Is this the post PC era?

Is this the beginning of the post PC era

Since the release of the iPad only a few years ago we have seen a phenomenal growth in tablet usage leading many commentators to suggest that we are entering the post-PC era. Microsoft on the other hand believes that there is no such thing as the post PC era and insists that tablets are actually ‘tablet PCs’ (with Microsofts own Surface RT tablet you only have to scratch the thin veneer of the ‘Metro’ operating environment to find a traditional Windows desktop underneath).

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1Jz3sdd”]Tablets can do 95% of paper tasks better, more likely ushering in a post-paper than post-PC era.[/tweetthis]

Although this is most likely a question of how we define ‘personal computer’ and ‘tablet’ I believe that the mixed messages about how tablets should be used and integrated with our other digital devices is stopping us from seeing the potential of our tablet devices. Rather than think about the PC tasks that you can do on your tablet, think about the tasks that you have traditionally filled with paper. I would argue that the current breed of tablets are only 50% like a PC but 95% like paper. This is because a tablet will do about 50% of what you can do on your PC and often do it badly. Conversely your tablet can do about 95% of what you do on paper, and most often do it better.

My own view is that although we are going to continue to see a convergence of tablets and PCs we currently face some fairly significant limitations in regard to screen size, input methods and (less significantly) computing power that means a ‘post-laptop’ era is still a few years away. In the meantime tablet users should rest assured that their devices can be used to fill a fairly significant technology gap.

There is a very good chance that we will reach the post-paper era long before we reach the post-PC one.

Tablets in business are inevitable: Only training and support will keep information safe

The other day I presented to the Knowledge Management Roundtable Victoria whose members includes  knowledge managers from across the public and private sector. The presentation was on the inevitability of mobile technology such as iPads and tablets in workplace and the opportunity that they offer in supporting ‘personal knowledge management’.

From the discussion it was clear that many organisations have been holding off on implementing a tablet strategy until there is a suitable enterprise grade solution that will let them control the information on the device. Although I understand why organisations are taking this approach I think it might be a risky strategy and based on some unsound assumptions.

The first assumption is that people need IT to deliver a ‘personal knowledge management’ solution and that they are willing to wait until IT is ready to deliver it. The second assumption is that unless organisations have an enterprise level of control over tablet devices information will be less unsecured

Reality Check 1: People don’t need IT to deliver personal knowledge management solutions

There are already countless consumer grade solutions that are allowing people to use their iPads to be more effective in business. Individuals who are willing to supply their own device no longer need an IT department to deliver a solution you can visit the App Store and set this up for less that $50. Unless your mobile policy is so strict that people are not allowed to bring devices onto the premises then there is a good chance that this is already happening.

Reality Check 2: Organisational information is already unsecured, you just don’t have any visibility over it

The majority of the information that people capture on their tablets would normally be captured on paper. This means there is actually a massive opportunity to increase information security, even without an enterprise solution.

In general employees do not set out to steal or maliciously share information (and if this is there intent Wikileaks has shown that even the US army can’t stop this happening). Most often information leakage (such as people emailing documents to their personal email accounts) is a result of a lack of understanding or training. What’s more, for most individuals the desire to be more effective in their work will override any small concerns they have about information security (because they get rewarded for being more effective).

I believe that the way forward has to be for organisations to accept the inevitability of people using tablets in the workplace and take a proactive approach to making the people more effective, and in doing so keeping information safer. If organisations don’t take a proactive approach, you can guarantee that people will take it upon themselves to deliver their own personal knowledge management solution.

The infographic below helps illustrate the inevitability of people using tablets in business

Why do we go to meetings?

Meetings, especially in large organisations, are often looked on with a level of disdain. People have a lot of work to get done and often see that time spent in meetings is wasted. Although this can be the case it is also worth reflecting on why we hold meetings in the first place.

Meetings are fundamentally about eliciting information flows. As knowledge workers in organisations we are tasked with making good decisions and those decisions are fundamentally a result of our personal knowledge base (what we ‘know’). Our personal knowledge base is subsequently a result of the information that we have access to and our intellectual ability to make sense of this information. Finally our personal knowledge base is a result of both the information that we find and the information that we get from others.

Meetings are one of the richest ways of us to share information with others and also for tapping into the knowledge base of others. Yet for many the only knowledge technology that they have at their disposal in a meeting environment is piece of paper…and their brain. They use their paper and pen for recording what was relevant and they use their brain as the indexing device to ‘remember’ the high level ideas of the meeting for future reference.

Unfortunately for many knowledge workers the quantity of information that we are provided in such situations can be overwhelming and the traditional paper and brain combination is now struggling to keep up. Combine this with research that was recently presented in New Scientist that our brains are actually a very poor remembrance device and it clear that if we wish to make good business decisions and deliver value to our clients that we need to come up with a better way.

