Weekend Video 18.11

Samsung pokes fun at Apple in the above, and it caused some laughing in our household. Make sure you notice the haircut at 0:52.

As a long-time iPhone user I have never stood in line on release date, have skipped generations of the phone, and yet have found it to fit well in the ecosystem of devices I use daily. Apple keeps updating the hardware on schedule, and the software frequently too; I appreciate the backwards compatibility to older devices. While the video calls out some good points of comparison in a humorous way, switching sides isn’t just about the phone, unless that’s all you use.

I won’t be buying a Note 8 (and “growing up” to use Samsung’s phrase), but full marks to Samsung for the ad.

Weekend Reading 18.11

There are lots of other people doing interesting work around the world. Here’s a selection of the interesting ideas I have come across this week. Find yourself a coffee or tea, pull out your digital reading device of choice, and go exploring.

  • 3 Collaboration Skills You Need for Today and Tomorrow (David Coleman) … “While collaboration has always been a needed skill in the workplace, increasingly distributed workforces, knowledge silos and new developments in technology have put renewed pressure on learning the art and science of collaborative work. Because today people aren’t only collaborating with people, they have the added challenge of collaborating with machines.” More

  • Two Google alums just raised $60M to rethink documents (Matthew Lynley) … “Two MIT graduates, coming in from Microsoft and Google, have built up a team that for the past three years has quietly been trying to rethink how we approach documents …. We like to describe it as a new document that blends flexibility of documents, the power of spreadsheets, and the utility of applications into a single new canvas.” More

  • Work and the Loneliness Epidemic (Vivek Murthy) … “There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher.” More

  • Alec Ross on the Book that Changed His Life (Alec Ross) … Interview with Alec Ross, a candidate for Governor of Maryland. Alec talks about creating and harnessing energy, finding productive time, books, and technology. More

Ever Present Absent

They say to be careful what you wish for. Back around 2000 I wrote a report for Ferris Research on the emergence and growing adoption of wireless handheld devices, and how they allowed people to recapture moments of lost productivity throughout the day. Back then the majority of phones had 12 keys and a postage stamp sized screen, and people had to triple-tap to text. And you could call people; that was a thing. There was an advantage to being different, to having a device with a full keyboard and bigger screen that enabled interaction with better systems, which at that time was primarily email. We have come so far in 17 years, and yet we have lost so much along the way.

– The freedom to roam unhindered and untethered, to explore the world without having to check in, check up, hashtag, and share.

– The freedom to think. Privately. For extended periods of time.

– The time and space to explore a topic quietly without posting about the fact we are exploring it, which makes it a noisy and ineffective exploration, because the performance demands undermine the learning needs.

– The ability to meet up with others, without relying on micro-scheduling. “Where are you?” “I’m outside the café.” (Looking up) “Oh, yes, I see you.” The ability to give micro-updates on movements and time of arrival has devoured our patience; a 5-minute delay in someone arriving without notification is now cause for catastrophic concern.

Everywhere I look now I see people using “wireless handheld devices” (what an old-fashioned term) to engage with the Ever-Present Absent. With someone who isn’t really “there,” apart from their glowing representation through the pixels on a smart device. The light and life that could be shared with others physically nearby is sucked into the vortex of the device – and shared in pixellated form with other people physically far removed but virtually all-demanding. A tap, a like, a share, a poke, a comment. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A grandmother commented to me about a recent breakfast with two grandsons. “The three of us had breakfast together this morning. I was on my iPad. And both of them were on their phones.” This is the Ever-Absent Present engaged with the Ever-Present Absent.

Our devices are better, but we have lost so much along the way.

We are forgetting how to be present with others, a state of being that’s much more than just existing in the same physical place. The ability to have a conversation without picking up devices, and without relying on carefully crafted sentences that give us time to portray ourselves in “the right way.” We are increasingly unwilling to expose the messy reality of our humanness, preferring to edit out anything that’s less than picture perfect. Sherry Turkle has explored this in her recent book on Reclaiming Conversation.

We are losing the ability to do the hard work of learning, growing, and developing mastery in a topic, prioritising endless pointless chatter over knuckling down and doing the work. Our brains are fried from the never-ending interactional demands; we have trained ourselves to rest momentarily on a topic and drink its easy sugar, and then move quickly before the going gets too hard. Cal Newport explores the costs and consequences in his book Deep Work.

We are paying the price in worsening mental health and decreased wellbeing. A study published earlier this year concluded that:

… while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

And we are doing this to ourselves! And it’s not just Facebook.

