football themed).
Process: A few processes were needed based on these policies. There’s one to determine the babyproofing room list, one for how to handle approvals of >$200 items, etc.
How did it work? Well, we’re still in the process of redecorating, but it’s already made both of us feel better about what we can run with and where to stay hands off. Conflict has been reduced. And I think we’ll both feel more ownership of the result. I think this experiment also shows that governance doesn’t have to be a big, bureaucratic sort of thing – this was self-governance between the parties involved. Finally, as with SharePoint governance, the process forced us to talk through a lot of issues that were being left ambiguous and that would have remained as underlying causes of many smaller disputes if left unaddressed. It’s the conversation and agreement that matters, not getting the document out the door.
Jacob Ukelson of Actionbase recently had some good comments on my posting “Information Overload as Evolutionary Maladaptation“:
Clay Shirky’s take on it is that the information overload problem (at least as it pertains to email) is an email filtering problem, not an information overload problem. His video can be seen here:
I hadn’t seen that video before, so I watched it and think it’s very good. In particular, the parts that stuck with me from Clay’s presentation were:
- We’ve lost our filter for quality. It used to be book publishers. Not anymore. So how will we now design the filters (rather than thinking about how to control the flow of content from the source)?
- Solutions are temporary and need to be continually adapted
- He applied a great quote to information overload. It’s from Yitzak Rabin: “If you have the same problem for a long time, maybe it’s not a problem – it’s a fact.”
- When you think about information overload, think instead about what changed – where the filter broke
I think he’s half right with his thesis. Defining information overload as a filter issue captures half the problem according to my Enterprise Attention Management model. It captures the “pushing information back” (attention shielding) part, but not the “pulling information forward” part. Unless he means the filter is applied in both directions, which didn’t come out in this speech.
I just talked to a reporter from eContent about content globalization and localization. After the usual questions about the challenges of localization and how technology can help, she asked an open ended question about whether I see anything on the horizon that would change the need for localization.
eContent is a magazine that is read by the publishing industry, so that got me thinking that the big technology trend in publishing is e-readers: iPads, Kindles, and the like. I hypothesized that the increase in e-readers might increase localization needs.
When calculating which locales a book or magazine is translated into (note: not just languages, but locales like Spain Spanish vs. Mexican Spanish) there are always a few just below the line that weren’t worth the cost of translation. But when distribution costs to countries far from the parent’s home base are eliminated, I’m betting a few of those now float above the line and are profitable to localize into.
The challenge is that this depends on how many people have e-readers in these “below the line” countries as well. Probably not many at the moment. But as they become cheaper and more prevalent that could change.
Please let me know if others out there are interested in a “birds of a feather” teleconference on internal business use of virtual worlds. I’ve had a request from a client (in the financial services space) to host such a session to hear what other companies are doing, thinking of doing, or are prevented from doing in virtual worlds. This wouldn’t be a presentation, but rather a facilitated meeting where we go around the virtual room and ask what each participant’s company is doing with regards to enterprise virtual worlds and then go into more details. One potential topic could be the importance of regulatory issues. I believe we could handle anonymous participation.
Just reply to this thread or email me if interested.
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.
For my day off, I finally got to see a movie: “Up in the Air”. Yes, I know we’re a little behind, but we don’t get out much. Now, I’m not a film critic, but I am a technology critic. And as manager of a team that covers enterprise unified communication technology, I can attest that “Up in the Air” is an anti-web conferencing, pro airline movie. Specifically, it asserts:
1) that frequent travelers may be sacrificing a sense of place for superficial rewards
Despite the deeper message of sacrifice, the movie is decidedly pro travel at the surface level. It was clearly sponsored by American Airlines, Hilton, and Hertz, who all get repeated, prime placement. And, unlike most travel movies, the frustrations and humiliations of travel never show up here. Look to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (or the Seinfeld episode with the rental car counter) for that side. In this movie, George Clooney’s character never has a flight delayed, unidentified stains on his hotel room sheets, or an apathetic rental car counter employee.
2) that technology inappropriately bleeds the humanity out of communications
What mega-corporations don’t get placement in this movie? Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft. Communications technologies take a beating in this movie. Most phone conversations go badly. Crude IM usage is repeatedly spoofed, as with a break up via text message. But the most scorn is heaped on web conferencing. The movie starts with the layoff consulting firm deciding to replace in person notifications with layoffs through web conferences. There are clearly times when web conferencing is appropriate and times when it isn’t. This is a humorously bad choice of when to use it.
Seriously, I thought it was a fantastic movie. I highly recommend it. If you don’t work for the web conferencing divisions of Cisco, IBM, or Microsoft.
