Technology and Organizations

What Does Plugged-In Mean? Computers In Class & Conference Rooms

A colleague recently shared this Washington Post article with me: This year, I resolve to ban laptops from my classroom. Yes, I have seen the studies about long-hand versus typed notes (long-hand wins). But that is comparing across one dimension -- something everyone in any of my classes or workshops knows is not what you want to do.

Your learning experience or meeting is not about lecture and taking a test... or at least it shouldn't be. It should be about the full process: The best course design or collaboration using the best tools (electronic or not), designed to work in the best way with your own skills, context, and needs.

Mixing Human, Technical, and Organizational Dimensions in Your Work

Being plugged-in is about the mix of human, technical, and organizational dimensions. If all we did were listen to lectures, take notes, and then take tests, I might suggest you keep the computer in your bag. If you simply don't have the self-control to stay off of your social streams, then too, maybe leave the computer in the bag until we need it for a specific task.

But, if the computer is giving you a way to link what we're doing in class or in a meeting to how it's going to help you at work, or how it relates to other material -- or if it's the way you're co-creating the learning experience or work product -- then I'm going to ask you to have an "internet enabled device" as part of your toolkit.

Learning By Integrating

I'm just back from a conference where a colleague said he'd banned computers in the classroom. I said I'd have to drop his course. My notes, even those from that conference, are a combination of what's being said plus links back to other material. I think I even sent follow-up emails to colleagues not at the conference so we could take a related action. I'm fully engaged, both with the inflow of the information in the room, but perhaps more importantly, with how that information relates to my own work. Yes, I could create those links after the class or conference session, but few of us get the chance for that kind of reflection. I'll also admit that I may have missed a talking point while integrating a previous point with a possible action item. (Might a different session design have pauses built in to allow for this integration?)

I'm also at a loss when a meeting kicks off with a request to close the laptops or put down the tablets. There is a presumption that all the information we'll need to do our work is in our heads, that we don't have the self-control to stay focused on the topic, and/or that we couldn't be leveraging our tools to do the work of the meeting (taking group notes, getting information from others not present, starting the draft of the report while we can all be looking at the result, etc.) Rarely can I as a meeting leader guess at the best way for the session to go. I need to be confident that my colleagues are making good choices - and of course I want to provide a clear agenda in advance so they can.

The Answer

Plugged-In doesn't mean always connected. It means engaging appropriately with all the human, technical, and organizational dimensions of your work and learning.

  • Stop and consider the context and goals of the session, both for you and your colleagues.
  • Build your approach to match these goals. Think of it as as negotiating change, even if it's just for yourself.
  • Share (think out loud) with your colleagues and look for improvements to your practice. They'll appreciate you're aware of the issues and you may co-create a better overall approach for reaching your goals.

And if you are checking Facebook rather than engaging with your colleagues, realize that the camera documenting the course or meeting, is also pointed right at your screen....


5 Possibilities for 2015: Our Futures of Work

I’ve kicked off 2015 thinking of the “futures of work.” Notice that I did not say the future, but rather the “futures.” No one clear future is on the horizon -- artificial intelligence in the workplace? further integration of global workforces? new technologies? -- but I am certain 2015 will be a year of discovery in each such area and more. I feel these five resolutions will help position you for the nimbleness and lighter touch that has become the hallmark of today’s manager. I welcome your suggestions for further resolutions in the comments field!

  1. Use light-weight experiments rather than all-or-nothing approaches to change in your organization. Taking small steps in organizational change is more important than ever these days given the pace of the world around us. In 2015, go to the next level by finding fast, cheap ways to test the leap-of-faith assumptions underlying the adjustments you want to make. Use a crowdfunding campaign to test the market for a new product, for instance, or have half your teams try one form of flexible work scheduling and the other half another -- learn from both. Steer clear of surveys, you don’t want to base your change on someone giving you an answer they think you want to hear. Instead, measure behaviors like prepayments, performance, or repeat business.

  1. Take advantage of the on-demand global workforce for addressing your temporary, cyclical, or even long-term needs. In March, two of the most visible online freelance job markets merged to become Elance-oDesk. They offer managers everything from on-demand software development to virtual receptionists and business card design. The combined company has grown to 9.3M freelancers worldwide -- a big move from the Kelly Girls of the 1940s.

  1. Combine the growing trend of “wearable computers,” with personal responsibility for productivity (and perhaps light-weight experiments) to create a more healthy, productive workplace. Smart watches, fitness trackers, and the like can serve as more than just gizmos for your employees in their personal time. The US Centers for Disease Control notes that workplace health programs can increase productivity . Consider a contest in which your employees conduct experiments showing the effects of walking meetings, or short walking breaks on performance. The most effective experiment can become a permanent fixture of the workplace. I hope to do this myself: I’d like to connect my fitness tracker data to number of quality articles written and my students’ engagement in class. If I walk more before class, do they learn more from our sessions together?

