Saturday, December 28, 2013

The connected life

The feeling of connection presents itself at this time of year in the form of holiday greetings from long-time friends.  For example, a former Outward Bound student of mine recently got in touch announcing his retirement from medicine, based in part on his own health challenges.  These voices from the distant past connect us across vast spans of time to unite the people were then with who we've become now.  I don't mind that holiday greetings are shifting from paper to on-line variations.  As they say, 'it's the thought that counts.'  You are thinking of me and I am thinking of you as we move into another year.  Thinking of others connects us to our past.

We connect with our present through the daily practices that put our minds back into our bodies, be it in the garden, on a run or walking the dogs.  Our wilderness work days are long behind us, but running the trails near Bethells Beach and looking forward to skiing in Utah in a few weeks keep that spirit of the mountains alive deep within us.  As we lose dear friends, we redouble our commitment to live 'on the loose' at least some of the time we have left.

This year I thought of buying an iPhone for my mom.  It was a good idea from a safety point of view with the added benefit that she might vicariously learn how to navigate my dad's iPad.  A better idea, however, was to buy her a yoga mat and take her to her first yoga lesson on her 80th birthday.  Not many people in my home town are yoga people, but the seniors at yoga are fantastic.  They instantly offered a connection to my mother beyond her normal family and church life, just as yoga connects spirit to mind and body. But, the best upshot of this story was that Mom is now teaching her great grand-daughters yoga.  Having made the trip half way around the world to be there for the birthday celebration, I was delighted to hear of this new connection between generations.

There were also some profound professional connections this year.  My new title has meant an opportunity to meet with senior executives at telcos and broadband providers.  A chance meeting at Cambridge last year resulted in high-level meetings within the US military that I could never have imagined.  What I also could not have imagined was the warm welcome and friendship afforded me after overnight flights and sharing a basement bedroom in Arlington with a golden retriever named Hudson.

The connected life doesn't begin with an iPhone. It begins with living in communities, inviting and being invited into networks and relationships. It begins by reaching out across generations and time and staying connected to our bodies and the natural environment.

The connected life starts with well-lived moments coupled with reflection on action.  Events--like a promotion, an Outward Bound course, the death of a loved one or cherished pet--do not constitute our experience, they merely provoke and evoke our interpretation of the event.   Our pattern of sense-making over time makes up what might be called perspective, or even 'wisdom.'  I don't know that I am particularly 'wise' as events and memories appear and re-appear in my life, but when they do--and I pay attention to them--I feel I am living a connected life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Five Ds to manage your 'In Box'

Toby Ruckert has been working for many years on a solution to information overload and other problems of ubiquitous connectivity. In a recent post, he outlines why and how new tools might help us deal with the volume of contact we recieve from various media.

He writes on his blog:

For several years it was assumed that multitasking is something that would help us to increase our intelligence. It was heavily promoted around early 2000 along the rise of our computer’s ability to do so, but it’s now clear, that except with the Dual N-Back task (which is a quite specific use case of multitasking), the increase of intelligence promoted by multitasking actually is a myth.
So for the two main ways in which people communicate, unification of both is possible, but given a user can only focus properly on one conversation at a time, unifying synchronous communication is less practical at this time.
That said, then why have asynchronous channels not been properly unified yet?
In fact, the sorting and prioritizing of such incoming messages could easily be done as per the users personal preferences (noted above) and such a system could even learn from the users behaviour eventually, making it a more intelligent inbox that gets better and better over time.
Such a Unified Inbox has the ability to sort all incoming messages and conversations according to the individual users relationships, their current focus/interests and related context, rather than just by date, subject, or sender – independent of the source of where the messages came from.
A layer with “unified inbox management features” on top of all asynchronous communication channels would further enable an information worker to deal with such messages in much the same way, rather than having to learn using different systems with different functions for the individual channels where there are frequent media breaks in conversations and synchronicity around contact data.

So what are we doing to give our users a better inbox management experience?
We’re using the concept of 5 “D’s” to empower our users managing all inboxes centrally and completely from one place, namely:
  1. Do/Deal with it (Reply/Move etc.)
  2. Delegate (Assign/Transfer responsibility, like ticketing & task management)
  3. Delete (and Archive)
  4. Defer (Delay / with or without reminder – until later)
  5. Distribute (i.e. Share a Tweet/Email on FB / vice-versa / Export to other systems etc.)
With them, it’s possible to create structured processes and workflows from previously unstructured (inbox) data, even across communication channels. While every email, tweet or facebook message is a task, because I have to deal with it somehow, it’s still the user’s personal choice of whether to manage tasks within or outside an inbox.
Making this experience (which has become such a big part of our private and working lives) easier, fun and more productive, that’s what Unified Inbox is all about.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Information Overload Day

Today is Information Overload Day.

The Information Overload Research Group has been working on this matter for many years.

This date is marked to remind us to stop mindless information overload.  See more on their web site.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Connectivity Scorecard upgraded

The Connectivity Scorecard has been updated and re-launched with new features and analytics, including:

- New countries included in Innovation and Resource & Efficiency categories
- Times series comparisons of 3-5 years re: how countries performance compares the over years
- Policy/regulation impact analysis

Developed by Janne Rajala of Finland, this is a very nicely designed site.  It was previously sponsored in part by Nokia Siemens and relates connectivity to national performance and productivity.

I have used the site interactively in my MBA classes to start up a conversation about varying levels of connectivity around the world. 

I ask for a students' country of origin and then we look up their home country's connectivity score on the scorecard.

Worth a look!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Staying away in droves

Some commentaries on the digital age suggest that there is a unique economics associated with connectivity, i.e., that the old rules do not apply.

