My “Digital” Habits

I was interviewed for a company newsletter a few weeks back; it was to be a fun, short Q&A about my digital habits. Apparently the metrics show that this section is one of the most read items within the newsletter and I was interviewed because I was deemed a “Collaboration Guru” and might have something interesting to say. You can be the judge of that!

Here’s the transcript:

Introduction

Background: It might not tow the party line, but I’m always slightly cynical. I initially hated the term “digital”. I could’t help thinking this just another case where powerful technology companies have manufactured a wave of hysteria to increase dwindling sales figures. I’m thinking SOA (now microservices?) here. Don’t worry, it’s just the term I disagree with, I love the pace of technology innovation and the increased enablement of consumers and end users that we’re witnessing.

I’ve spent the majority of my career in  IT delivery and Technology Architecture roles. I am a cross-industry technologist, but I’ve throughout my I have always seemed to end up at either energy, utilities, chemicals or natural resources companies, with a particular focus on consumer and retail..

My current role is at Shell where I’m a Technology Architecture & Delivery Lead for a global marketing and retail analytics program.

How many hours are you online every day in total? Sixteen hours – my iPhone is automatically set to “do not disturb” between 10:30pm and 6:30am.

Are you an innovator or conservator? Neither. I’m always curious of new technologies and gadgets, but haven’t created anything new myself! Therefore I would class myself as a fast-follower rather than an innovator or conservator.

Best digital invention? I love my Pebble smartwatch (I was an original backer on Kickstarter) but it’s very hard to pinpoint just one. I think the start-up revolution itself is a great innovation. Even though most fail, creating a business has never been so easy or cool. Small teams of focussed intelligent people are making headway in a marketplace where huge corporations have historically dominated. That is very exciting to me.

Website you can’t live without? www.google.com – I don’t think that answer has changed since I was at university.

App that are you using the most right now? Strava – an exercise tracking platform that uses your smartphone GPS. Leverages gamification and social collaboration techniques to push you to exercise further and faster.

Website you’d most like to send to the trash? I don’t tend to visit poorly designed websites unless I really have to. Some of the intranet sites at work are notoriously bad though.

When was the last time you liked, commented on, or microblogged on a collaboration platform? A few hours ago, in my company instance of Yammer.

If you could set up a digital business what would it be? If I knew that, then I wouldn’t be working in consulting any more!

What’s the most useful digital tip you’ve picked-up recently? Putting an iPhone into Airplane Mode allows it to charge faster.

The future’s bright? Definitely. Any advances in technology that can make people’s lives safer, healthier, more enriched and more productive have got to be good for humanity. I’ve firmly jumped on both the “quantified self” and “wearables” bandwagons recently. I’m starting to see them merge and cross-over now, which makes my life a lot easier. I can’t wait until the new wave of health platforms/ecosystems (Apple vs Microsoft vs Google) become more mainstream. For me, there’s still some way to go to make them seamless.

Quickfire:

LinkedIn or CV? They have very different use cases in my opinion. I use LinkedIn frequently keep in touch with ex-colleagues.

Twitter or no Twitter? I’m a regular twitter user, but mainly as a “lurker”. In particular I find it hugely useful for real-time service disruptions to South West Trains. I tend not to use twitter in a work context, but I’m sure that will change in the future.

Facebook or good book? I use Facebook in a social context, but I’m not connected to many work colleagues. A good (Kindle) book or streamed (Sky Go / iPlayer) movie helps me pass the time during my daily commute.

To blog or not to blog? I publish this blog on a very irregular basis. I do have great ambitions of keeping up to date, but I always get distracted.

TV or laptop? I don’t tend to watch much live TV these days. Given I have a young family at home, it’s mostly just pre-recorded stuff via TiVo or Apple TV.

Newspapers or iPad? I haven’t bought a newspaper for over a decade, so it has to be my iPad.

Current Favourite Gadget? Sonos Play1.

