The fine line between sharing and self promotion

There is no doubt that digital technology has greatly enhanced our ability to share and connect with others. Whether it be email or social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we are more connected than ever before. As the ease of connection has grown we have expanded our networks beyond the tradition inner circle of friends and family to include many ‘weak ties’, people we’ve met at networking events, people who found our profile online, people who’ve reached out to us and we felt obliged to accept their ‘friend’ request lest we hurt their feelings…people we would struggle to recognise on the street.*

*Professor Robin Dunbar famously determined that we can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. This was termed ‘Dunbar’s number’ and has been shown to apply online in much the same way as it does in real life

Sharing with an audience of people we don’t know well is impacting how we communicate. For some, it means sharing less on public platforms, unsure of who is listening and what people might think. For others, it’s carefully curating the content we post online to highlight the best parts of their life and work. And for a few, it is a genuine and meaningful opportunity to expand reach and impact.

But the real risk that lies within these expanded networks is that we stop caring as much. Rather than considering them as friends or acquaintances we start to think of them as an audience (either a personal or a professional one). We can still pinpoint close friends and relatives within that network, but when we consider them as a collective, the number of weak ties often outweighs the number of people whom we care deeply about…and we don’t have the capacity to care about them all.*

*The definition of care is ‘the provision of what is necessary’ and I don’t believe we can show true care for others without taking the time to understand their personal interests and needs.

And so just like an actor treats their audience different from their loved ones, we start doing the same. We play a part for our audience that is different from what we show in private. We seek approval…and we self promote.

The line between sharing and self promotion is a fine one. From the outside they appear much the same but the intent is so very different. Sharing is done from a position of generosity to help the people we care about. Self promotion is what we do to make people like us and remember us…and to confuse matters further, sharing will generally result in some element of self promotion, and self promotion always requires some form of sharing.*

*Case in point is this post. As much as possible, I’ve tried to write this from a position of generosity, to articulate a problem I see many of my peers dealing with and help them find a way past it. But if we are to assume for a moment that it achieves it’s objective, then there is also little doubt this post will also serve to promote me. 

This fuzziness between sharing and self promotion is not just theoretical, it’s a problem I’ve been struggling with over the last few months.

About a year or so ago I started working with Mykel and Dave Dixon (aka The Dixon Effect) to produce a short video that articulates the motivation behind the work I do. It was based on an awesome video that they had done for a good friend of mine Dr Jason Fox, a video that beautifully captures his wonderful complexity and thoughtfulness.

I acknowledge that my willingness to fund the project was not altruistic, it was conceived of for promotional purposes…but along the way the intent changed. The original script was rewritten, Mykel composed new music and Dave reshot some of the video because I felt so uncomfortable with the self promoting elements in the first cut…so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be happy sharing the video once it was finished.*

*The final product is more a call to action about the choices we make with technology than it is about me. I wanted people to see that making smart choices (or any choice at all) about how we use our digital tools can improve balance and quality of life. 

I received the revised video a month or two ago but have continued to struggle with how and when it is OK to share it.

This dilemma has meant that apart from one little airing on Facebook the video has spent most of its life sitting dormant on my hard drive.

So where does that leave us?

The fuzziness between sharing and self promotion means that only we can determine whether what we post online is done from a position of generosity or selfishness. The fuzziness also means that we will always be able to pretend to others (and ourselves) that one was really the other, but if we continue to operate from a position of selfishness we will ultimately devalue our networks, including the people in them that we genuinely care about.

So with that in mind, I’m sharing my video with you now in this post. I’m sharing it because I think it is a good example of the fuzziness that we are all grappling with when it comes to social media. I’m sharing it because regardless of the self promotion, I believe the message is an important one…

…and I’m sharing it because if you like the video and you find it valuable, well maybe you will like me just a little bit more as well.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Your technology doesn’t care about you

There has been much written over the last few years of the threat that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies pose to existing employment. There is no doubt that there have been incredible achievements in these areas, consistently outperforming people who would normally be considered the ‘smartest in the room’.