For example, a BBC commentary by Peter Day and colleagues on ubiquitous networks' impact on small, rural businesses emphasized how critical it was to connect far flung operators with customers, suppliers and markets.  Fair enough, but the suggestion was made that 'normal economics do not seem to apply' to the Internet, because no how much supply there is, demand seems to grow and grow to match or exceed supply.

Sounds right, in that we seem to be able to get more Internet speed for less in many cases, i.e., Moore's Law may apply to connectivity.  But, what about micro-economics?  Does demand never curve downward when it comes to connectivity?  Having been 'burnt' by mobile network providers who (still) charge outrageous roaming fees, many of us use only wifi when abroad as data charges dampen our demand for connectivity.

Two other examples suggest that demand for connectivity has marginal limits.

First, consider the Deloitte report ('Upwardly Mobile') that found uptake of mobile services in the UK is far less than the capacity (supply) available there.  The biggest deterrent in the case of organisations is not cost, but rather management's resistance to letting employees out of their sight, a problem certainly not unique to the UK.

Meanwhile, another report from the US suggests that while a large proportion of the population are connected to fast and relatively inexpensive broadband, 20% are opting out, i.e., not connecting.  See 'Most Americans are wired, but millions are not plugged in.'  Again, this phenomenon is not unique to the US as many developed economies are struggling to get the 'last mile' of broadband penetration.

On the one hand, this is another indicator of individual choice, which is important.  But, on the other hand, as more and more modern information and services are available primarily on the Internet, having a large portion of any population disconnected could have a substantial impact on the nation's economic and political development. Ignorance may be bliss, but leaving too many people behind in the Internet age is also problematic.

As for managers' attitudes toward flexible and/or mobile work, are business schools doing enough to educate managers and leaders for a connected age?  What about organisational leadership in an inter-connected, mobile era?  As the Internet has become the nexus of political economy, are we preparing future leaders for this world?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Two tales of digital disruption in the classroom

As we head back into the classroom this semester or quarter, the disruptive changes to the classroom teaching space have never been more dynamic, from a technology perspective.  Consider two recent stories in the New York Times.

In the first story, we learn how a brilliant young student in Mongolia benefits from an M.I.T. MOOC (Mass Open On-line Course) to secure a place in this year's M.I.T. freshman class.  It is an incredible story of the powerful reach of a mega-brand teaching institution into, of all places, Mongolia.  But, this tale is not just about the potential of MOOCs and connectivity to shrink the world. It is really about the vision and responsiveness of M.I.T. to accept highly capable students from around the globe, not just into its on-line courses, but ultimately--for a few--to reap the benefits of campus life at the physical institution.  It is also a story about mentors from top universities and the commitment of local teachers in Mongolia to transform their economic chances through information technologies.  See the story of Battushig Myanganbayar here.

The second story, written by an educator, details the pros and cons of secondary and even some primary schools requiring and, in some cases, providing tablet computers to all students.  This tale gives us a sense of the commercial companies--including Rupert Murdoch's mass media companies--that are developing the technological and development platforms for these initiatives.  We hear radical and reticent reactions to the idea of transforming classroom learning to more individualized instruction, centered primarily on the screen, i.e., the tablet computer.  While the technology providers and teachers both recognize the need for change and improvement in teaching techniques, both acknowledge that the technology itself is not the answer.  It is still about teaching, not the technology.  For more on the tabletization of teaching, see the NY Times story here.

Both stories illustrate what I believe is critical about teaching with technology.  These are drive, desire and design.  What drives the Mongolian teacher to embrace M.I.T.s MOOCs is a deep desire to improve the economic development of the region.  What seems to be driving some school districts' introduction of tablets is strong selling by the technology providers, mixed with a sense of desperation and frustration with America's world ranking in pre-collegiate education.  What is missing from the introduction of such technologies seems to be the development of the teachers' capability to creatively and confidently re-design their teaching techniques to accommodate the technology's affordances.  The point is that good courses require good design and good design in teaching is more than switching eyes back and forth from the teacher to the tablet.

Desire includes the individual learner's attitudes, needs and perceptions.  The Mongolian genius is constantly thinking of new problems to solve--elegantly--for others.  Force-feeding tablets to the full range of high school kids reminds me of the conversation I had a year or so ago with a 16-year old, who spoke derisively about being required to use a 'tablet' at school.  I was surprised to hear so much distain for what I thought would be 'cool' at school, until she made the distinction for me.  She said it would be great if we had iPads, but instead we have to use 'tablets.'  School boards hearing pitches from tablet providers should remember that teens and fashion are not going to be separated soon, or easily.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The lost art of letter writing...

Last evening I had the great pleasure of hearing Drew Bartkiewicz here in the Washington, DC area.  Drew is a co-founder of Lettrs, who are 'building a post office in the cloud.' The basic idea is to re-introduce letter writing as a nearly-lost art form and foundation of personal communication.  The software is elegantly simple, yet compelling in its power to help us reach out and connect with others, be they grandparents who love receiving a physical letter in the mail or someone far way who may have never received a letter in their life.

The fledgling company also has a social mission of helping young people learn the art of crafting a letter and as such offers a counter-point experience to the superficiality of communication media based on 140 characters (of which less than 20% are ever read, much less cherished).

Cool features include being able to send calligraphic letters on Japanese rice paper from your smartphone, and being able to post letters on your fridge, archive old boxes of letters, and so on.  As for the company's business model, my take is that the check may already be in the mail.

For more on the value of personal letters, see my post on Richard Harper's book, Textures.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sometimes less is more

For those of you returning from northern hemisphere summer breaks, you might appreciate this.  (Of course, if you're an American, you probably didn't get or take a break.  And, there is still Labor Day weekend.)