While the emergence of wireless handheld devices was a pressing issue back in 2000, today’s pressing issues are about learning to get on with other people, recovering focus, rebuilding attention, and carving out spaces of disconnection for creativity and contribution beyond the microsecond.

Let’s start today. Do less with the Ever-Present Absent. Stop being the Ever-Absent Present. Put. Your. Phone. Away. Be present with the people in front of you in the real-world, not the fantasy world we have inhabited for too long.

The Visualness of Microsoft Planner with the Rigour of Microsoft Project

The use of Kanban-style interfaces for individual and team task tracking has become more prominent over the past half decade, with Trello (which was acquired by Atlassian earlier this year) being one of the better options available. Microsoft, while late to the game, has integrated Planner into Office 365. Planner offers many of the basic capabilities required for effective use, although there are several basic and many advanced capabilities still missing in action after a couple of years in market.

One of the ideas floating around is linking the rigour of Microsoft Project with the visualness and user-friendliness of Microsoft Planner. This would allow a project manager to use Microsoft Project to develop the work breakdown structure, do resource allocations, do time sequencing, put in the dependencies, and track completion status on tasks, among others. The project team, on the other hand, could use Microsoft Planner as the vehicle for planning their work, doing task allocations within the team, associating documents and other content to tasks, using checklists to ensure the right task activities are completed, and more. It’s a compelling idea, especially for those organisations using project methodologies to drive operational excellence and execution: both tools playing to their respective strengths enabling all project participants to do great work together.

Until recently, Microsoft offered no integration between Project and Planner, despite owning both assets. Two months ago, however, it introduced an integration between the Project Online Desktop Client and Planner, which enables a task in Microsoft Project to be linked to a plan in Microsoft Planner. “Linked” is a slippery word, though, as in reality the only thing this “integration” allows is the ability to click the Planner icon against a task to open a plan in Planner. That’s it. There’s no functional integration between the two tools, such as:

– Planner does not become the visual interface to the tasks in a current project.
– Tasks in project are not automatically created in a plan in Planner.
– Changes to completion status on tasks in Planner do not flow back to Microsoft Project.

So it terms of linking the two tools productively, don’t look at what Microsoft offers. That may change in the future, but today the integration is non-functional. If you want a functional integration, there are three third-party vendors that you should explore.

SOLVIN Planner Bridge
Solvin, a Germany company, offers the SOLVIN Planner Bridge. The bridge is an add-in for the Microsoft Project Desktop Client that allows a task in Project to be linked to a bucket in Planner. Project can instantiate a new plan if one doesn’t exist, and task completion status in Planner can be synchronised back to Project (this requires the user of Project to click a button).

FluentPro Integration Hub
FluentPro Software Corporation, an American company on the West Coast, offers the FluentPro Integration Hub for linking Microsoft Project Online in Office 365 with Planner in Office 365. This offer is cloud-side (rather than a client-side plug-in), allowing details between the two services to flow automatically and seamlessly. For example, task completion status will flow between Planner and Project. Customers can create rules for mapping fields between Project and Planner, rules for data transformation, and rules for how sync is carried out.

Timlin ProjectSphere
Timlin Enterprises, also an American company but on the East Coast, offers a different approach through Timlin ProjectSphere. It adds a visual Planner-like interface to projects in Project Online, but doesn’t actually use Microsoft Planner. Timlin has created its own visual task management offering that provides the visual representation of a project in Project Online. This allows “task boards and task cards [to be] directly generated from the project manager’s plan/Project Server Online.”

Three vendors, three different approaches, same basic idea. PMOs and project teams should explore whichever avenue makes most sense in their environment. If linking Project Online and Planner is the key requirement, I’d give FluentPro the lead position at this point.

Microsoft’s Intelligent Communications Strategy

One of the more challenging aspects for organisation’s embracing Office 365 is the overlapping functionality between different tools, leading to “analysis paralysis” (to use Mary Jo Foley’s term). This was actually the reason I wrote my book on Office 365 last year; as I say in the introduction:

I wrote this book because I needed a more structured way of explaining Office 365, my early-to-Office 365 clients were struggling with the strategic trade-offs among the tools, and a much broader set of organisations are going to face these same strategic issues as they embrace Office 365.

