Tag Archives: productivity

Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo! Mistake (It’s Not What You Think)

This post has been moved to http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryhawes/2013/02/28/marissa-mayers-yahoo-mistake-its-not-what-you-think/

How and Why Gamification Must be Effective in the Enterprise

I am not a gamification expert. In fact, until today, I was skeptical of the potential effectiveness of the gamification of work in changing employee behavior and performance. I have consistently advised my software vendor clients that gamification is a wild card, because the value of gamifying enterprise software has not been demonstrated beyond question.

My outlook on gamification changed instantly today, while reading a New York Times Magazine article written by Charles Duhigg and shared on Twitter by Sameer Patel, whose value judgements and recommendations I very much trust. The article, which is actually an extended book excerpt, is not about gamification. Rather, it is about the application of analytics and behavioral science to large retailers’ marketing efforts. However, what I learned reading the article changed my perspective on the gamification of work by revealing a scientific basis for why it must succeed, if properly applied.

Duhigg tells the story of Target’s efforts to use customer purchase and demographic data to identify which of its female customers were in the second trimester of a pregnancy, so the retailer could shift those customers’ in-store and online buying habits. While that story is fascinating in itself, Duhigg’s explanation of the behavioral science on which retailers build their marketing strategies is what made me rethink my position on the gamification of work.

Behavioral scientists have shown that habits – routines that we largely perform subconsciously – are developed responses to a consistent, reoccurring stimulus. We repeat the action (habit) every time our brain is cued by the stimulus because doing so produces a mental, emotional, or physical reward. The more we repeat this cue-routine-reward loop, the further ingrained the habit becomes.

As Duhigg explains with an extended anecdote about Proctor & Gamble’s marketing efforts around its Febreze product, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to create a new habit in a vacuum. The only way to effectively change a habit is to embed it in an established cue-routine-reward loop, replacing the old routine with a new one. This is the scientific key to why the gamification of work is not just bogus theory.

For gamification to be effective, new behavioral routines must be applied when triggered by a specific work stimulus and yield already desired rewards. If we understand the cues that trigger unproductive habits for workers, as well as the rewards they derive from applying those routines, we can replace those unproductive actions with more productive ones.

Most examples of work gamification that I have seen ignore the existence of cues completely. Gamification elements are constantly present, rather than appearing only under specific conditions. Embed it and they will play.

Furthermore, gamification has too often been explained in terms of changing the rewards when, in fact, it is about changing the behaviors themselves. Behavioral science has demonstrated that changing the reward does not change the behavior. Rather, the routine must change, and the new, desired behavior must be linked to an existing, desired reward that motivates an employee.

Other Thoughts Related to This Behavioral Science

The behavioral science behind Target’s and P&G’s efforts to alter customer’s buying habits can be applied to any other situation in which change is desired to affect positive performance outcomes. Unproductive work habits is one area, as discussed above. Another is the adoption of new enterprise software.

If organizations tied usage of new software to the specific cues and rewards associated with existing work tasks and habits, adoption would rocket up the desired hockey-stick curve. Both the use cases and the benefits would be crystal clear to employees, eliminating two of the most significant barriers to the mainstream adoption of new software. The “what’s in it for me” would be immediately obvious to the workers to whom the new software has been launched. Change communication (and application training) would still be critical, but the creating the associated messages would be greatly simplified, as they are already known.

As demonstrated in Duhigg’s article, behavioral scientists (and retailers) also understand that there are a few specific, life-altering events that provide the perfect window in which influencers can change an individual’s seemingly intractable habits. Events such as graduating from college, changing employment, getting married, buying a house, and yes, having a baby, disrupt peoples’ ingrained habits, or at least cause them to question their routines. As such, major life events offer influencers a very valuable opportunity to seed new habits that will then remain in place and unquestioned until the next big life event occurs.

Why is that important? Think about who in the enterprise is currently responsible for being aware of impending or recent employee major life changes, and helping employees minimize the effects that those changes may have on their work performance. Human Resources. Yes, HR is the corporate custodian of changes associated with employee life-events. As such, they are well-positioned to identify the optimal opportunities for changing an individual employee’s work habits in ways that will lead to improved performance. Managers directly supervising one or more employees are even better positioned to identify those performance change opportunities, as they often become aware of actual or planned employee life changes before HR knows about them.

Charles Duhigg’s book excerpt provided me with an ah-ha moment regarding the gamification of work. It also underscored how important the understanding of behavioral science is to affecting positive workplace transformation. Many of us focused on the intersection of business and technology too often are unaware of, or under-value, the contributions that social science has made to the understanding of organizational behavior. Thank you Mr. Duhigg (and Mr. Patel) for leading me to these insights today.