A recent article in the Economist casts a cautionary eye over the usual prescriptions for getting ahead by constant hyper-activity.  The Shumpeter Column suggests that--playing on Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In--sometimes 'leaning in' might be less effective than 'leaning back.'  There are health as well as productivity benefits of mellowing out, several of which are highlighted in the article, including,

'Americans now toil for eight-and-a-half hours a week more than they did in 1979. A survey last year by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep a night. Another survey last year by Good Technology, a provider of secure mobile systems for businesses, found that more than 80% of respondents continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.'

'Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, who has been conducting a huge study of work and creativity, reports that workers are generally more creative on low-pressure days than on high-pressure days when they are confronted with a flurry of unpredictable demands. In 2012 Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, and two colleagues deprived 13 people in the IT business of e-mail for five days and studied them intensively. They found that people without it concentrated on tasks for longer and experienced less stress.'

According to the Economist, 'The most obvious beneficiaries of leaning back would be creative workers—the very people who are supposed to be at the heart of the modern economy. In the early 1990s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, asked 275 creative types if he could interview them for a book he was writing. A third did not bother to reply at all and another third refused to take part. Peter Drucker, a management guru, summed up the mood of the refuseniks: “One of the secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take care of all invitations such as yours.” Creative people’s most important resource is their time—particularly big chunks of uninterrupted time—and their biggest enemies are those who try to nibble away at it with e-mails or meetings. Indeed, creative people may be at their most productive when, to the manager’s untutored eye, they appear to be doing nothing.'

Though not always the creative types, managers at all levels should consider what they are really paid to do.  'Those at the top are best employed thinking about strategy rather than operations—about whether the company is doing the right thing rather than whether it is sticking to its plans. When he was boss of General Electric, Jack Welch used to spend an hour a day in what he called “looking out of the window time”. When he was in charge of Microsoft Bill Gates used to take two “think weeks” a year when he would lock himself in an isolated cottage. Jim Collins, of “Good to Great” fame, advises all bosses to keep a “stop doing list”. Is there a meeting you can cancel? Or a dinner you can avoid?

For a personal account of burnout among entrepreneurs, see Toby Ruckert's open and honest blog post.

For more from the Economist on the sanity of disconnecting, see 'Get a Life!'

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hyper-connected? Don't blame your cell phone.

Feeling overwhelmed by hyper-connectivity?  
Here is some good news: technology can help keep you sane.
In the first study of its kind, Paul Collins of the University of Washington and I undertook a large-scale survey of more than 400 individuals in distributed work settings in 29 countries to explore how "requisite connectivity" contributes to performance and wellbeing, as well as the relationship between communication choice (agency) and hyper-connectivity. Hyper-connectivity, defined as "too much connectivity for the intended purpose or context of the user," is considered detrimental to work performance.
We expected to find that technology compromised individual choice about when and how to connect in the face of social pressure to be constantly available. 
Instead, we discovered the opposite: reliable, high quality tools help workers manage interactions and avoid the pitfalls of hyper-connectivity.
Participants were asked about the degree to which such things as email, video conferences and impromptu meetings affected productivity, how much control individuals felt they had over contact, team expectations about availability, and technological efficacy.
In our paper, we suggest that, "While we cannot resolve the 'free will' debate in the social sciences, we offer support for the notion that better technology supports connective choice, which in turn strongly offsets hyper-connectivity. In short, good tools are part of the solution, not part of the problem of hyper-connectivity." 

Paul D. Collins is giving this paper next week at the 2013 Academy of Management meeting in Orlando, Florida.  Title: 'Hyper-connectivity: How agency, response norms and technology do (and don't) make a difference'

For more on this study see:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Digitally disrupted spaces

I have just returned from Sydney, where I met with my colleagues and industry partners in the Digital Disruption Research Group, which was chaired by Kai Riemer, before attending and presenting at the Community, Work and Family Conference at the University of Sydney. Our conference symposium, chaired by Kristine Dery, also focused on digital disruption, especially as it pertains to 'digitally disrupted spaces,' which my colleagues, Kristine Dery, Pascale Peters and I describe below.

Digital disruption is a term used to describe deep changes to current organisational practices brought about by the digital revolution. “It is a neutral term; a description of what is happening,” according to Deloitte (2012). The digital revolution began with the emergence of the Internet; it was further spurred by the proliferation of mobile technologies and is today taken deep into markets and organisations with the rise of social and cultural changes, such as the wide-spread adoption of social media both outside and inside of organisations. 

Digital disruption affects most organisations in a wide range of industries in a multitude of ways and challenges old paradigms, resulting in new ways of understanding work itself.  Digital innovations open up unprecedented possibilities: changing markets and economies, reinvented relationships between organisations, new ways of understanding relationships with customers and suppliers, and new ways of thinking about our individual ways of doing work. The disruptions caused by these innovations are profound. It is not merely about speeding up communication, it is about fundamental changes to the very nature of consumption, competition and markets. “More profoundly, it is also driving a significant shift in the balance of power between organisations and individuals. The explosion in connectivity and the availability of information is putting today's consumers, employees, citizens, patients and other individuals squarely in the drivers seat” (Deloitte report, p6). 

These paradigm shifts are particularly evident when we consider the disruption caused by mobile connectivity. The growth of smartphones is exponential and continues to maintain momentum with somewhere between 650-730 million devices sold globally in 2012 ( a 40-45% increase on 2011) with further growth expected in 2013 (albeit at a lower growth rate). Currently, more processors are produced for mobile devices than for PCs, marking the end of the PC era. Mobile technology has enabled new ways of working: increased mobility of workers and of work itself, increased flexibility around when and how work is performed, new understandings of what is work and non-work, and new ways to connect through a multiplicity of channels including social media. Engagement with these new technologies has resulted in practices that challenge our understanding of spaces and the traditional boundaries between work and non-work.

