The dark side of technology
This morning started badly, I’m adjusting to some new pain killers and they are really knocking me out, making it very hard to wake up and clear my head well enough to meditate, but I struggled through and headed off to the Beach Terrace Cafe to do my morning reading. At this point things started looking up, I consoled myself with a cooked breakfast and a cake and got stuck into some really interesting reading.
When I’m not going into the office my morning routine is fairly well defined. I wake up at about 7:30, meditate for about 30 minutes, do my chores and then walk to a local cafe where I get breakfast and read for about 90 minutes before going for a walk listening to podcasts. I get some lunch and then work in my home office for 3-4 hours.
Anyway back to this morning, I was most interested in a series of three posts by John Hagel broadly on the topic of the ‘dark side of technology’ John explores a topic that has been worrying at me for years, the fact that as time progresses we are becoming more slaves to technology. When I started in IT over 20 years ago I was hugely motivated by the positive impact technology had on people to remove frustration, increase flexibility and productivity and to a large extent I dedicated my life to that goal. Over the last 5 years I’ve noticed technologies effects are increasing pressure of work, reducing the quality of relationships, reducing our ability to concentrate, the list is long. At work I’ve noticed that my job has become ever more focussed on the raw technology and management of IT and much less on delivering a life enhancing experience to my users. With the move to ‘Bring Your Own Technology’ this trend is accelerating, as we in IT let users choose their own tools and processes and we focus on an ever narrowing set of well defined management and enterprise services.
It’s a worry because many of these technologies are very seductive and addictive and the effects are difficult to see and often harder to reverse. At work if there’s one thing I’m sure of, thousands of users picking their own devices, tools and processes does not an effective business make. I’ve studied, designed and implemented personal productivity, personal knowledge management and collaboration services for 20 years and none of these are easy to achieve in an enterprise environment regardless of whether the services are chosen by the enterprise or BYO, they need to be looked at holistically, carefully integrated, easy to use, flexible enough to accommodate different workstyles etc.
Whilst I think high performance teams can pick their own technologies and invent their own processes to great effect, extrapolating this across an enterprise won’t work. Solving this problem is a post for another day, but the three articles inspired me enough to buy John’s recent book ‘The Power of Pull’ to listen to during my next thinkweek and to track his blog more carefully. I ready many more interesting articles of course and you can find them all in my @steveisreading twitter feed.
I’m an avid audible subscriber and have the 24 books a year subscription, I recently used one credit to buy the monthly Harvard Business Review summary and I’m glad I did. I listened to half of it on my walk today and it had a great article on the positive impact of keeping teams together. The benefits of familiarity being quite considerable in teams. Whilst not altogether surprising the fact that this intuitive benefit showed itself in many different types of teams and normally delivered benefits well in excess of 10% affecting many areas including productivity, number of defects etc was impressive. You can ready about it here http://hbr.org/2013/12/the-hidden-benefits-of-keeping-teams-intact/ar/1
I’ve long been a believer that one of the keys to effective collaboration is ‘common ground’ between team members, common ground can take many forms, everyone speaking the same language, being in the same location, knowing each other, all having access to the same information etc etc. The less common ground a team has one some areas, the more the team needs to create it in others to compensate. This idea of common ground is a very easy way to do an audit when establishing a new team and provide a check list of areas to focus on when building the team.
When I got back home it was time to make up my next 3 days of salads, I don’t like vegetables so my strategy is to make them up in advance (which is easy) so that I have to eat them each day (which is hard).
As I only do desk work 4 afternoons a week, alternate weeks, which averages at 2 afternoons a week I have to be pretty choosy with how I spend my time. Today it was reviewing the principles that we are using to guide the optimisation of our support business, that employs thousands of people. The main approach to this optimisation activity is too move beyond analysing the meta-data we have about the service, which is poor quality, and actually observe the people delivering the service, look at the actual data they create and the underlying process, data and technology failures that drive support in the first place. It’s been very enlightening.
I’m feeling very rough at the moment, being in an auto-immune system flare up which is mainly affecting my upper body, so I’ve been eating too much. Eating too much makes me feel guilty which combines with the pain I’m in and the tiredness to make me particularly grumpy — not a good place to be — so I’m lucky to be spending tomorrow in the office in a lot of interesting distracting discussions with people I like.
Tonight’s distraction, starting shortly, will be the last episode of Sherlock, about which I’ve heard good things.