I believe that this is the fundamental role that mobile technology, especially tablet devices, plays in delivering value to organisations. By replacing the paper and pen as our recording device and the brain as our indexing device we can both store higher quality and quantities of information and recall exactly what we need when we need it.

What’s more, by making this shift you are freeing up your brain to do what it is inherently good at, making meaning out of the information that it has available to it. For this reason I believe that there will be a big shift in how we view this type of technology over the next five years. Not only will they be increasingly prevalent in meeting rooms and board rooms, if you are a knowledge worker it may even be considered unprofessional to NOT be using some form of tablet or ‘decision support device’. After all, if meetings are about eliciting information flows, dont you want to be sure that you are getting the best possible information and knowledge from the people that you are sharing with?

Digitise what you can and focus on everything else

 

I recently attended the Future of Work conference jointly hosted by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency and Australia’s Industry Skills Councils. Over two days expert researchers and speakers from around the world shared insights into the drivers and possible outcomes for the future of work. A strong theme of the conference was the likely loss of high skilled jobs as a result of overseas competition or due to improving technology.

Professor Hugh Lauder, co-author of ‘the Global Auction‘ pointed to China’s target to have 195 million graduates by 2020 as a cause of concern for Australian workers, suggesting that although we have traditionally accepts outsourcing for low skill jobs there will be increasing pressure on high skill jobs as well. Increases in computing power and the growth of the robotics industry is also resulting in ‘digital Taylorism‘ as more and ore complex tasks can now be done by computers.

Although I agree with the drivers I don’t necessarily agree with the outcomes. Although we will undoubtedly continue to see TASKS outsourced or digitized I believe that it is much harder to outsource/digitize whole jobs.

Darren Williams, Chief Technology Officer at Freelancer.com suggested that you could now hire an architect and get your house plans done from a skilled overseas service provider via their outsourcing site. Although you can get a set of house plans I would argue that this is not the same as hiring an architect. The role of an architect involves a complex and interactive process of understanding client needs and integrating these into the prevailing community and environmental dynamics of the building site. This is not a process that can be easily digitized. On the other hand, once the architect starts drafting the plans this should be a digital process (and in a lot of cases already is) as digital allows for the fast and effective development and sharing of the design data.

Rather than focus on the loss of certain tasks, we need to identify and enjoy the benefits we will obtained from digitizing parts of our jobs. Individually it will allow us to be more effective at what we do and to focus on the more human and creative elements of our work. The outcome of this may mean that there is excess capacity within certain fields but this may not necessarily result in fewer jobs. Take architecture for example, excess capacity amongst architects may lead to consolidation in the industry OR it may mean that more people get to enjoy the benefits of  architecturally designed houses as reduced costs make them more affordable.

In fact I believe the greatest risk of digital Taylorism and off shoring work is not about losing your job but about not being proactive about identifying which parts of your job should be digitized. We have a competitive marketplace for work and if we don’t start to work proactively to identify how we can use technology to do our jobs more effectively we risk losing it to the competitor down the street well before we lose it to the robot or the competitor overseas.

Leaders with Technology

I recently went to a very inspiring leadership workshop hosted by Qualia Learning Network with Tony Schwartz from the Energy Project. Amongst the gems of information that I am already using to work more effectively, Tony made the comment that one of the biggest challenges that leaders face in managing their energy is the pervasiveness of technology.

He shared a great quote from Linda Stone, formally of Apple and Microsoft, describing a state of ‘continuous partial attention’

For almost two decades, continuous partial attention has been a way of life to cope and keep up with responsibilities and relationships. We’ve stretched our attention bandwidth to upper limits. We think that if tech has a lot of bandwidth then we do, too. With continuous partial attention we keep the top level item in focus and scan the periphery in case something more important emerges.

Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire not to miss opportunities. We want to ensure our place as a live node on the network, we feel alive when we’re connected. To be busy and to be connected is to be alive. We’ve been working to maximize opportunities and contacts in our life. So much social networking, so little time. Speed, agility, and connectivity at top of mind. Marketers humming that tune for two decades now. Now we’re over-stimulated, over-wound, unfulfilled.

Like most of us, I have experienced the negative impacts of technology and confess to many hours being spent in a state of continuous partial attention. That being said, I cannot see any reason why technology needs to have this negative impact on our effectiveness as leaders. Ultimately technology is just a tool. It is the decisions we make (or lack of decisions) that ultimately defines whether technology works effectively for us, or not.

There are countless models of leadership and lists of effective leadership behaviors. Rather than get bogged down in a debate abut effective leadership I found this (fairly) comprehensive list of leadership behaviours to see where technology is likely to have a positive or negative impact.