Digitally disrupted spaces refers to the way in which technologies, in particular mobile technologies, have redefined our way of understanding the nature of work and the increasingly permeable boundaries between work and non-work activities. For some the disruption represents a nirvana where the workplace is individualised according to professional and personal needs, while for others the redefining of spaces has resulted in work seeping into all corners of life and is met with resentment and burnout. The digital disruption itself, however, is evident in all corporate arenas. Our challenge is to understand more about what this disruption means, how we are redefining work space, and how we can better manage new ways of working to achieve effective outcomes for the organisation and the employees.

Given its technological, organisational and social nature, research in this field requires inter-disciplinary research efforts Our symposium pulled together researchers from Australia, New Zealand, UK and Europe who have been looking at the impacts of mobile connectivity in organisations aver the past 5-10 years. We share a particular interest in the impact of mobile connectivity on new ways of doing work from a range of different perspectives. 

Clare Kelliher’s work on remote workers examined the way in which work space is being redefined as technology increasingly enables work to be taken into spaces traditionally used for recreational or personal use. Her findings suggest that it is individually constructed routines rather than physical office space that establishes “work space” and this has significant implications for the management of remote workers. 

Kristine Dery and I examined the effects of mobile connectivity in high performing work environments, in particular the factors that influence how executives interact with technology to define their work and non-work spaces, challenging the idea that workspace is clearly defined and something from which executives connect and disconnect, but rather we suggest that a process of 'connective flow' is used to create a more individualised understanding of work space, which is more fluidly aligned with non-work space. 

Pascale Peters and her colleagues in The Netherlands challenge our understanding of boundaries, suggesting that the apparent paradox between being flexible and establishing boundaries between work and non-work time and space, is critical to the effective management of more flexible work spaces. In their quantitative study of Dutch workers adopting 'New Ways of Work,' they found that there were significant benefits to those who adopted ‘bounded flexibility strategies’ to manage digitally disrupted spaces. 

Thinking about digital space and 'flow,' I revisited Manuel Castells' commentary and theorizing on the notion of 'spaces as flows' in his classic volumes on the Network Society.  Writing more recently, Castells observes that, 'Space does not reflect society, it expresses it.'  Thus, if we are living in a network society as Castells suggests, then our use of space--for work, play and family--is an expression of that networked society.  If we look at the spaces and places where people are working ('homes on the run as much as offices on the run'), instead of disruption and fragmentation, through the lens of a networked society, we see individual actors connecting, disconnecting and reconnecting within networks (social, professional and community) then we see 'flow.'

Castells sums it up as follows, '...the key reminder is that we move physically while staying put in our electronic connection.  We carry flows and move across places.'   He also wisely adds that, 'moving physically while keeping the network connection to everything we do is a new realm of the human adventure, one about which we know little' (2005, p. 54).


Castells, M. (2005). 'Space of flows, space of places: Materials for a theory of urbanism in the information age.' In Sanyal Bishwapriya (Ed.) Comparative Planning Cultures.  New York: Routledge, pp. 45-66.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Email charter - cleaning up our collective in-box

It's been a quiet week on the Internet.

This morning I heard about an organization that limits its employees to no more than 3 recipients to any email.  This may seem a bit restrictive, but someone has to start email reform.  There are at least two good reasons to start changing our email behaviour.  First, there is too much of it and much of it is used for the wrong reasons. And, second, future generations are not interested in using email as a communication channel.  They only use it when they have to, but when they are in charge, we'll all have to change.

Relatedly, a friend sent me these clever and insightful guidelines for email use that will save us all time and energy.  See the E-mail Charter.  As you will have freed up an extra few minutes not sending emails, you might click through links explain the how and why some individuals and organisations have so much trouble with email.  For example, they explain why it (counter-intuitively) takes more time to read email than write it.  And, how this is a 'tragedy of the commons' problem.  Worth a look.

BTW, I got this linked to a (brief) email, with the tag: 'Why so brief?'  A nice way to spread the word.

Other stories on email clutter:

Messages galore (NY Times)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Out of Africa - innovative work-arounds

Innovation often takes place at the edge.  In this inspiring TED Talk, Juliana Rotich tells how the infrastructural challenges in Africa, including the common lost of electrical power, are being overcome with technology that leads the way on multiple dimensions.

This is a story of entrepreneurship and the spirit of innovation under trying conditions, to say the least. As her team says, if it will work in Africa, it will work anywhere.  Their solution looks like a great idea for any geography.  Basically, they have created a modem (called BRCK, pronounced 'Brick') that works even when the power cuts out and a multi-sim device which switches mobile providers when one drops out and/or to take advantage of the best mobile rates, where cost is often much higher than developed markets.

In Juliana's words:


Requisite connectivity often requires 'work-arounds' as we say in our definition of the term:

"Requisite connectivity is the state of having robust and reliable communication and/or transportation media/modes, with operable alternative work-around options, so that contact may be initiated or maintained at the rate, richness and intensity that we desire for a given task or social outcome" (Kolb, Collins and Lind, 2008, p. 182) (emphasis added).

As often is the case, our desire to stay connected under challenging circumstances may lead the way to great innovations for other or all circumstances.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hero's journey 2.0

As an Outward Bound instructor (I worked at the Colorado School in the 1980s), we often heard from our students that the most powerful part of their 28-day expedition was the 'solo,' the period of time (up to 3 days) spent alone to reflect on their experience in the mountains, their group's dynamics and ultimately on life and its meaning.  In this beautiful, austere setting, with basic shelter and minimal food, students were given the opportunity to live more simply than most have ever done in their lives.

The solo aspect of an Outward Bound voyage, in particular, and the overall experience in general is metaphorically based on the 'hero's journey' archetype in Jungian psychology, wherein the hero (self) must leave the comfort of home, encounter a (metaphorically) dangerous world and return home with a sense of confidence and clarity to serve as servant leader.