There is no doubt that smart machines will become increasingly prevalent in our lives but they have a significant shortcoming that is unlikely to be addressed any time soon.

At the end of the day, the machines don’t care. They don’t actually give a shit about you and the impact their decision has.

…and to illustrate this point we need to discuss the biscuits I baked on the weekend.

In actual fact, my wife, Naomi, baked the biscuits.

Perhaps the most well known of these smart machines is IBMs Watson which, in 2011, beat not just two of the smartest people in the room but two of the smartest people in the United States. In a special edition of the game show Jeopardy, Watson was pitted against the game’s best ever players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (both previously undefeated champions), and beat them…twice.

Since graduating from quiz shows, IBM’s Watson technology has been applied in a whole bunch of different ways including helping doctors diagnose cancer, facilitating tax returns and providing advice on where to get the best Chinese food. But of all the applications perhaps the most intriguing has been Chef Watson. Chef Watson is what you get when you combine machine learning with a large database of recipes. By parsing 30,000 odd recipes Watson started matching which ingredients work well together. The free Chef Watson app then combines this with Bon Appetite magazines recipe database to generate new and intriguing recipe combinations.

Last weekend I was speaking at the Mindshop conference in Sydney and thought it might be nice to bake some biscuits for the delegates.* So after browsing Chef Watson and disregarding the biscuit recipes that included pulled pork and other types of meat, I settled on cream cheese, red onion, pecan and raisin cookies. According to Watson these ingredients have a 98% synergy.

*OK, anyone who knows me knows this is a lie. I don’t bake, I only cook. I think this comes down to two things, firstly, with cooking you don’t need to really follow instructions (and I don’t like following instructions), and secondly, I will almost always order the cheese platter over the dessert. So in actual fact my wife, Naomi, baked the biscuits.

 After handing out the biscuits at the conference the feedback I got was close to unanimous.

“Mehhhhh”

They weren’t terrible but they clearly weren’t great. And the truth is, Watson doesn’t even care. On the other hand, if I’d called my Mum and asked her for a recipe she would have taken the time to find out the type of biscuits that I wanted, gone through some options helped me narrow it down…and then probably baked them for me.

Now the theory is that if I then gave my feedback on the recipe back to Watson it could then use that to fine-tune the algorithm and serve me up a better recipe next time. On the Chef Watson website IBM suggest “Chef Watson really needs you to use your own creativity and judgment”…but all this is really doing is outsourcing the care to users. At the end of the day if Watson doesn’t care about us, why should we care about it.

So what does this all mean?

Most jobs involve other people and as a result require more than just facts, answers and judgement. They require a full range of emotions including compassion, empathy and care – all of which are required in any relationship worth having. Even call centre work (which is generally regarded as one of the most likely short term victims of AI and machine learning) is not immune from this. A study by Duke University suggests that customer satisfaction within a call centre environment is overwhelmingly influenced by how they were made to feel (81%) rather than the information that was presented (19%).

It is through human connection that we may gather information that in turn feeds our AI systems, and it is through human connection that we will also get people to understand and accept (or debate and question) the advice that is generated.

And what will make human employment safe for the foreseeable future (though potentially in different form) is that unlike technology, care and human connection is far more difficult to scale.

Following the match Ken Jennings wrote a piece for Slate magazine which included this:

“Just as factory jobs were eliminated in the 20th century by new assembly-line robots, Brad and I were the first knowledge-industry workers put out of work by the new generation of ‘thinking’ machines. ‘Quiz show contestant’ may be the first job made redundant by Watson, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

I have no doubt that Ken is right but it also highlights both the strength and weakness of smart machines such as Watson. They excel at jobs where success is defined by facts rather than feelings. In a quiz show, the only thing that matters is whether you are right or wrong. But in most jobs, being right or wrong is often just one small part of the equation.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

There are only four approaches to take when it comes to digital technology

When you break it down, there are really just four approaches to take when it comes to dealing with digital, or in fact, any type of change.