  1. Move away from once a year or once a quarter performance reviews and instead focus on feedback tied to projects and “check-in” style peer review. With the infusion of millennials into the workplace, demand has grown for managers to shorten the distance between goal-setting, feedback, and coaching. Similar to a Facebook post, managers who use’s tool can post feedback when it’s most useful -- right after (or even during) a project.

  1. Consider making IBM’s Watson (the artificial intelligence that won Jeopardy!) your next employee. If your business is health care, finance, retail, or the public sector, subscribing to this AI technology could be a great addition to your team. Watson can play a role in customer interactions, the management of big data, or accelerating research. My colleague Christine Isakson and I are just starting to look into the issues of whether we should think of artificial intelligence as a full-on member of the team, a consultant, or a tool. No doubt Watson will be covering more industries soon and I hope he will soon help us with our research. Another technology that I predict you’ll be finding ways to integrate in the near future: drones. Unmanned vehicles (drones) in the air, on the land, or in the water have the potential to conduct mission-critical tasks including photography, surveying, environmental research, package delivery, security, and cell tower and road inspections. Perhaps a drone crew will loom large in your 2015 future!

If you are not reading this on, please click here to provide your comments. I would love to hear about your own futures of work.

Many thanks to Deborah Lohse. She asked me if I had ideas for managers looking forward in the new year and kept me on the straight and narrow through the development, including helping see the connection to drones!

"Futures of work" image care of

The Future of Work by Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan has written a great overview of the future of work: The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization. I've been writing and speaking on similar topics for a while and he's hit on all of mine and rounded out the topic with additional depth and examples. The images, many from his organization, Chess Media Group, provide clear summaries of the material and no doubt will be showing up in my classes.

The Future Employee

The Future of Work is self-contained in that it opens with the basic forces at play: Generations, social media, globalization, mobility, etc. Chapter Three lays out "7 Principles of The Future Employee":

  1. Has a Flexible Work Environment
  2. Can Customize Own Work
  3. Shares Information
  4. Uses New Ways to Communicate and Collaborate
  5. Can Become a Leader
  6. Shifts from Knowledge Worker to Learning Worker
  7. Learns and Teaches at Will

He then provides the background on the organizational and management shifts that intertwine with the needs and skills of these future employees. Appropriately pushing the envelope are discussions around freelancing and managerless approaches (examples provided by Zappos, Morning Star, Valve and more). If you follow these issues, you're likely aware of these examples, but Morgan does a nice job of talking about the tensions as well as the opportunities. I was interested to see the push back from some employees around how these programs have been described in the press. 

The Future Organization

Chapter Nine offers 14 Principles of the Future Organization and is the best summary of the topic I've seen. Some are dynamics my colleagues and I have been studying for a while (e.g., globally distributed teams, connected workforce, innovation anywhere, intrapreneurial). Others are areas we're just getting a hold on (e.g., adapts to change faster, operates like a small company, democratizes learning, flatter structure), and some are on the edge (e.g., focuses on "want" instead of "need," runs in the cloud, more women in senior management roles, tells stories). All in all, Figure 14 is a great roadmap for organization science and the future organization in general.

Our Future Work

Thank you, Jacob, for sending me a copy of The Future of Work to review. Thank you too, for creating the FOWCommunity, which joins the Management Innovation eXchange and several interesting LinkedIn groups as places to work through our successes and failures. These are exciting and challenging times. The more sharing we can do (third practice of a plugged-in manager), the faster the diffusion of the ideas and our own learning. This comment in Chapter 12 resonated with me, "If you read this book and come away thinking that you can wait or that the themes and topics in this book are not a priority then unfortunately I didn't do a good enough job in helping to paint a picture of the future of work." We all need to be doing whatever we can to help organizations down this path. As acknowledged throughout the book, every organization is different, but I cannot imagine a future where organizations haven't moved further down the paths described here.

Complements to Leadership: A Culture of Data

I’ve had the opportunity to do a couple of workshops on the value of data in support of leadership -- especially leadership without formal authority. A key issue is that the environment is changing such that we have less face-to-face time for leadership. This increases the value of complements to interpersonal leadership, things like training, tools, and feedback from the work itself. A culture of data can also be an excellent complement to leadership. (Slides from the most recent workshop: Notes are available if you download the slides).

In these workshops, I use a John Trumbull painting of George Washington resigning his commission and position as commander-in-chief. I love how the golden light shines down on Washington. Washington resigned as a signal that power should be in civilian hands - he led by letting go. The point of the image in my presentation is to contrast traditional face-to-face leadership with the next image in the presentation, that of shifts in population density before (diffuse) and after (dense) the industrial revolution. Our moves to more global and virtual work are the swinging of the pendulum again -- though not everywhere as noted by San Francisco Bay Area housing prices. But even in the dense Bay Area, leadership needs to work from afar.

