Category Archives: Personal

Increasing Productivity is a Load of Bullshit

Today’s technology sale pitches are littered with the ability to “increase productivity”. Ask any employee if the latest tool they’ve implemented is increasing their productivity and they’ll probably roll their eyes. The answer you will most likely get is “My boss just makes me work more hours”. Working more hours is the modern MBA’s answer to increasing productivity. Let’s squeeze as much output from the human as physically possible, and if that’s not enough, let’s make them work more!

Pardon my french, but this is bullshit. You can ask people to work more than 40 hours but at what cost? And this is not increasing productivity (remember – productivity is about efficiency) it’s simply letting the machine to run longer than normal. You now have a bigger problem – who’s gonna pay for the gas?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that working more than 40 hours a week does more harm than good. So why do organizations continue to be successful by working more than 40 hours? The reality is, we are simply not doing 40 full hours of work in a given week. So, maybe we’re at work for 80 hours, but are we really doing 80 hours of true work?

Instead of increasing productivity, let’s look at the problem from another angle – what can we do to prevent productivity from decreasing. I would argue the following are areas are major areas of decreased productivity: (note, these are just a few examples, I would argue there are even way more)

  • Link Bait – Articles with catchy titles, but no relevance to the purpose of the article, severely detriment our ability
  • Politics – Enough said.
  • User Experience – Is your productivity app on par with the experience with that of Angry Birds or Facebook? In other words, can the person complete their task in a well defined, straight forward and easy way?
  • Internet Connectivity – It’s 2012 and we still have issues with Wireless, 3G, and even wired connection. I wonder how much time is lost simply because you can’t get connected to the internet. When are we (as an individual) going to be “99.9% uptime” connected?
Our attention spans are limited but getting higher in value. As Seth Godin rightfully points out:
Attention is a bit like real estate, in that they’re not making any more of it. Unlike real estate, though, it keeps going up in value.

So what’s the answer to the productivity problem? Your technology needs to value your end-users attention. Create an experience that is far better than anything else out there and you’ll get their attention…and their productivity. They’ll work less, produce more, and everyone will be happier.

Back in the Saddle

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged and I figured I’d write this just to let all my fans (do I have fans?) know that I’m not dead….actually I’ve been training for a Ironman and it’s consuming all of my time. I got a few articles in the chamber ready to go. Hopefully will produce some stuff over the next two weeks.

Human Beings are Awful at Two Things

The two things every human is terrible at: Planning and Explaining.

Planning – Human beings are awful at planning. Seriously awful. I always find it interesting that financial services companies go out and say “We will help you plan your financial future” and then in fine print at the bottom is “Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Results”. I hate to pick on the financial services industry but it’s just an easy example that everyone can relate to. In my field of work (enterprise software implementation and development) planning is everything. Yet, organizations still to this day believe they can accurately plan everything. On top of this, they believe that there is some expert voodoo that only certain companies, and certain people, posses the ability to execute on. I’ve been involved in so many implementation projects over the past 6 years, that it’s extremely rare to see a project that goes on schedule, at cost, and without scope adjustment. (sidenote- this is considered the triad of constraints). This is largely why the agile methodology was created. We are flawed because we can’t predict the future, and no one should be to blame but our human nature.

Explaining – Human beings have the hardest time explain how things work. I, for one, am largely guilty of this. Thus why I tried to spend as much time as I can practicing. Why do you think there is so much confusion about latest economic crisis, or recently about how SOPA/PIPA will affect the internet? It’s because humans have an absolute awful time explain precisely how things work. I find that even those who are gifted enough to articule information correctly often use their means to articulate information that is incentive base (i.e. a congressman who says why we should believe the SOPA/PIPA act will help us all).

Have you ever noticed what financial services or consulting services ads are really saying? After they state “Plan for your future with our services” they’ll go on to say “Talk to one of our specialists, who can explain to you how to get your feet on the ground”. Seriously? You’re going to tell me that every employee that you interface me with is going to have the know how to explain how my future will unfold? I work in one of these fields and it amazes me how wrong this is.

What are some ways around this that I’ve found effective?

1. Setting expectations correctly – I normally tell people the confidence I feel about hitting potential dates and not whether I plan to actually hit them or not. This saves me from the conversation that will happen: “But you told me this solution would be available on this date!”

2. Keep it simple – Explanations work best when they are short and concise. Let your audience asks questions. All of my conversations start by asking what the audience wants to hear and understand first.