Of course, not every trip is a hero's journey, but travel of all sorts can provide perspective, including separation from the familiar, encountering the 'dangerous' or different world with the prospect of new wisdom. But, now we also have the prospect of bringing 'home' with us on our journeys.  And, by doing so, we are less likely to confront our self or the meaning of life.

We bring others with us on our journeys through our social media, video calls. But, by checking in along the way, we can easily fall into translating the challenging and sometimes 'ugly' journey into a series of complaints, thereby missing the chance to draw strength from adversity.  Alternatively, there is the temptation to create a lovely unreal world of smiling, happy photos, wherein the hero is transformed into Narcissus (an entirely different myth).

Now, I am not proposing that you leave the smartphone, tablet or laptop at home.  I would suggest, however, that travel of all types offers us an opportunity to temporarily disconnect and reflect.  It is also an opportunity to connect with fellow travellers, be they pilgrims on the path to an exotic temple or someone serving us coffee or sitting next to us on an airplane.  I find it hard to work on airplanes as I always choose a window seat when flying over land, which gives me a chance to look out the window imagining what life might be like down there on the slice of the planet we are cruising above.  I call the perspective one gets while disconnecting from our day-to-day worries and floating above the Earth 'airplane religion.'  As the digital disconnect associated with air travel disappears, i.e., Internet access is available on more flights and more classes of air fares, the traveler will face the dilemma: to connect or disconnect.

In reality, most of us will do a bit of each. We will keep in touch with those back home and we will also take advantage of some separation, for adventure and reflection. The modern hero's journey is still about confronting ourselves as one of the dragons we must slay.  Some of this must still be done alone, and part of the journey--as always--is a matter of connecting with others we meet along the way, when we look up from our screens.

Happy trails!

See my post on 'loneliness vs. isolation.'

My colleagues Toby Ruckert and Nathan Zeldes have written insightful reflections on disconnecting while travelling.

Toby's post on 'un-location'.

For more on the hero's journey, see Bill Moyer's interviews with Joseph Campbell, The Hero's Journey.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Social media in China

A graduate class was recently impressed by a student's demo of Weibo, the Chinese social media app.  It did amazing things, and did them very well.

China has more Internet users than any country in the world (over 500 million, compared to 245 million in the USA), although in percentage terms, the US leads China in ratio of users to population (74% vs. 38%).  And, like most places, in China in 2012 Internet searches on handheld devices surpassed PC searches, according to Mary Meeker's Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers 2013 report on Internet use.

While this may or may not surprise you, it is important to note that in China, as in many developing markets, the use of social media is far higher than in developed nations.  A recent McKinsey report on social media in China suggests that 91% of Chinese participants in Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities report visiting a social media site the past 6 months, compared with 67% in the US and only 70% in super-connected South Korea!  And, the Chinese are twice as likely as US participants to reveal 'most everything' or 'nearly everything' on-line, according to the KPCB report mentioned above.

From a business point of view, McKinsey and Co say this is particularly important because social influence and impressions strongly guide consumer behaviour in China.  For more on the future of economic development in China, see another McKinsey special series here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

F.Y.A. For Your Attention

Information is cheap.  Attention is priceless.

Information is global. Knowledge is local.

And, mindfulness makes a difference anywhere.

"The great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world."

The quote above appears in Arianna Huffington's excellent post on the Wisdom 2.0 summit.  The quote is from the web site of Soren Gordhamer, conference founder and author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected.  

In addition to Huffington herself, the 2013 guest speaker list is impressive (see list on Huffington's post). Her point is a good one, namely that it is techno-phobes, but rather the very techno-aware that are calling for us as human beings to stay connected to our inner selves and to connect with each other in meaningful ways, i.e., to give each other attention, not merely information.

Joining the likes of Nicholas Carr (The Shallows: How the Internet is changing the way we think, read and remember), Daniel Goleman (the EQ guy) writes in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, a new book he'll publish this fall: "Overloading attention shrinks mental control. Life immersed in digital distractions creates a near constant cognitive overload. And that overload wears out self-control." (see my Reading List).

We know that too much information reduces our ability to pay attention to what really matters to us personally.  But, giving our attention to others is also extremely important to their motivation, as illustrated in this 20-minute TEDx Talk by Dan Ariely, 'What makes us feel good about work.'

Other posts on distractions at work.
'There's something wrong with the way we work'
'Hamlet's BlackBerry'

Friday, May 31, 2013

First Professor of Connectivity

Google was lost for words.

No results found for "Professor of Connectivity" on 31 May 2013.  Zero.

Today, 1 June 2013, I am taking up my new position of "Professor of Connectivity" in the Graduate School of Management at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

I am grateful for this honour and excited by the notion of being the first person with this title (as far as we know) in  the world.  It is wonderful to be associated with an issue of such relevance for our time.

‘Connectivity’ captures the essence of what it means to be connected on multiple dimensions—from physical space and face-to-face interaction to wired and wireless communication environments.  In short, connectivity incorporates all the ways that we technically, socially and economically engage with others. Historically, this has involved physical travel and trade, but increasingly we ‘travel’ and trade via information and communication technologies, which are rapidly evolving and greatly affecting every layer and level of business and society.
‘The great driver of scientific innovation and technological innovation has been the historic increase in connectivity.’ In short, ‘chance favours the connected mind.’

Steven Johnson, author of Where good ideas come from: The natural history of innovation

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Internet of everything

The Internet has become so 'social' that we tend to think of it solely as a communication tool -- for humans.

But, the Internet began and remains also a network of connected devices.  In fact, there are more devices on the Internet than there are humans on the planet.  Indeed, this is MIT's Technology Review's 'Year of the Internet of Things.'