And to determine which of the four approaches to take, you only need to answer two questions:

The first question is “do you currently offer a product or service that is a substitute for, or complementary to, technology?” 

When a new technology is introduced, its success is defined by its ability to do what it does faster, cheaper or better than what was available previously. If what you do is a substitute for new technology then your job will be worth less, but if what you do is complementary then it is generally worth more.

Take Uber for example (overused but at least we all know it). Uber has dramatically reduced the time and effort associated with finding, booking and paying for transportation. For some elements of the transportation/taxi industry, such as drivers, Uber is a complementary service. Research shows that drivers now have a higher utilisation (spend more of their shift actually driving passengers around rather than waiting for fares) and earn more money than before. And not just Uber drivers, taxi drivers are also using the Uber app to improve their earnings.

On the other hand, businesses such as Cabcharge which provide a payment service for taxi and hire car operators has seen their revenue plummet as Uber not only provides a booking service, it provides a payment service as well.

The second question is “Are you a proactive identifier of new technology or generally late to the party?”

Regardless of whether your offering is a substitute for, or complement to new technology, you have distinctly better options if you can identify emerging technology trends early.

If you’re an early identifier and offer a complementary service your best approach is to double down. Continuing with the Uber example there have been a number of individuals who have identified new opportunities that have emerged within the Uber eco-system and done incredibly well as a result. One of these is Joseph Ziyaee who realised he could make more money out of referring people to be Uber drivers than being a driver himself. By helping new drivers qualify and register as an Uber driver he now earns about four times as much as he did when he was driving.

If your an early identifier and offer a substitute product then your best approach is to divest. When Uber launched in NSW in 2012 the value of taxi plates were around $400,000. By the time it was legalised in 2015 they had dropped to $200,000 (with the most recent sales at around $150,000). The early identifiers of Uber, the ones who took the time to investigate it’s impact overseas and understand the implications, they divested early and saved themselves significant pain.

So regardless of whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side of technology driven change you have fairly good options as long as you are proactive. When you’re slow to identify opportunities or don’t act on them your options diminish rapidly.

Even if you have a complementary product or service, if you’re reactive to technology driven change then your best option is just to keep doing what you’ve done before.  By luck rather than good management, everything you do should be worth a little bit more than it was before, but the big opportunities are likely to be already gone.

On the other hand, if you have a substitute product or service and are slow to react to change the only real option you have is to defend. The problem with defending is that it diverts energy and resources away from both doing (incurring short term costs) and/or adapting (incurring long term costs). Once again this strategy has been clearly at play in the personal transportation arena. The taxi industry has applied significant resources to try and stop the legalisation of ride sharing services such as Uber. This may have slowed the transition and won some small concessions but the continuing slide in the value of taxi plates suggests the energy invested on defending has had much wasted.

So what’s the moral of this story? The only way to ensure you’re on the right side of digital driven change is to constantly seek it out and endeavour to understand it. If just one app, built with largely off the shelf components, can destroy billions of dollars of value in just a few years imagine what might happen in your industry/organisation/job next.

The blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

What comes before commitment?

Over the last few years social media has dramatically changed what it means to date (and I say this without a shred of personal experience).  Whereas the old approach to dating was

Not dating > Dating > Move in > Engaged > Married


The current landscape goes something like this

Not dating > Texting > Dating > No longer on Tinder > Move in > That talk > Deleting your dating apps > Officially in a relationship on Facebook > Should we get married…ever?*

* With reference to http://www.bolde.com/ridiculous-new-stages-relationships-happen-youre-fully-commit/

This is not a critique on modern relationships or the value of marriage, but rather an observation that greater choice has resulted in people delaying significant decisions. In a sense, what comes before commitment is a commitment to finding out.

But here in lies the rabbit hole.

Often we are unwilling to make the commitment before the commitment. Instead we end up with “F#$k it!” and don’t make a choice at all (even though technically this is itself a choice).