Leadership behaviours where technology has a positive impact

  • Collaborating Across the Organization
  • Keeping Things in Perspective (Humility & Gratitude)
  • Evaluating Risk
  • Managing Complexity & Ambiguity
  • Managing & Evaluating Performance
  • Communicating
  • Hiring Great Talent
  • Learning the Business

Leadership behaviours where technology is likely to have no impact

  • Driving Innovation
  • Demonstrating Passion for Your Work
  • Influencing Others
  • Resolving Conflict
  • Coaching & Developing Talent
  • Driving for Results
  • Delegating & Empowering
  • Motivating & Inspiring Others
  • Building High Performance Teams
  • Creating a Culture of Customer Focus
  • Setting Strategy & Priorities
  • Establishing a Vision & Mission
  • Listening
  • Being a Role Model for Integrity & Ethics
  • Demonstrating Optimism & Positive Energy

Leadership behaviours where technology is likely to have a negative impact

  • Being a Champion for Work/Life Balance
  • Managing Your Time

Although there is clearly a lack of scientific rigour behind my analysis, I would argue that the only two leadership behaviours that technology is likely to have a negative impact on is time management and work/life balance. This is far outweighed by the positive impact that technology can have on leadership (through improved communication, opportunities for learning and enlarged perspective). If we are being honest the negative impacts are also more to do with how we use technology rather than technology itself.

So as leaders what can we do to improve our technology usage?

  • Start by turning off all your alerts across all your devices. These are almost always set to be on by default and they are a constant drain on our attention and subsequently our effectiveness. Schedule time to review your communications (email, social media etc) or do it when you have finished a task.
  • Communicate better. How many emails do you get to clarify previous communications? Take the time to write your communications right the first time.
  • Start seeing their technology as a tool. Designers want us to have an emotional connection to our devices but ultimately they are just tools, just like a hammer and screwdriver.
  • Get some help. Given the amount of time that is spent using technology most of us are severely undertrained. Whether it be with established technologies such as email or emerging technologies such as social media and mobile computing, we can be much more effective and less prone to the negative impacts if we get some training.

Technology is not going away and we need to accept that the effective use of technology will increasingly be an integral part of effective leadership. By taking a more intentional approach to technology use we can continue to reap the benefits that it offers and maintain our focus and attention as leaders.

Openness is not the ending

I spent Friday last week at Tedx Melbourne and there have been some great talks and some even greater one liners. A couple of my favorites have been

“A plan is not step one, step two, step three, that’s not a plan, that’s a list of instructions” Adam O’Donnell

“We do not rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of preparation” Adam O’Donnell

“If you want something you don’t already have, you need to do something you haven’t already done. Push your boundaries.” Marcus Taylor

But perhaps the most thought provoking and immediately relevant one liner for me was a statement by Margaret Heffernan

“Openness is not the ending, it is only the beginning”

The idea that ‘knowledge is power’ is widely accepted in many organisations but the ramifications of this are not always well understood. The hoarding and compartmentlising of knowledge restricts the organisations’ ability to respond to changes in the operating environment and ultimately impacts its relevance in the marketplace.

Increasingly modern technology is working to democratize and open up knowledge in organisations whether it be through enterprise social networks such as Yammer that allow for the more effective transmission of information both vertically and horizontally across organisations, the use of Twitter to identify signals in the organisations operating environment, or the use of mobile technology as a personal decision support tool.

Margaret’s talk emphasised that openness of information in itself will not allow organisations to respond effectively. It is only when we develop robust approaches to discussing and challenging each other (and ourselves) that we will gain real value from this openness.

Unfortunately the idea that ‘knowledge is power’ has meant that information, that ‘messy information’, the type that might create discussion and challenge the status quo, has not always seen the light of day. This has meant that many organisations have forgotten how to have robust discussions that challenge existing power relationships.

So if openness is not the ending and is only the beginning what changes will organisations need to make to allow the right conversations to take place?

Do we have a productivity problem?

 

There have been a number of reports suggesting that productivity has been in decline in Australia and that this is seen as a worrying sign. Although productivity is relatively easy to measure I’m not so sure that it is necessarily the best metric for judging the performance of Australian businesses.

To me it is much more important to look at the effectiveness of what we do rather than the efficiency of how we do it. As Australian businesses take on an ever increasing knowledge focus, the ‘what’ of business is becoming increasingly important relative to the ‘how’. That is why when talking to clients about the value of the Mobial: Me training I describe increased productivity as being a low value benefit and improved decision making as a high value benefit.[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1EOHtOu”]Productivity without effectiveness is like watching the speedometer without looking at the roadmap.[/tweetthis]

This is not to say that measuring productivity is not important.  Many of my clients undertake the training because of the 4-5 hours they can save every week by using technology more effectively, it is a measurable gain that can be translated into actual dollars (the role of tablets in providing productivity gains has also been documented in publications such as The Australian). My point is that looking at productivity in the absence of effectiveness is like watching the speedometer without looking at the roadmap. You can end up going really fast in completely the wrong direction.

Personally I think that the effective use of tablets can provide both a effectiveness AND a productivity boost. They provide users with better internal information, a more detailed understanding of the operating environment and also reduce time associated with low value activities. Perhaps this is why Gartner lists tablets as one of the 10 disruptive technologies for business in 2012.