Meanwhile, Cisco's chief technology and strategy officer, Padmasree Warrior, in a recent interview with McKinsey and Co, suggests there are two types of (technical) connectivity. One is the high-bandwidth, e.g., video and media-based connections and the other are the low-bandwidth data gathering, monitoring and analytic services.  In her words,

"We believe that today only 1 percent of what can be connected in the world is actually connected. As an industry, it took us about 20 years to connect 1 percent of the world. And in the next ten years, we believe that number will go up dramatically. We’ll make significant progress in connecting the 99 percent that’s still unconnected. That will be people, that will be devices, and that will be a lot more information on the network.

So when we say “the Internet of Everything,” we mean an intelligent way to connect processes with data and things. Not just the Internet of Things, not just connecting the devices onto the network, but how can you use the information that’s being collected to drive better processes, better decision making for businesses, and better lifestyles for users and consumers? And we mean more efficient ways to analyze that data through analytics from the network—which is our expertise—to make every single vertical (manufacturing, retail, transportation) significantly different than what it is today.
So if I drill deeper into this, one of the things that I think we find to be inevitable is that there will be a lot more connectivity, and there will be two kinds of connectivity. One kind of connectivity will deliver very rich media experiences to us, through video. Video will be much more prevalent than it is today.
There will be another set of data or implications, which is all of these sensors that will connect— not necessarily high bandwidth data, but low bandwidth data, continuous streaming of low bit-rate data. And the patterns in these two kinds of data and applications are going to be very different."
Elsewhere, in a bizarre experiment, one human, T. D. Moore, decided to contact ('ping') every device on the Internet... from a room in his home.  See the article in MIT's Technology Review.

And, for more on mass pervasiveness of inter-connected systems, there is a new book from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.  See here.

Update: November 2014

The dark side of the Internet of things: For a view on how corporations own 'things' indirectly due to ubiquitous and continuous connectivity, click here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Life beyond email?

Most of think of email as a given, taken-for-granted way of communicating; the default medium for business communication, the lifeblood of bureaucracy.  What you might not know is that there is a small, but keen movement (or at least experiments with moving) away from email. 
The Information Overload Research Group  (IORG) recently held an excellent webinar where three thought  leaders in the "Zero Email" quest shared their vision and experience, you can now view it online.  I attended the webinar and highly recommend it, if you are interested in considering a future without email.

The link is:   

In this recording, IORG Director Prof. Marty Bariff moderates a panel comprising:

Robert Shaw, Global Director of the Zero Email program at Atos, a 77,000-person multinational IT services and consulting firm. This program has a goal of completely replacing email as an internal tool by the end of this year. See here.

Luis Suarez, Community Builder and Social Software Evangelist at IBM. Luis renounced the use of email in his work five years ago, and is evangelizing this approach across IBM. See here

Prof. Paul Jones of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prof. Jones has completely dropped email in favor of social media two years ago. See here.

A trillion and growing - mobile devices are just getting going

MIT's Technology Review has published a series of articles on the rapid and extensive growth of mobile devices.  See this link for the article, which has links to other interesting facts, like where the money is in mobile technologies.

Recall that the cellphone has just turned 40 years old and that not long ago, everyone thought of computing as PCs - personal computers.  Again, my favourite quote from Manuel Castells applies:

"The key feature in the practice of mobile communication is connectivity rather than mobility. This is because, increasingly, mobile communication takes place from stable locations, such as the home, work, or school.  But it is also used from everywhere else, and accessibility operates at any time.  So, while in the early stages of wireless communication it was a substitute for the fixed-line phone when people were on the move, mobile communication now represents the individualized, distributed capacity to access the local/global communication network from any place at any time.  This is how it is perceived by users, and this is how it is used.  With the diffusion of wireless access to the Internet, and to computer networks and information systems everywhere, mobile communication is better defined by its capacity for ubiquitous and permanent connectivity rather than its potential mobility (Castells, Fernandez-Ardevol, Qiu and Sey, Mobile communication and society: A global perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007, p. 248) (emphasis added)."

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Tyranny of the Instant

I never thought the Zen (New Age) mantra 'be here now' could have a down-side.  But, a preoccupation with the 'here and now' to the exclusion of historic perspective and sensible moderation can be dumb, if not downright dangerous.

Consider the hoax Tweet last week that President Obama had been injured in an explosion at the White House, which sent the stock markets tumbling. See NY Times story, 'Twitter Speaks, Markets Listen, Fears Rise.' Of course, in that case, the culprits were micro-trading high-frequency algorithms not human agents.  And, when humans checked the hoax out, the markets regained their losses.

One of the fundamental problems with Twitter is its one-dimensional concentration on the present tense to the exclusion of all other time and place perspectives.  Tom Chatfield discusses this in his book, How to Live in the Digital Age, where he observes: 'In an age of constant live connections, the central question of self-examination is drifting from 'Who are you?' towards 'What are you doing?'  Much as we hunger for connection, if we are to thrive, we need some sense of ourselves separate from this constant capacity to broadcast.  We need tenses other than the present--other qualities of time--in our lives.'

Chatfield recalls watching Jaron Lanier at South by Southwest in 2010, where he (Lanier) told his audience, 'The most important reason to stop multitasking so much isn't to make me feel respected, but to make you exist.  If you listen first, and write later, then whatever you write will have had time to filter through your brain, and you'll be in what you say.  This is what makes you exist...'

So we are back to being here now, not broadcasting here now.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Digital Disruption

Businesses are using the term, 'digital disruption.'  What does this mean?

The Digital Disruption Research Group (DDRG) at the University of Sydney is a joint initiative between the Business Information Systems and Work and Organization Studies disciplines, led by Kristine Dery and Kai Riemer.  Here is what my colleagues mean by digital disruption, from Kai Riemer's blog, bbr (backed by research).