In many ways an overwhelm of opportunity is reinforcing the status quo. I would argue that this is a significant factor in why so many organisations are falling behind when it comes to digital technology. It’s not that they don’t know there are opportunities out there but rather the sheer number of opportunities and so many options result in, well, not doing very much at all.

This is one of the fundamental reasons for starting the Digital Champions Club. I wanted to give people a simple, easy to follow framework for prioritising opportunities and assessing options. But somewhat ironically, the biggest barrier to people joining the Digital Champions Club has been the decision to join.

So in the belief that incremental change is better than nothing at all, I have just launched the Digital Champions Club Resource membership. To follow through with the analogy above it’s like dating but still maintaining an active Tinder profile. You get a half hour one-on-one mentoring session with me (to help you determine which opportunities to focus on), 12 months access to the Digital Champions Club online resources and invitations to some digital champions only events (you can find more details here).

So if you’re looking to go digital, but not willing to settle down just yet, why not swipe right and get in touch.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Where’s your humanity?

WARNING! LONG POST

[Insert cup of tea here]

In a month or so I’m delivering a keynote entitled ‘Will technology make us more human?’ It’s a keynote I’ve had in my speaker guide for over a year but until now, no one has actually booked me to deliver it. I’m not sure why that is. It feels like a discussion that many organisations need to start having. There is a very real risk that, without clarity on what we want from our technology, we will ultimately accept anything we are given.

When you delve into any news report and research about our emerging but unknown future, a future where we face being outsmarted by our technology, you piece together a story that goes something like this. Sometime in the next 15 years you have at least a one in three chance of losing your job to a robot or AI. This will be a challenging time, you might try and re-skill into something more current like coding (it’s the new blue collar work) but as technology keeps getting better it will be hard to keep ahead of AI. At some point 20 to 30 years from now it will be deemed that the singularity has arrived, meaning that Artificial Intelligence has surpassed human intelligence at which point we will either need to merge with AI if we want to remain relevant or face becoming technology’s ‘pet’.*

*On the flip side of this doom and gloom is the argument that many of the jobs that face being automated weren’t that great anyway. And I’m not just talking about monotonous factory work, the good news is many lawyers and accountants face automation as well

But something important is missing from this view of the future, and that is…why? What’s the point of all this technology driven productivity? What is it that we want out of life? And before we decide to merge with AI or upload our consciousness to a hard drive, what will we potentially lose or leave behind?

At the core of all this is a question that’s been bouncing around in my head for some time now and that is ‘What does it mean to be human?’ As technology continues to encroach on the activities that we once considered the domain of people, it is reasonable for us to question what it is that makes us special.

Now bear with me. From a philosophical perspective we often use the word ‘human’ in a contextual way. From an evolutionary biology perspective it might mean ’not an ape’ but from a interpersonal perspective it might mean ‘fallible’ (as in ‘we’re only human’). Ultimately, being ‘human’ is being similar to how we see ourselves. Which leads us to an important point, technology will never be human (no matter how good it gets) because it would undermine our own sense of identity. Kiwis hate being considered the same as Australians and Canadians hate being confused with Americans…but everyone would feel a little bit hurt if, during a phone call, someone thought they sounded like an automated answering service.

So, what is human is ultimately defined by what our technology is not.*

*This is compounded by the fact that once we create a technology to do something the value of that thing falls. This is a basic supply and demand equation, technology makes things more abundant and ultimately the value falls. When we didn’t have mechanical tools, physical strength was valued. When we didn’t have calculators, mental arithmetic was valued. And while AI is still in its infancy we will still value certain types of knowledge and expertise such as what you learn in eight years of medical school. 

In this sense, the definition of humanity continues to evolve. In our not too distant past, physical prowess paid a far more significant role in defining our humanity. The Alpha Male is a throw back to when the ability to lift heavy things and swinging them around your head (like, say, a sword) had a significant impact on both our personal success and our value to others. But with the advent of steam power and the flourishing of mechanical technologies, physical strength meant less and less.