Ignite 2017 in Orlando provided several good signals that Microsoft has heard this feedback, and is taking some steps towards a rationalisation of product capabilities. One such signal, for example, is Microsoft’s new vision for intelligent communications, which will see the removal of Skype for Business Online over time and Microsoft Teams becoming the new unified / integrated / intelligent client for teamwork, one-to-one chat, online meetings, inbound and outbound calling, and more. Everything that Skype for Business Online used to offer will eventually be integrated into Microsoft Teams, and it will be based on the Skype infrastructure rather than Office Communications Server and Lync in the cloud. For customers that don’t want to move to Teams yet, Skype for Business Online will stay around, and Microsoft will release a new version of the Skype for Business Server for on-premises customers (as there is no on-premises Teams offering available).

While consultants, business partners, analysts and even authors can outline a way to think about the tools in Office 365 and advise clients on how to choose between them, there is nothing as powerful as Microsoft revealing a bit more of its hand. A consultant saying “use Teams instead of Skype for Business” carries far less weight than Microsoft saying “we’re making Teams the strategic place; see if you can move away from Skype for Business.” Sharing more of the thinking and backstory helps everyone. Clearly Microsoft needs to stay on message now and carry out its intent over the coming years.

I like what I see in terms of the capabilities Microsoft intends to add to Microsoft Teams, such as:

– During the meeting, the conversation can be captured, transcribed, and time-coded, with closed captioning and voice recognition for attributing remarks to specific individuals.

– After the meeting, the cloud recording and transcript can be automatically added to the relevant channel, so conversations, documents, notes, and action items can be reviewed, indexed, and searched by the entire team.

Microsoft took the fairly bold move, in my opinion, of using real-time transcription capabilities during Ignite 2017 presentations, so the words spoken by the presenters were shown using closed captioning within seconds of being stated. That is very cool, and very helpful for multi-cultural, cross-language teams, or anyone suffering through a poor audio connection. And if Microsoft can make it work at scale during real-time presentations, that sends a pretty clear signal that it has the capability to do it for meetings in Teams too.

From Intranets to DEX in 2018

The team at Step Two have re-branded their annual Intranets conference to the Digital Employee Experience conference, or DEX. I have attended Intranets three times. DEX 2018 will be held in Sydney on June 6-8, 2018.

Digital employee experience considers every touchpoint between staff and their employer. Intranets continue to play a critical role as the enterprise front door (and more), increasingly sitting within a broader digital workplace. To accelerate progress, this conference brings together intranet teams, digital teams, internal comms, IT and HR.

It’s a hard thing hitting the right level with the name of a conference. As was said of eCommerce, the presence of the “e” becomes irrelevant after a while. It should be just “commerce,” not something managed differently from the rest of what the organisation does. Same with DEX. “Digital” employee experiences are a sub-part of the wider “employee experiences” approach, which would also include the physical aspects of work (building design, interior layout (work spaces, collaboration spaces, meeting spaces, etc.), and office furniture) plus the organisational and cultural aspects of work (career development, mentoring, and leadership). But trying to get all that in a two-day event is too hard – the focus would be diffuse and the topics shallow. Hence, I think the new name is a good step up.

I wish the Step Two team all the best with the planning for the new conference – pulling along all the good things of the previous seven conferences, and incorporating new ideas into the new superstructure.

When Sitting in the Front Row Isn’t Great

I have always loved sitting in the front row in a classroom, church service, conference presentation, and especially an airplane. Sitting in the front row allows unfiltered access to the speaker, with the distractions emanating from other people removed from sight. At university, it was the bored and don’t-want-to-be-here students who preferred the back row, but I did want to be there (except for Auditing and a few other classes) so could usually be found at the front. The front row of an airplane is a sanctuary of quiet and concentration, which is wonderful for recharging, thinking, debriefing, and getting ready for the next engagement. Visual distractions are removed, engendering focus.

But sitting in the front row is not universally a good thing – nor always symbolic of a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I had to sit in almost the front row at a funeral. In reserved for family seating. For a niece who died at 15 – the youngest of three sisters of my sister-in-law and her husband. Sitting in the back row at such an event would be much preferred – “we knew the deceased from a distance” – but when you are required by right of kinship to sit in the front row the usual beauty and magic of being there is replaced with the picture-perfect clarity of deep loss.