Image source: http://www.bigdoor.com

Filtering in Social Software: Protective Bubble v. Serendipitous Awareness

Bubble Boy DavidThere was an interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday about the personalization of information via algorithm-based filters. It was started by Megan Murray, and Thomas Vander Wal, Gordon Ross, and Susan Scrupski quickly joined in with their viewpoints. Rachel Happe and I were late to the conversation, but we were able to interact with some of the original participants.

.The gist of the conversation was that some consumer social services (i.e. Facebook, Google Search, Yahoo News) have gotten rather aggressive about applying algorithms to narrow what we see in our personal activity streams. As a result, we aren’t able to see other information that might be useful or entertaining in our default view; we may only digest what the algorithm “thinks” is important or relevant to us. Or we must switch to a different view to see additional information (e.g. Live Feed v. News Feed in Facebook). Even worse, in some cases, the other information is simply not available to us, because the service doesn’t provide a way to override the algorithm that excluded it.

It was also noted in the Twitter conversation that the current crop of enterprise social software lacks sophisticated personalization facilities. In fact, it works the opposite way of consumer social services; the entire activity stream is usually exposed to an individual, who then has to narrow it by manually selecting and applying pre-defined filters. IBM, Jive, NewsGator, and others are beginning to use algorithms to include certain status events and updates in the stream, and to exclude others, but their efforts will require fine tuning after organizations have experimented with these nascent (or yet-to-be released) personalization features.

The default view of an enterprise activity stream should be highly personalized to the context in which an individual is working (e.g. role, business process, location, time, etc.) Optional views should allow individuals to override the algorithmically chosen results and see information relevant to a specific parameter (e.g. person, group, application, task, tag, etc.) Finally, an individual should be able to view the entire stream, if he or she so desires.

Why is the latter important? It introduces serendipity into the mix. Highly personalized information views can increase productivity for an individual as they do their job, but at the expense of awareness of what else is occurring around them (I wrote about this earlier this week, in this post.) This condition of overly-personalized information presentation has been called a “filter bubble”. The bubble is a virtual, protective barrier against information overload that is analogous to a plastic enclosure used in hospitals to shield highly vulnerable patients from potential infections.

Organizations must consciously balance the need to protect (and maximize the productivity of) their constituents from information overload with the desire to encourage and increase innovation (through serendipitous connection of individuals, their knowledge and ideas, and information they produce and consume.) That balance point is different for every organization and every individual who works in or with it.

Enterprise social software must be designed to accommodate the varying needs of organizations with respect to the productivity versus awareness issue. Personalization algorithms should be easily tunable, so an organization can configure an appropriate level of personalization (for example, InMagic’s core Presto technology features a “Social Volume Knob” that allows an an administrator to control what and how content is affected by social media. Different kinds of social content from certain people can carry different weight or influence.) More discrete, granular filters should be built into social software so individuals can customize their activity stream view on the fly (I made that case, just over a year ago, in this post.) A contextually personalized view should be the default, but enterprise social software must be designed so individuals can quickly and easily switch to a different (highly specific or broader) view of organizational activity.

What do you think? Should personalization be the default, or applied only when desired? What specific filters would you like to see in enterprise social software that aren’t currently available? What role does/could portal technology play in the personalization of organizational information and activity flows? What other concerns do you have about information overload, filter bubbles, and missed opportunities for serendipity and innovation? Please weigh in with a comment below.

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog

Image © 2003 Texas Children’s Hospital

More on Microblogging: Evolution of the Enterprise Market

Following my post last week on the need for additional filters in enterprise microblogging tools and activity streams, I participated in an interesting Twitter conversation on the subject of microblogging and complexity. The spontaneous conversation began when Greg Lowe, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 evangelist at Alcatel-Lucent, asked:

“Can stand alone micro-blogging solutions survive when platform plays introduce the feature?”

I immediately replied:

“Yes, if they innovate faster”

Greg shot back:

“is microblogging autonomy about innovation, or simple elegance? More features usually leads to lower usability?”

And, later, he asked a complementary question:

“is there a risk of Microblogging becoming “too complicated”?”

Is Greg on to something here? Do more features usually lead to lower usability? Will functional innovation be the downfall of stand-alone microblogging solutions, or will it help them stay ahead of platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging into their offerings?

One of the commonly heard complaints about software in general, and enterprise software in particular, is that it is too complicated. There are too many features and functions, and how to make use of them is not intuitive. On the other hand, usability is a hallmark of Web 2.0 software, and, if we make it too complex, it is likely that some people will abandon it in favor of simpler tools, whatever those may be.