In fact, with the first industrial revolution came a revolution in humanity. We came to value people for their brains more than their bodies. Bodies couldn’t compete against the technology of the times and as a result brains became the new competitive advantage.

In his book Unnatural Selection: Why The Geeks Will Inherit The Earth author Mark Roeder argues that many traits that were previously considered detrimental to human survival such as Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD or being on the autism spectrum have now become an advantage. This is not to say that physical appearance no longer matters, but rather that ‘the book’ is not ‘the cover’.

But this is neither the end of evolution in either technology or our definition of humanity. The rapidly emerging field of AI is casting a shadow across what were once greatly valued mental feats. We can no longer compete again computers in Chess, Go* or Texas Hold ‘em. Computers are helping diagnose cancer, completing our tax returns and even recommending where we can get the best Chinese food.** So if the geeks can’t outsmart our technology who get’s to inherit the earth?

*It is interesting that during one of games between the world champion of Go and Google’s Go playing AI, Alpha Go, a response to one of the moves by European champion Fan Hui was “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move”
**In fact that’s all being done with just one AI called Watson. Just don’t ask Watson what’s for dinner, his food suggestions have been generally less than appetising.

Notwithstanding the potential risks to the very survival of the human race that unfettered AI brings, it is perhaps time to once again redefine ourselves and embrace the next chapter in human evolution. Just as in the past, the things we will value going forward, the things we will choose to associate ourselves with, are the things that our technology can’t do for us. This will include traits such as empathy, love, ingenuity, ethics and, perhaps even romance.

Which is a lovely segue to the Business Romantics.

Perhaps the highlight of my last two weeks has been The Business Romantics tour I went to last Friday in Melbourne, The tour was hosted by Mel Grablo of Talking Sticks and Mykel Dixon and featured the amazing Tim Leberecht. What was truly inspirational about this event was not just the content (which could have just as easily being downloaded via YouTube or read on a Kindle at greater convenience) but Mel and Mykel’s commitment to creating an event that rejected established norms (read logic) and catered to an emerging humanity.*

*For someone who speaks at a lot of business conferences it was the first time I’d seen a three piece band to accompany the speakers, a host with a grand piano, a resident artist, an unscripted half hour slot for audience contribution…and a whole lot of wasted catering when this overtook the afternoon tea break.

In his keynote Tim made one particular point that stuck with me. The Romantic period of art and literature was a direct response to the obsession with empirical evidence and the scientific method that emerged during the industrial revolution. We are now in the midst of a new industrial revolution (the fourth apparently) and echoes of the same overt focus on productivity, logic and data can now be seen throughout society’s (and most strongly in business).

But just as data and logic failed to complete our understanding of humanity 300 years ago I believe it will fail again now. This is not to say that there isn’t value in scientific pursuits but rather that parallel to these pursuits we need something else, something more, something that is difficult to automate and therefore retains it’s inherent value.

Our value has always been in our humanity, even if our understanding of what this means has changed over time. I believe we all need to start exploring what we want humanity to mean next. Failure to do so leaves us open to both replacement and control by AI and other emerging technology. In which case, we better hope our future AI keepers like having pets.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The perils of working from home

For those of you who have spent the last week tramping through the mountains outside Queenstown (it’s the only place I’ve recently come across that is completely devoid of an internet connection) the latest viral video on the net has been the interview of Professor Robert Kelly by the BBC. While a discussion about the impeachment of South Korean president would not normally be considered an internet sensation, when your two kids and your wife play an unexpected cameo in the background, well, then shit blows up!

So why is this such a big deal?*

*and is this blog making it an even bigger one?

As someone who spends a good 70% of my time working from a studio in the backyard, I’d like to think I’m qualified to talk about the perils of working from home…and this ain’t one of them. This is not to say I don’t get visits from my kids while I’m in Skype meetings. In fact, this happens all the time. I just don’t think it should be a big deal. To be honest, I love it when my girls visit me in my office. I love that they get to see what I do and meet some of the amazing people I work with. I also love that the childish curiosity that compels them to put their head in front of the camera and wave to whomever is on the screen provides a dose of reality, and humanity, to my work.