  • Grief wearing its grooves on her mother, father and two sisters. All of whom spoke. And for the parents especially, both excellent public speakers with hard won storytelling abilities and skills in encouraging others, having to use those abilities for such a soul-wrenching occasion was heartbreakingly hard.
  • Grief expressed with clarity in the words and actions of school friends who paid tear-stained and tear-interrupted tributes to a good friend, of visions now unattainable, of future mid-school visits to McDonalds for Chicken McNuggets which would now never happen.
  • Grief rendered painfully (but beautifully) from the young woman who had to carry the load of opening the Maori Tangi, and her great struggle to deliver on the script while coping with a broken heart and a flood of tears.
  • Grief etched on the soul of grandparents, leaving them diminished, while dealing with questions of how to support children and grandchildren through this process while also trying to cope with the raw and deep sense of loss. Along with the other older folks at the funeral, perhaps more than one grandparent wondered “why her at the beginning of life instead of me who has lived a long and fruitful life already?
  • Grief from the many cousins – most of them my children – who were not ready for Emily’s final farewell, and would have much preferred to be playing one of Emily’s favourite games with her instead of sitting only metres away from her coffin.
  • Grief at being one of the six to have the right to carry the heavy coffin out of the service and load it into the waiting hearse.

And still, sitting in the front row also gave picture-perfect testimony of Hope, of God’s Goodness in the midst of deep tragedy, of Faith that there is more to this life than what we experience (and sometimes have to endure). While grief will wear its course, forever changing those it touches, yet there is the ever-present future expectation of meeting Emily again.

This was my attempt at capturing the grief and hope on the day after Emily died:

Dark clouds tarnish my soul,
Overcasting your vibrancy and joy for life
With the debilitating weight of grief.
And sorrow. And tears beyond count.
My eyes are bruised from weeping.

Too soon – so young – were you ripped from this world.
While death could not keep our Lord,
Life could not keep hold of you.
And you are snatched far beyond our grasp.

All those years yet to be,
Now unfounded and undermined.
The future promises of life and health and happiness – and joy,
Insufficient for our always-brave girl.

Dearest Emily, while we stood around your empty body,
You were already dancing elsewhere with Nana and Gran.
And then one foot on a scooter, the other on a skateboard,
The heavenly skate park your new favourite place to be.

Our grief will intensify, but eventually ease
As we learn a new rhythm of life without you.
But on that day when life loses its grip on us too,
And those dark clouds are peeled back to reveal the heavenly brilliance
We will meet again.
With no tears. No pain. No grief.

Cognitive Meetings with Ricoh and IBM

Meetings consume a significant portion of the modern worker’s “schedule space” and perhaps more worryingly an even greater proportion of their “mental space.” In his book from last millennium (both literally and figuratively), Peter Drucker wrote that an executive should be worried if more than 25% of his or her time was spent in meetings. Imagine Dr Drucker’s disquiet if he were still alive today and heard the number from a 2011 research study in Italy: 85% of a CEOs time is spent in meetings. Perhaps CEOs are an anomaly in respect of this quantum, their time in meetings reflective of a greater need for gathering information from the troops for setting strategy. While precise macro-level figures are difficult to source on the amount of time managers and employees spend in meetings, the fact remains that too many people spend too much of their work time in meetings, and by implication not enough time doing their core work.

With such a large proportion of work time spent in meetings, it is hardly surprising that improving meeting effectiveness is a common topic of discussion, research, and advisory services. And new technology. Some technology—such as audio conferencing and online meetings—have become commonplace, and have improved the efficiency of meetings but generally degraded their effectiveness

IBM and Ricoh announced a joint technology agreement earlier this year focused firmly on the effectiveness challenge. Ricoh sells interactive whiteboards for meeting rooms, and the new partnership sees addition of the cognitive capabilities courtesy of IBM Watson. The one line intent is to make Watson “an active meeting participant, using real-time analytics to help guide discussions so teams can make faster, better and more informed decisions.”

From the press release (February 2017), the solution enables:

  • Simple, global voice control of meetings: once a meeting begins, any employee, whether in-person or located remotely in another country, can easily control what’s on the screen, including advancing slides, all through simple voice commands using Watson’s Natural Language API.
  • Translation of the meeting into another language: the Intelligent Workplace Solution can translate speakers’ words into several other languages and display them on screen or in transcript.
  • Easy-to-join meetings: with the swipe of a badge the Intelligent Workplace Solution can log attendance and track key agenda items to ensure all key topics are discussed.
  • Ability to capture side discussions: during a meeting, team members can also hold side conversations that are displayed on the same whiteboard.

Ricoh’s positioning of this whiteboard as “cognitive-enabled” is tied directly to cognition (defined as the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses). Cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are currently all hot topics for investment and product development in the technology sector, and are easily oversold by zealous technology evangelists. We need to be careful to ensure the use of the term is fully captured in the reality of the product, not just its marketing brochure.