Take the time to share non-work interests with your team

As part of our global architecture status meeting, we have been taking 10-15 mins out of the agenda to share some of our non-work interests. Our team is geographically distributed, so not many of us have never met face to face. This is a great way for us to build rapport and improve our working relationships.

So far we’ve had some very quirky and interesting topics:

  • Indian weddings
  • Building a space elevator
  • Community engagement outside work (being a local politician)
  • RC helicopters
  • The “Cinco de Mayo” festival
  • Lacrosse – the oldest N American sport.
  • and me on Rugby Union

Here’s the slide deck that I used to explain Rugby Union to the uninitiated –> Rugby Explained (External)

Why not try something similar in your next team meeting? It’s surprising how it can break up a regular monotonous status session.

Avoiding Decision Fatigue The Barack Obama Way

According to Wikipedia, the term decision fatigue describes the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual caused by a prolonged period of decision making.  The common consensus is that decision fatigue is a phenomenon experienced by us all, whether we realize it or not. It can occur at work, at home or in our social lives.

In most cases, this has negative connotations: for example, my friends recently amassed over 1000 Facebook messages just to organize one night out over the Easter holidays, just because nobody could make a decision on where to meet, what to eat and at what time. But some industries use it to their advantage – I’ve learned recently that the reason why most supermarkets have magazine racks and junk food situated next to the checkouts is because people are so worn down by having to make constant choices throughout the store that they will often pick someone at the end of their shop without thinking.

Car manufacturers have cottoned on to this and now have learned to avoid swamping their customers with endless decisions up front and tend to offer a reduced set of options by packaging them up into distinct specifications. But in closing the deal they’ll offer you all sorts of additional extras like paint cover, extended warranties, gap insurance and expect you to be fatigued into ticking all of them – that’s where their bonuses come from.

As technology architects often working in high-pressure working environments,  we experience decision fatigue inducing scenarios all the time. Whether it be big up front design decisions, technology selections, change impact analysis, production change approvals, we need to find ways to remain as ordinarily sensible people and reduce our decision fatigue to become more effective architects.

How do other people cope? Barack Obama famously enforces a streamlined process on all (100+) of his direct reports, whereby they must include three check-boxes on any document they ask him to review with the options: agree; disagree; or discuss further. I really admire the simplicity of this approach.

Unbeknownst to his technique I tried something remarkably similar a few years ago when my fiancee went through a period of intensive wedding planning. Whenever she needed my input on a decision e.g. wedding invitations, colour schemes, menus etc. I asked her to do some research (she loved this bit) and come back to me with her three preferred options and we would pick our favourite together over a glass of wine. I could then focus my time on the important stuff like how much beer and wine we’d need and the location for the honeymoon etc. Incidentally we also had a huge shared Google Spreadsheet with reams of detailed plans and lists, which still serves a purpose nowadays as our Christmas card list complete with people’s addresses!

Like Mr Obama, we can do this by both employing prioritization techniques and structured decision making tools to our advantage. And if we’re lucky enough to have direct reports then get them to do some research and streamlining up front. We need to take stock of the types decisions and their cadence. Often, it’s easier to tackle big issues first before attempting simpler day-to-day decisions.

In my experience it always feels safer to weigh up all pros and cons in to arrive at the “best” answer for the bigger more complex issues, but to avoid fatigue try to focus your attention a few key criterion, and leave the rest alone. Where possible, try making quick decisions on smaller choices that don’t matter as much, or try empowering your team members to do the thinking for you and just provide you with the opportunity to quickly Agree, Disagree or Discuss.

What do you think? Is decision fatigue a problem for you at work or at home? How do you cope?

Hello world!

I recently decided to re-publish my internal work blog on an external site (I work for Accenture). I’ve seen a lot of praise for wordpress in our Yammer community so I thought I’d try it out. I often like to have a personal opinion on these sorts of things rather than taking everyone’s word for it.

I was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward it was to sign up. I was even able to re-purchase the donalpsmith.com domain for a few quid as part of the process.

Not a bad start!

Next, let’s see how I get on with importing my blog history and then linking in my other social media accounts.