What is disruptive about digital change?

"Our observation is that disruptive change is change that disrupts our understanding of the world.
Digital disruption changes the basis on which we make sense of, give meaning to and understand our business and work-life practices.

An example might illustrate this. The emergence of devices such as the iPad has changed fundamentally not only how we consume data and documents, how we communicate, how we learn and how we perform various business practices but also more fundamentally our understanding of what a computer or phone is, what counts as a workplace, or what an appropriate business meeting looks like. In consequence it has also brought about new professional identities such as that of the modern tech-savvy road warrior manager.

The nature and magnitude of these changes was hardly predictable when the iPad was released (it is worth googling and reading the commentary at the time). Rather, they are the result of continuous social sense-making and adaption processes.
We argue that digital disruption does not simply change markets, or present innovative business ideas (although that is one result).

Digital disruption is not merely the digitisation of an existing business model or the replacement with a digital alternative, such as putting University lecture content online or selling products through online shops. This is a far too limited understanding." (See more on: Kai Riemer's, 7 March 2013, bbr blog)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The future of work

This week I was interviewed about how to prepare graduate students to be 'business ready' when we know that the nature of 'business' is rapidly changing.  Indeed, the nature of work is changing.

Lynda Gratton of the London Business School has thought about this subject alot.  Her book, Shift and her  blog, The Future of Work, are focused on changes in the world of work -- what, how and why it will look different in the future.

Professor Gratton's TEDx Talk gives hints on how to prepare for jobs in the future.  She suggests:

1. Hyper-specialization: When the world is full of generic, superficial information, you can't compete with Wikipedia or Google, so focus, focus, focus on specific skills and knowledge.  I would add that 'context' is also important, so the killer app as it were are dynamic hyper-specialisation, those whose expertise can be communicated and applied to new problems and/or with new collaborators in new situations.

2. Collaborative skills: Coincidentally, this is one of things we are doing with our new graduate programme.  Your hyper-specialized knowledge and skills can only be maximised if you work and play well with others.

3. Creativity: In the future, work will still be the thing that gives us meaning in our lives.  And, work is most meaningful when we exercise creativity and play with the infinite possibilities available in a word which is far more interconnected than at any time in history.

And, now for something (that seems) totally different:
Reminding us in an amusing manner, why good is the enemy of great, in his TEDx Talk, Larry Smith tells us 'Why you will fail to have a great career'

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Related blogs and websites
I am using to share my academic papers.  Click here to go to my page.

Connectivity Scorecard
Orginally sponsored by Nokia Siemens, this is a great interactive resource that shows a 'connectivity score' for over 50 countries.  See how your country rates.  I sometimes use this as a conversation starter in my classes.

Information Overload Research Group (IORG)
This not-for-profit research network was founded in 1992 by Nathan Zeldes and contains loads of resources, including scholarly articles, around the predecessor condition and one of the main outcomes of hyper-connectivity.  Deeply useful and well-organised.  This group meets once a year to discuss issues associated with information overload.

Dynamics of Virtual Work: A European Collaborative Research Network
European network of researchers interested in studying virtual and other new forms of work and organization in an Internet age.  Includes conferences and workshops, as well as other research funding and resources.  Supported by Collaboration in Science and Technology (COST).

Nathan Zeldes
Founder of the Information Overload Research Group, thought leader and speaker, Nathan's website and blogs provide valuable insights into the issues facing individuals, teams and organizations in a digital age.

Backed By Research (BBR) - Kai Riemer's blog
Kai Riemer at the University of Sydney posts insightful observations, commentary and the occasional polite rant on the socio-technical world around us.  Well worth a read and/or following Kai as a thought leader.

The Future of Work
Lynda Gratton's blog considers a range of issues and opportunities associated with the evolving nature of work.  Well-crafted and thought-provoking, Professor's Gratton's insights hold general optimism coupled with critical reflection on multiple human dimensions of work and life in a digital age.

Learning On-line
If you're interested in on-line learning programs and resources, see the Online MBA site.  In a hurry?  The Minute MBA can give you a creative kick-start into a general or current business topic.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The cellphone turns 40

3 April 1973 -- Martin Cooper of Motorola makes the first call on a cellphone.  You can see his witty reflections on that fatal first mobile call (to his counterpart at ATT, who actually pioneered the concept of mobile telephony), the cellphone's impact on society and his vision of the future  in this CNN interview.

Cooper is right in saying that our lives have changed since the introduction of this device, but as Manuel Castells and colleagues suggest, it is not 'mobility' that makes the cell or mobile phone so powerful a tool, as they put it:

"The key feature in the practice of mobile communication is connectivity rather than mobility. This is because, increasingly, mobile communication takes place from stable locations, such as the home, work, or school.  But it is also used from everywhere else, and accessibility operates at any time.  So, while in the early stages of wireless communication it was a substitute for the fixed-line phone when people were on the move, mobile communication now represents the individualized, distributed capacity to access the local/global communication network from any place at any time.  This is how it is perceived by users, and this is how it is used.  With the diffusion of wireless access to the Internet, and to computer networks and information systems everywhere, mobile communication is better defined by its capacity for ubiquitous and permanent connectivity rather than its potential mobility (Castells, Fernandez-Ardevol, Qiu and Sey, Mobile communication and society: A global perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007, p. 248) (emphasis added)." 

Back to Martin Cooper, his vision of the future has cellular/wireless devices continuing to evolve to be even more hands-free and embedded.  And, interestingly, in a sign of the times, the remote interview with Cooper in 2013 was conducted via Skype.

Update: May 2013
M.I.T.'s Technology Review suggests that the move to mobile business models is just beginning.  See article, 'Mobile Computing is Just Getting Started.'