I’d like to lay claim to control over the Wall St. Journal’s editorial page, remarkable prescience, or the luck of the Irish. I’ll take any of those 3 I can get. My claim is based on my February 10th blog posting “Information Overload as Evolutionary Maladaptation” and a WSJ editorial just 2 days later by Daniel Akst’s called “The iPad Could Drive Readers to Distraction“. His article pretty much falls for every canard I warned about two days earlier, including the use of the exact same humorous caveman example.
Well, in case anyone thought I was putting words into hypothetical mouths on the 10th, Mr. Akst kindly decided to blatantly state the points I was disputing:
- Roth: “I’ve noticed much that’s written about information overload starts from an assumption that a root cause of the problem is with humankind …”
- Akst: “Distractibility, sad to say, is the human condition …”
- Roth: “… the argument being used [is] that the response of information workers to the proliferation of information is an evolutionary maladaptation …”
- Akst: “Distractibility … probably evolved at a time when … it was a survival adaptation. “
- Roth: ““Ugh, more information always good! May help me kill sabre tooth tiger or mate with woman!”
- Akst: “hey, is that a tiger?!”
My point was that I’d like to see more searching for creative solutions. Arguing that sometimes we can’t help checking email or browsing fun sites when we should be working is like shooting fish in a barrel. Of course that happens. But is that always or only the case? The “steely self-discipline” bandwagon is already full of bright people doing what they can to make a difference. Mr. Akst’s article demonstrates the over-worn path his argument leads down. I wrote that “If this is an example of humans being wired for self-destructive behavior, then it leads to lots of ‘protect you from yourself’ advice.” And sure enough, his article gives a quick survey of software to “bar yourself from the Internet” or programs to “prevent yourself from wasting half your work day surfing celebrity gossip blogs”.
But isn’t there more to this issue? Can’t questioning a few overly used assumptions yield some new avenues of exploration? If one assumes that information overload is within the realm of consciousness and under rational control, different solutions can apply. Take a favorite culprit: e-mail. Assuming e-mail overload is due to evolutionary maladaptation leads to half-jesting self-discipline solutions like Google’s “Take a break” feature. But if you get past that and consider that users can apply rational responses, you can find many tweaks that get beyond pop-psychology and have a chance of making a real difference (see my posting “E-mail Overload: No Cure, but Enterprise Attention Management Can Shed Some Light“).
All it takes is to stop blaming our cavemen ancestors and start blaming ourselves.
I’ve noticed much that’s written about information overload starts from an assumption that a root cause of the problem is with humankind (or a particular sub-species known as “information workers” that lives in fuzzy cubes and whitewashed caves) and its inability to adjust to the rapid increase in content. This type of argument is known as evolutionary psychology. And it has proven to provide overly simplistic answers to behavioral questions. The WSJ article “Evolutionary Psych May Not Help Explain Our Behavior After All” referred to the book “Adapting Minds” and stated that “as Prof. Buller, a professor of philosophy at Northern Illinois University, dug deeper, he concluded that the claims of evo psych are ‘wrong in almost every detail’ because the data underlying them are deeply flawed.”
Information overload also adds the idea of evolutionary maladaptation, even though I haven’t seen that term used explicitly. But that’s clearly the argument being used – that the response of information workers to the proliferation of information is an evolutionary maladaptation, like that of humans being designed to seek and store fat to prepare for times of famine that never come in the developed world. The evolutionary maladaptation assumption silently underlies many of the studies, articles, and books related to information overload, e-mail overload, dangerous multi-tasking, and information stress.
But maybe it’s not true. And that matters because it changes where one looks for solutions.
If you believe information overload is a maladaptation than solutions – fancy and detailed as they may be – really just boil down to resisting destructive urges. Or, as Lee Gomes of the WSJ worded it “I don’t have much to offer in the way of solutions, save to nag everyone about steely self-discipline.” If this is an example of humans being wired for self-destructive behavior, then it leads to lots of “protect you from yourself” advice.
But if, by chance, information overload is within the realm of consciousness and under rational control, different solutions apply. Process change becomes feasible since people can be be told what to do and have as much chance as any other process change of succeeding. No subconscious, caveman instinct (“Ugh, more information always good! May help me kill sabre tooth tiger or mate with woman!”) will get in the way of altering people’s behavior. Providing technology that enables new functionality (not just for putting blinders on you, locking you out, etc.) has a chance of working too.
I don’t have the definitive answer, and I’m not sure there is one. But I do think that the same answers to “the information overload problem” (in quotes since I take a different angle on the issue) keep popping up because the same evolutionary maladaptation assumption is used. Trying a different assumption – one that puts the issue within the realm of higher reason to manage – can yield some different answers that should be explored.