The Future of Business is Understanding Cognitive Science

Two years ago when I moved to NYC I was able to find my NYC roommate randomly through a Craigslist roommate search. My only reasoning to give him a chance was because his craigslist posting basically said “Guy from Cincinnati looking for roommate” and nothing more. Personally I found it much more interesting than half of the other typical posts that state “I’m clean, responsible, quiet, etc”. Anyway, he ended up being a great guy to live with. Interestingly, his father is the Chief Creative Officer at Proctor & Gamble. I would consider both he and his father to be what we call “certifiable geniuses”. Many of the things he spoke about in day to day conversation resonated that of his fathers profession. One of the things that his father, and arguable himself, fixate their work and lives around is understanding why people (and particularly businesses) do things. This is commonly known as the field of Cognitive Science and I believe it’s ripe for growth. To understand what Craig Wynett believes there is a short interview on YouTube which I think is worth watching:

I believe the large takeaway is that he states that most people see creativity today as alchemy and not chemistry. In that for some reason we tend to see the quality of creativity as something that is naturally bestowed upon certain individuals. To portray this point he uses the example of the pilot: “Can you imagine the pilot that comes on the loud speaker and says ‘Welcome everyone, I’m Captain Wynett and I’m the most creative pilot we have’. People would be reaching for there bags almost immediately.”

Why do I think this is important to business? First, whether you are in B2C or B2B, at the end of the day, we are all human beings working together in institutions to service other human beings. Second, I believe the success of a business largely relies on understanding on how this interaction works. Interestingly, I think this goes for every department of the firm and is never limited to just what we consider “creative” departments. Craig talks about this and explains how his role at P&G is not only to just serve the marketing department, but also sales and manufacturing. If we extrapolate this, let’s look at some other very large scale examples:

1. Coca-Cola – Coke is actually just a huge marketing department. If you look at their marketing expenditure they spend nearly $2.9 billion a year (more than Microsoft and Apple combined) . In reality Coke doesn’t sell bottles of liquid, it sells happiness, and it’s marketing department is largely responsible for its current success. If you’ve ever seen a Coke ad you’ll notice it rarely talks about the taste of the actual physical product it sells (which is hard to objectify anyway). Rather it shows people being happy. So really, Coke doesn’t sell soda, it sells happiness. The cognitive science behind this is that Coke has properly understood what it’s audience wants: happiness. Do you think if Coke’s advertising only talked about the flavor of it’s soft drink they would be as big as they?

2. Toyota Production System – Largely regarded as the base for the concept of Just In-Time Production, it’s one of the most subsantial business systems created in today’s world. Guess what? It’s not a technical system, its a socio-technical system, which means it’s not just a set of instructions or business processes for manufacturing but a set of standard for how people interact with other. Most of what is considered “lean” or “agile” is a result of the success of the birth of the Toyota Production System. It’s important to understand why this is successful. If you analyze the main points of the TPS you would realize that a majority of the system is in line with Daniel Pink’s theory on motivation: that people seek Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.

I think the larger question here is: Is it possible to create a either a department or company who’s total focus is understanding the behavior of the people that interact with the company? I personally believe it is possible and many of today’s UX teams or companies are doing just that. Businesses today understand that it is all about building good user experiences. There are loads of examples such as Coca-Cola, BMW, Twitter, Apple, Toyota, Starbucks and many more. If we can scientifically understand what good user experiences are, then we will end up winning. I believe this is the future of business.

Why do projects fail? People

People. That’s my answer and I’m not backing down. Your business processes? They suck with bad people. Your agile tools? They suck with bad people. Your super neat collaboration software? It sucks with bad people. Talent drives good projects and fosters innovation.

I’ve thought about breaking down the analysis of what failure really means and statistics about the number of failures (in particular in enterprise technology), but I don’t think it’s worth going into detail. The bottom line is, bad people create bad projects.

So I don’t care if you’ve outsourced your IT to Mexico City, Bangalore, Tokyo, or San Francisco. Or if you have 100 on-site consultants from Super Management Consulting Firm XYZ. If you hire bad people it won’t be successful.

If my assumption is true then one would assume that a company looking to bring consultants on would ask: How are your hiring practices? How effective are your people in communication skills? How often do you take your consultants off projects to meet with a mentor in the office? What’s your training program like?

This will change soon. Mark my words.