Monday, June 1, 2009

The Human Factor

Jeff Atwood in Coding Horror mentions in his blog that:

The key word here is "fun".

When you interact with other people online ..

* sending an email to a mailing list
* posting on a discussion forum
* chatting on IRC
* revising a Wiki entry
* entering a blog comment

.. like it or not, you're participating in the world's largest MMORPG. Lurking is always free. Those that choose to go beyond lurking, to add some tiny bit of content to the web, do it because they find it enjoyable. On some level, they're having fun

Enjoyability of a user experience, even for a back office application is important. More than that, most people do what they do because at some level they enjoy it. If you structure your applications internally so that "doing the best thing for the business" increases the level of enjoyment at work, you're on the road to success.

Obviously, this can be taken to an extreme, but let's take a recent example. We recently deployed and evangelized yammer at work and a great many people have taken to microblogging as a communication tool. I'm not sure exactly WHY we decided to start this, but if the intent was to begin to break down barriers and get functional stovepipes to begin communicating better, somebody deserves a handshake, pat on the back, and perhaps even a beer at the local drinking establishment.

I won't go much further on extolling the virtues of using a microblog at work, but I noticed an interesting side-effect. People are using this tool, embracing it, and... shock of shocks! talking about non-work related subjects! From my perspective, this is GREAT, they've not only begun to openly communicate, but they're comfortable enough to begin to connect intellectually and emotionally with people they would have otherwise never even met (we've got 250,000+ employees).

On the other hand, folks in management can now see what people are talking about. This makes some folks very nervous, to the point that they refuse to use this tool. In fact, they approach me (one who perhaps spends TOO much time yammering) and say things, in hushed tones, like "do you know that the executives can SEE what you're writing?" "People might think you don't have any work to do and you'll get fired."

I won't go into my tirade about how water cooler conversations are as important as formal meetings at this point. I would, however, love to walk through the cafeteria, gym, coffee shop, or any of the other non "work" related areas of our headquarters and make these same statements. Somehow, there is a strange fear of "real time" awareness and communication that still hampers people's ability to know what they should or shouldn't share with their coworkers.

More importantly, one of the "channels" in yammer was about video gaming. On this channel, there was quite a bit of activity (especially by those in IT). I think this is GREAT! I think video gaming is the future of user centric software design. How much more output could we get from our people if we could get all our business applications as engaging and addictive as tetris or freecell. How much more of their free time would they be willing to donate to our cause if it they enjoyed their work as much as their video games? More importantly, how much more connected to each other are our employees and customers if we are personally engaged in conversations about things we care about?

What happened though, was that someone, somewhere was shocked! SHOCKED I say! that an employee who spends a mere 60 hours per week at the office has time to write a two line blog entry, three times per day about "video games". One of the participants in the "video game" crew yammered a chilling message to the group about how "we are being watched" and you should only talk about work related things.

The problem right now is where does work stop and fun begin? In the ideal world they completely overlap and you are not a split personality, but a whole person who get paid to do what they enjoy.

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