So if this isn’t one of the perils of working from home, what are (and how can you overcome them)?

  1. Distraction. A little bit of distraction is OK, constant distraction is bad. Working from the kitchen table when the TV’s on, people are talking or kids are screaming is hardly an environment for doing good work. Solution? You need to have a dedicated work place with a door that can be closed when necessary.
  2. Ergonomics. Because home is often a secondary workplace, we often don’t take ergonomics as seriously as we do ‘at the office’. But regardless of where you work, there is still a duty of care requirement that needs to be met. Solution? If you’re going to work at home regularly you need a decent desk and a decent chair (but you can pay for this out of all the money you save on fuel/parking/public transport).
  3. Internet. Working from home regularly means that you will be accessing more data, and wanting it faster. I’m a big believer in using Skype to build and maintain relationships and you don’t want your internet speed to ruin your catch-ups. Solution? Move to Mount Eliza with me where you get super fast fibre to the home NBN…or at least consider upgrading your data plan, modem and wifi to get the most out of where you currently are.
  4. Presentation. One thing that was clear in Robert Kelly’s video was that he was working from his spare room, you could even see the bed in the corner of the shot. Think about how you present to others in your video calls and make an effort to present as professionally as possible. Solution? The minimum is to have decent lighting and reasonable sound but you should also avoid using your laptop camera (unless you like the up nostril look and want to show of your ceiling cornices) and think about the backdrop.
  5. Listening to the radio. On most days my commute to work is about thirty seconds and as a result I rarely get to listen to the radio in my car any more. Is this a big deal for me? Not at all. I actually just wanted to reiterate that I get to save a couple of hours each day travelling to and from work, which is time I then get to spend at home with my family and friends. If you like your family and friends, you should try working from home more as well.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

An Unstoppable Force and an Immovable Object

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Ultimately, a lot of energy gets consumed for very little result. Of course most objects are not truly immovable and if we apply enough force we can get our way. But much of this energy is wasted and, if we’d used it elsewhere, it is likely we could have achieved so much more.

In the Digital Champions Club we try and avoid projects that require people to be coerced rather than be convinced. There are so many improvement opportunities out there. You can generally cherry pick ones where each and every stakeholder is a winner. When you find these projects, people that might have otherwise seemed immovable are suddenly anxious for the project to start, thankful when it has been completed and interested in whatever you propose next.

The best way to deal with immovable objects is not to apply more force, it’s to show them it’s in their own best interest to get out of the way.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

A Minimalist Approach to Technology Part II

If you’re considering a minimalist approach to technology it is important to distinguish between technology minimalism and minimalist technology. If you’re feeling distracted, frustrated and otherwise overwhelmed by technology one of these options is potentially far more valuable to you than the other.

For those who have missed the hype from the Mobile World Congress Nokia has announced that it is releasing an updated version of the Nokia 3310. With over 126 million of the handsets sold (and at least one of them still in use) The Nokia 3310 is perhaps one of the worlds most iconic phones. It was near indestructible (check out the ‘Nokia 3310 crash test’ meme), had a massive battery life and included the classic game Snakes II…

…No really, if you read the press about the re-release of the 3310, these are the three things that people remember about the 3310, because pretty much that was all there was to say about the phone. The 3310 had a 84 x 84 pixel monochrome screen, there was no browser, no ability to sync your calendar or address book (each phone number needed to to be entered individually using tiny, difficult to use keys), no music player,  no camera, no maps…it was just a phone.

OK, maybe the “it is just a phone” sounds appealing. Maybe all we need is a phone? And this would be true as long as you still carry a Filofax with you, take photos with your old film camera and have a street directory tucked under the front seat of your car. This was life in the year 2000 when the 3310 was first released, and if you haven’t moved on from those days then perhaps this is the perfect handset for you. This is minimalist technology. It’s that one thing that does things well and most other things badly.

Ultimately it fails to recognise the inter dependencies between the different tasks and activities we undertake and the opportunities to save time and frustration by connecting them.