While a good first step – and I applaud the development – much more is needed to truly warrant the use of the “cognitive” label. It would be more accurate to use the term “voice activated” for most of the features listed above, and while that is indeed an admirable forward step, it falls far short of “cognitive.” For example, how about if the meeting leader or another participant was able to ask these questions of Watson:

“Watson, we’ve been discussing this for an hour now, and going around in circles. What are we missing?”
“Watson, out of the people at this meeting, who should not be coming?
“Watson, from what you know about the other people at our firm, who should be here?” 
“Watson, you’ve listened to our last ten meetings. How do we improve our meeting performance?”
“Watson, was this meeting necessary, or was there a better way of trying to achieve these outcomes.”

If Watson could answer those questions about a meeting or series thereof, the “cognitive” label would be well-earned, and if the answers were accurate, would be a great boon to eradicating ineffectual meeting cultures the world over.

And yet these are the very questions that every meeting leader should be asking all the time of the meetings he or she calls, with no Watson required:

How are we going?
What do we need to do to improve?
Who is not making enough of a contribution (perhaps by being lost in their mobile phone rather than engaged and attentive in the meeting)?
Who else should be here?
Is there a better way of achieving these outcomes?

Leaving these questions unasked and unanswered only reinforces the problems with meetings today, and creates an opportunity for the automation of the analysis. Perhaps we need greater near-term human performance rather than near-future technological innovation.

The future, in my view, doesn’t have to wait for Watson to improve. The future can be grasped now by asking and answering the core questions of meeting effectiveness—using human cognitive intelligence and insight. 

The Power of Outsiders

A recent Art of Manliness podcast Doing More With Less, with guest Scott Sonenshein, talked about the difference between chasing and stretching. It’s a good discussion, with some great ideas throughout the 43 minutes. I’ve listened to it three times.

At 20m55s into the podcast, there’s an insightful exchange about outsiders. Some notes:

An outsider doesn’t know a lot about the problem domain in which they are asked to work in.
We assume that we should have the people who know the most on our team.
The research shows that the more someone knows in a given scientific domain, the less likely they are to be able to solve a problem.
e.g., a biologist is more likely to be able to solve a chemistry problem than a chemist, and vice versa.
When we have deep knowledge in an area, we focus and try to solve problems in traditional ways.
When we have less information, we tend to import different perspectives and not be blinded by expertise.
Breadth of experience is more important for complex problems.

Brett (the host) and Scott go on to talk about some of the approaches that can be used to get an outsider’s perspective.

This perspective is very similar to what Greg talked about in his recent Inc. article, We’re Entering a New Era of Mass Collaboration (emphasis added):

When Alph Bingham first began his career as a research scientist in the late 70s, he immediately realized it would be much different than graduate school. As a student, he and 20 others were working on the same problems and coming up with varied approaches, but as a professional scientist he was mostly on his own.

By the late 90s, the Internet was becoming a transformative force and Bingham, now a senior executive at Eli Lilly, saw an opportunity to do something new. He envisioned a platform that would work like “Linux with a bounty” by putting problems that his company had been unable to solve on the web and offering rewards to anyone who could come up with an answer.

The program, called InnoCentive, was an immediate success and Eli Lilly spun it out as an independent company. To date, it has solved hundreds of problems so difficult that many considered them to be unsolvable. In fact, one study found that about a third of the problems posted on Innocentive — many of which had been around for years or even decades — are solved.

The key to InnoCentive’s success has to do with an observation Bingham and his team noticed early on. The solutions almost never came from the field in which they arose. So, for example, chemistry problems were rarely solved by chemists. Yet by opening up the problem to others working in adjacent fields, such as biologists and physicists, they became more tractable.

Outsiders. Different perspectives. Better together. Complex problems. That’s a huge part of the why of collaboration.

When Death Rushes Up

This is not a good way to greet the morning. Some words of tribute from afar …

When death rushes up,
We meet it as we are.
For some it comes swiftly, from the metal of a car.
For others the knife wounds, from the assailant himself.
For others death is stayed by the new bridge leap repertoire.

When death rushes up,
The trained run straight into the fray.
The soldier turned MP, suit sacrificed quickly for the sake of they.
The helicopter pilot, swooping in to extract the fallen.
The hands-on head doctor, applying skill to death allay.

When death rushes up,
The world stands in dismay.
Perplexed as to why, horrified as to death’s pathway.
What’s with our fellow humans,
That inflicting death on others is their own death’s preferred way?

When death rushes up,
Life often is shredded and torn.
For those who bid farewell in the morn,
And left for a “just another day” at work,
Don’t return home as evening’s born.

When death rushes up,
As it will for all of us one day.
Though perhaps not sprayed across the news in such a way,
Yet on this day, we must stand united,
To do life again, to bring life afresh, to live life valiantly, yea.