Data is a language understood across a global organization. Data is beautifulData is actionable. Data is (often) apolitical. And, yes, I understand the important differences across data, information, knowledge, and wisdom, but data is the starting point.

Data is the starting point for decisions to be made via evidence rather than formal authority. Scott Cook, founder and chair of the executive committee at Intuit, describes “leadership by experiment” (see too, this article by Bryan Eisenberg). Bob Sutton and Jeff Pfeffer highlight similar issues in their book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management .

In the workshop, I then switch to a micro course on lightweight experiments for management decision-making. For my last audience, it wasn't a big leap from their scientific and engineering backgrounds to the idea of prototypes and experiments focused on anticipation, visioning, creating flexible alternatives, and initiating change - leadership behaviors identified by Ireland and Hitt (1999). They have a culture of data already and I expect this is just a new tool in their toolbox.

Data has a special power for situations where you have little other authority. Think about a negotiation: You both are and act (!) more powerfully when you have a good BATNA (Best Alternative To the Negotiated Agreement). Data is what helps you find and develop that great BATNA.

How has data benefited you in situations where you have little or no formal authority? Please add to the comments here. As I tell my audiences, when I walk into an organization, I generally have no formal authority. I don’t have a strong network inside their structure. All I have is my data and what I’m able to do with it. Hopefully I have enough data underlying this post to trigger a few lightweight experiments.

Thank you to Lucie Newcomb of NewCommGlobal for the LinkedIn comment that got me rolling with this.

For some wonderful and sometimes free resources around lightweight experiments, see MovesTheNeedle’s page.

Analytics To Guide Our Careers

It’s time to turn the focus and mechanisms of big data analytics onto the topics of our work tasks, projects, and careers. Organizations continue to apply more and more powerful analytics capabilities to customer identification, customer engagement, and strategic planning. Now it’s time to see what we can learn about how we approach our work and education. (And for those of you who want to know more about business analytics in general, I suggest Jain & Sharma’s new book, Behind Every Good Decision.)
Here is the slide deck from a talk I gave last week (click on the Notes icon within Slideshare for additional links for many of the slides). Predicitive analytics (e.g., analyses that suggest next steps — like Amazon suggesting other books based on your past purchases) offer huge benefits to how we think about the future of work, if we can get to the data. 

From LinkedIn to Elance/oDesk, Coursera, & Watson

I've been studying the benefits of "computer monitoring" since 1984. It wasn't the book, 1984, that triggered my interest at that particular time, but rather being at Carnegie Mellon University where it was, and is, common to intermingle computers, analytics, and work.
In the above talk, I extrapolated from the predictive analytics that LinkedIn uses to suggest jobs which might interest us, to a future where some wonderful combination of a variety of platforms could do much more: Interlinked systems that would know the work we can do, how we’ve done at that work in the past, the people who need work, and even predict the skills we need to learn to move ahead in our goals. Such as system could improve on even the best organizational training and development departments. Here are just a few extant systems that might be at the heart of this approach:
  • Elance /oDesk: Hugely successful platforms for linking people who want to do freelance project work with people who have project needs. Preferences and quality ratings from past work steer you to your next projects.
  • Coursera : One of the top platforms for taking massive online open courses. They know what you know and what you are interested in and have talked about offering career services.
  • IBM Watson : The artificial intelligence that won the gameshow Jeopardy! and is now supporting physicians, financial experts, and human resources directors in their daily work. I would love to see Watson become an ally in getting all of our work done. What do we want to do and what do we want to leave to Watson?
It isn’t much of a leap to see how these three platforms could work together to map out our medium term work futures. We know the projects that need to be done, it just takes a bit of prediction to line up the education that we need to be ready for the next projects.
The technology is likely there, but more of us need to be thinking about how to leverage more advanced technology systems. While teams of chess players have figured out how to ally with mid range computer programs to beat the best humans and super computers , my colleague Christine Isakson and I haven’t found much work on team configuration where machines are in the hiring pool. As Brynjolfsson & McAfee say, we need to learn to race with the machines, not against them.

Up Soon: How Might Google Help Us Plan Our Day?

The discussion above focused on mid range work goals: What project can I do now and what might I do next? What happens if we turn the lens of analytics onto our daily work? In an upcoming post, I’ll consider the combination of analytics and our daily work decisions. My homework:
If you have thoughts to share about the above ideas, or this upcoming post, please let me know by commenting here. Also, thank you to IBM Almaden for the opportunity to give the November 20th, 2014, IBM Research Distinguished Speaker talk.

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