Want to visit your friend Jill? In the Nokia 3310 world you would need to look up your address book, enter Jill’s number in your phone, call Jill, look up your address book again to get Jill’s address, get out you’re map book, look up the address in the map book, find right map and coordinates, start driving, get lost, look up map book again, call Jill to describe where you are etc etc etc.

Or, get out your phone, tell Siri/Google “call Jill” then tell Siri/Google “Directions to Jill’s house”, drive.

The nostalgia we feel for devices such as the 3310 is reflects a desire for simplicity, but it is a fallacy to think that we can achieve this by buying yet another device. In this is the distinction between technology minimalism and minimalist technology. Rather than have our choices made by our technology, we should make choices for ourselves. We need to choose whether we check emails when we should be with family and friends. We need to choose how long we want to spend scrolling through Facebook. We need to choose to turn off our notifications and just enjoy dinner.

Einstein maybe once said (no one is really sure) ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’, but if we are to seek simplicity we risk oversimplifying something that is necessarily complex. A better adage for the digital age, and perhaps the ultimate objective of technology minimalism is ‘Make everything as complex as necessary but no more complex’
…unless of course you’re the hipster type that still wants to carry a Filofax.
This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

A Minimalist Approach to Technology Part I

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘The Minimalists’. It’s the story of two 20-somethings, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, who decide to forgo their high-paying, high-pressure corporate jobs and pursue a life of less stuff. Along the way, they’ve shared their experience through their blog theminimalists.com, written a few books and now done a documentary. Clearly there is something here that resonates with people.

If I was to boil down the idea of minimalism to just one sentence it would be something like ‘get rid of the stuff that you don’t use, that doesn’t serve you, or doesn’t bring you joy’…and ever since reading the blog I’ve been wondering what it might mean to apply that same thinking to technology. So, like any good technology aficionado I did a google search to find out what I could about technology minimalism (these are three that might be worth a look The minimalist approach to technology, Minimalism and technology, How to be a technology minimalist).

A lot of what has been written focuses on technology as an enabler of minimalism. The ability to take big things, like CD and DVD collections, and make them really small, like files on a hard-drive, can help us declutter our physical spaces. Secondly, subscription services such as Netflix, Spotify or Apple Music mean that we can avoid ownership all together and just get our entertainment on demand.* On the surface this appears to be a good thing but it doesn’t necessarily address the underlying mental clutter we face when choosing which movie to watch. In fact, it potentially makes the situation worse. With the subscription services listed above the amount of choice and mental clutter can grow exponentially larger again.

*In fact it’s not just our entertainment we can get on demand it is also our cars via Zipcar, GoGet or Uber, our holiday houses via Stayz or AirBnB or even our tools via Open Shed

The other, less written about angle, is how we might take a minimalist approach to using our technology. This is not necessarily about using it less, it is about using it in a way that is more intentional and realising that our technology needs will change over time (though if we were to apply the ‘don’t use, doesn’t serve, no joy’ test many of us would probably end up using it less as well). In one of their posts The Minimalists allude to this point, a chainsaw could be used for chopping down a tree that threatens to fall on your house, or it could be used for carving up a neighbour (their example not mine). At the end of the day the chainsaw is just a tool and we need to be responsible for its good use.*

*But unlike a chainsaw, our modern digital tools come with built-in mechanisms to make us use them more. These include push notifications and game mechanics similar to those found in poker machines, all to encourage more technology use,  rather than the right amount (I’ve written before that the worst technology is not the hard and useful stuff, it’s the easy and useless)

So this is an exercise for getting rid of unwanted apps that I have recently undertaken myself (it’s based on a method for cleaning out your wardrobe in the book Simplify by Joshua Becker). Go through each of your apps and decide whether they meet the following criteria: Do you use them? Do they serve you? Do they bring you joy?