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Telecommuting, Yahoo!-style

It is fair and easy to suggest that the whole Marissa Mayer incident at Yahoo! regarding telecommuting has touched a nerve about when, where and how we work.  Yahoo! has turned our attention to Telecommuting!

On the one hand, cool campuses have become du rigour for knowledge work.  For example, the New York Times recently ran a piece on Google's cool New York digs, which is an extension of Google's now famous reputation for being a great, physically attractive place to work.  The article reports that, "Craig Nevill-Manning, a New Zealand native and Google’s engineering director in Manhattan, was the impetus behind the company’s decision to hire a cadre of engineers in New York, and he led an exodus to Chelsea from what was a small outpost near Times Square. “I lobbied for this building,” he told me. “I love the neighborhood. You can live across the street. There are bars and restaurants.”  

Beginning with HP and Apple, and emulated by just about everyone, tech campuses are now legendary for their attractiveness and presumably their productivity as places to work.  Indeed, the benefits of Google culture is what Marissa Mayer no doubt wanted for Yahoo!

On the other hand, there are sensible alternatives to fighting traffic, contributing to global warming and generally giving up hours every day in non-productive commuting. For a summary of the benefits of teleworking, see the Minute MBA video on 'Why telecommuting is good for you and business,' developed by Amy Clark and colleagues at  Here is their informed take on the situation.

"Here are a handful of the benefits Yahoo will be missing out on by disallowing telecommuting:

1) Increased Productivity: One Stanford study shows call center employees increased their productivity 13% when allowed to work from home. A study from University of Texas Austin shows telecommuters work 5-7 hours more than their in-office counterparts. While it’s easy to think there are too many distractions for employees working from home, the truth is quite the contrary.

2) Reduced Turnover: The cost of turnover is relative to each company – but always considerable. By allowing telecommuting, employees will be happier and therefore less likely to quit. Studies show 73% of telecommuters reporting being happy with their employer compared to just 64% of commuters. Allowing employees to telecommute isn’t just about working in pajamas – it shows employees that their manager’s trust them, boosting esteem and motivation.

3) Improved Morale, Reduce Stress: Americans hate driving to work, and telecommuting reduces employees need to spend money on expensive clothes, fuel, and more. Plus, there is less stress in preparing for a day of work from home. A study from Pennsylvania State University shows telecommuters are regularly less stressed and happier than people working in office.

4) Saving the World: Alright, saving the world is a tall order, but the Consumer Electronics Association did a study that showed telecommuting saves enough energy to power 1 million homes in the United States for an entire year, making telecommuting just another way businesses can reduce their carbon footprint."  Source: Amy Clark,

Teleworking has been a technical option for decades, but the social and managerial resistance to it is still palpable. And that is where Yahoo!'s decision to herd their cats into a single corral has met with a mixture of disbelief and considerable conversation, not least of all because the flexibility offered by telecommuting can be extremely important to working women. How could Marissa have done such a thing?  Harvard's Lakshmi Ramarajan has commented on Mayer's decision and articulates some ways the situation may have been avoided.  See her comments on the HBS blog.

What we need is more research on 'work' as opposed to organizations and management, wherein we understand the shifts in where, when and how work gets done in a digital age.  My other post about telecommuting.

Nathan Zeldes provides an excellent commentary on the Marissa Mayer Yahoo! situation, including his comparison on why telecommuting works at Intel and key questions to determine if and how to implement teleworking.

For more on why the issue of when and how to work seems to be cropping so much lately, see the recent Harvard blog on who should be responsible for time management.

Thanks for reading this.  Now, get back to work.  :-)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Minds for Sale

Hi all,

Yesterday my fantastic Executive MBA class and I were discussing crowdsourcing.  I had seen Paulo Goes earlier in the week talking about this phenomenon, i.e., collective 'intelligence' and super-cheap distributed work.

I have since discovered an entertaining, yet critical, talk that covers crowdsourcing, including optimistic and pessimistic or less optimistic scenarios about the buying and selling human work via ubiquitous computing networks.

"Minds for Sale" is well worth a look.  (Note, it runs over 50 minutes, so you might want to watch when you're at work, or supposed to be working.)  Jonathan Zittrain is from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society and author of The Future of the Internet and How We Can Stop it (Yale University Press).

Zittrain describes Amazon's Mechanical Turks and other less famous crowdsourcing sites and experiments, including paid product and service reviews for hire. See my post on the cult of rating, ranking and reviewing.


Friday, March 8, 2013

The Autonomy Paradox

Melissa Mazmanian, Wanda Orlikowski and JoAnne Yates have recently published a great paper on the use of smartphones by professionals.  Entitled 'The autonomy paradox: The implications of mobile email devices for knowledge professionals,' they find that contrary to the literature on autonomy at work, where loss of control is almost universally seen as a negative thing, work-extending technologies, like smartphones, paradoxically both provide flexibility and control over work (especially communication 'flow') and constricts one's ability to get away from work.

Mazmanian and colleagues find that, 'rather than feeling frustrated or trapped, they (knowledge professionals) report that using the mobile device offers them flexibility and capacity to perform their work, and it increases their sense of competence and being in control' (p. 2).  They go on to suggest,

'Our research offers insights into how the use of mobile technologies amplifies practices and capacities of communication, reinforcing professional norms on the one hand and shifting them on the other hand, to engender a new dynamic of continuous--and compulsive--connectivity' (p. 2).

'We identify how professionals rationalise their diminishing autonomy, framing this outcome not as an encroachment but as indispensable to helping them achieve flexibility and accountability in their work' (p. 2).

This is a very well-crafted and readable scholarly article, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the study of ubiquitous and work-extending technologies. It is based on a qualitative field study and as such has lots of great quotes about smartphone use by knowledge professionals.