If they do put them on either the first or second page of your home screen (the first page should be reserved for “essential” apps), and if they don’t, delete them. If you’re not sure, which I imagine could be a large number of apps, move them to a third or fourth page, this become app purgatory. If over the next three months you find yourself using one of these apps over and over again then it might find its way back onto the front two pages, if not you can then delete it, safe in the knowledge that you can always download it again if necessary.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Should we be doing a thirty hour week?

I grew up in Cervantes, a small fishing town in Western Australia where my dad was lobster fishing. One thing that my dad would always do on his boats (especially if someone else was going to be driving it) was limit the revs (or speed) that the engine could run at. If you rev an engine higher for longer you not only use more fuel, you also increase the rate of internal wear and the risk of long term damage. By artificially restricting the revs to an optimal level, the engine would operate more efficiently in the short term and be more reliable in the long term.

I think one of the big challenges we face with technology is that it’s allowing people to rev both faster and longer. Not only are we trying to get more done in each and every moment, we are also taking our work home with us and continuing it after hours and on the weekend. In the short term we might feel that we’re getting more done but we are experiencing diminishing returns on the time we invest, and over the long term there is potential for some serious damage to be done.

A recent study showed that workers in smaller Australian mid sized businesses were doing an average of 10.7 hours per week outside of normal business hours. As a business owner, these free hours might sound awesome but the truth is many of these hours are not that productive. In fact for the average worker doing an eight hour day only three hours of those are generally spent doing meaningful work.

Over the long term, our inability to disconnect is also impacting the quality of our relationships and in turn our happiness, health and well being. This in turn has a negative impact on our work. Those who work 55 hours a week rather than 40 were 21% less engaged and 27% less focused, often compelling them to put in a few extra hours to make up for the unproductive ones…

…and oh how the vicious circle continues especially now we are always connected, always contactable, always on.

So what’s the alternative? Well a Swedish software company Filimundus last year experimented with reducing the work day to six hours (whilst paying their people the same money). It has been successful enough that they plan to continue it and anecdotally report that there has been no perceivable drop in productivity i.e. their people are generating as much output from six hour as they use to get from eight…and they are more happy and engaged when they do it.

This is the same experiment that my team and I have now embarked on. Can we reduce our hours, improve our quality of life and still get the important work done? We are only a few weeks into the experiment but I feel there has already been significant benefit. Primarily, it has given me permission to seek better balance. As someone who works for themselves, there is always work to be done. The 30 hour target immediately gave me permission to switch off, take breaks, go for a swim or a walk, have lunch with Naomi or go to the movies with the girls on a Friday afternoon. In addition I’m more conscious how I spend my time when I’m actually working. I have two hours less each day which leaves less time for procrastination and low value work.

I want to start work when I’m ready, finish when I want, and get as much done as I can in between.

But this is not just an issue to be addressed by the self employed, it is just as relevant for larger organisations. One of the biggest fears I find amongst organisational leaders is the inability to escape their technology, and subsequently their work. Yet it is often the decisions that are made (or not made) at the top of organisations that are perpetuating the problem.

They’ve supplied employees with laptops and smartphones.

They’ve let their people to take work home on weekends.

They haven’t questioned emails sent by their direct reports late on a Sunday night.

And there’s still an expectation that everyone be in the office 8:00 AM on Monday morning.

The opportunity of technology was one of improved flexibility, not a hope of bonus productivity. And although this extra work may not have been requested, it is ultimately endorsed through its acceptance.

This is not a post aimed at discouraging the use of technology; it’s a post aimed at encouraging us to use it in the right way. As pointed out by the director of Melbourne University’s centre of workplace leadership, professor Peter Gahan

“When it is planned for well, you should be able to get the same levels of productivity out of people working shorter hours with more technology, and so on, than you used to get out of eight.”

Why not cash in some of our technology dividends and also take advantage of the flexibility that technology provides. Many of us now have a choice as to when and where we work which means we don’t need to turn up to an office and try and complete everything in one stint (either an eight hour or six hour one). We can work from home, break up our day…work when the inspiration hits us and in doing so work less hours and get more shit done!

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.