But that dichotomy does not tell the entire story. Based on anecdotal evidence (there is no published quantitative research available), early adopters of Web 2.0 software in the enterprise appear to value simplicity in software they use. However, as a colleague, Thomas Vander Wal, pointed out to me yesterday, that may not be true for later, mainstream adopters. Ease-of-use may be desirable in microblogging (or any other) software, but having adequate features to enable effective, efficient usage is also necessary to achieve significant adoption. Later adopters need to see that a tool can help them in a significant way before they will begin to use it; marginal utility does not sway them, even if the tool is highly usable.

Simple may not be sustainable. As I wrote last week in this post, as enterprise use of microblogging and activity streams has increased and matured, so has the need for filters. Individuals, workgroups, and communities want to direct micro-messages to specific recipients, and they need to filter their activity streams to increase their ability to make sense out of the raging river of incoming information. Those needs will only increase as more workers microblog and more information sources are integrated into activity streams.

In the public microblogging sphere, Twitter provides a solid example of the need to add functionality to a simple service as adoption grows in terms of registered users and use cases. As more individuals used Twitter, in ways that were never envisioned by its creators, the service responded by adding functionality such as search, re-tweeting, and lists. Each of these features added some degree of complexity to the service, but also improved its usability and value.

In the evolution of any software, there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality that must be carefully managed. How does one do that? One way is to continuously solicit and accept user feedback. That allows the software provider and organizations deploying it to sense when they are nearing the point where functionality begins to overwhelm ease of use in a harmful manner. Another technique is to roll out new features in small doses at reasonable intervals. Some even advocate slipping new features in unannounced and letting users discover them for themselves. Hosted deployment of software (whether on-premise or off-site) makes this easier to do, since new features are automatically switched on for people using the software.

So back to the original question; can stand-alone microblogging solutions fend off the collaboration suite and platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging and activity streams in their offerings? My definitive answer is “yes”, because there is still room for functionality to be added to microblogging before it becomes over-complicated.

Based on the historical evolution of other software types and categories, it is likely that the smaller vendors, who are  intensely focused on microblogging, will be the innovators, rather than the platform players. As long as vendors of stand-alone microblogging offerings continue to innovate quickly without confusing their customers, they will thrive. That said, a platform vendor could drive microblogging feature innovation if they so desired; think about what IBM has done with its Sametime instant messaging platform. However, I see no evidence of that happening in the microblogging sphere at this time.

The most plausible scenario is that at some point, small, focused vendors driving microblogging innovation (e.g. Socialcast, Yammer) will be acquired by larger vendors, who will integrate the acquired features into their collaboration suite or platform. My sense is that we are still 2-3 years away from that happening, because there is still room for value-producing innovation in microblogging.

What do you think?

Thought of the Day: February 1, 2010

Web-based consumer software has taught enterprise software developers much in the last few years, most notably how to create applications and environments that are more interactive and transparent. But enterprise software developers are just beginning to learn the most valuable lesson from the public web — the importance of user experience design (UXD).

This new-found knowledge will be applied to externally-facing Web initiatives first, but will eventually become a critical part of internal work support efforts as well. Within an organization, good UXD can boost productivity, reduce business process cycle time, and improve employee satisfaction — all highly sought-after goals.

A major upshot of the new focus on UXD will likely be the consolidation of currently distinct software categories — Enterprise Portal, Web Content Management, Digital Asset Management, and Collaboration, among others — into a single category and tool set that supports the design of user experiences. This merging of functionality is already occurring and should accelerate in the next year or two.

The Impending Enterprise 2.0 Software Market Consolidation

Talk about a trip down memory lane…  Another excellent blog post yesterday by my friend and fellow Babson College alum, Sameer Patel, snapped me back a few years and gave me that spine tingling sense of deja vu.

Sameer wrote about how the market for Enterprise 2.0 software may evolve much the same way the enterprise portal software market did nearly a decade ago. I remember the consolidation of the portal market very well, having actively shaped and tracked it daily as an analyst and consultant. I would be thrilled if the E2.0 software market followed a similar, but somewhat different direction that the portal market took. Allow me to explain.

When the portal market consolidated in 2002-2003, some cash-starved vendors simply went out of business. However, many others were acquired for their technology, which was then integrated into other enterprise software offerings. Portal code became the UI layer of many enterprise software applications and was also used as a data and information aggregation and personalization method in those applications.

I believe that much of the functionality we see in Enterprise 2.0 software today will eventually be integrated into other enterprise applications. In fact, I would not be surprised to see that beginning to happen in 2010, as the effects of the recession continue to gnaw at the business climate, making it more difficult for many vendors of stand-alone E2.0 software tools and applications to survive, much less grow.

I hope that the difference between the historical integration of portal technology and the coming integration of E2.0 functionality is one of method. Portal functionality was embedded directly into the code of existing enterprise applications. Enterprise 2.0 functionality should be integrated into other applications as services (see my previous post on this subject.) Service-based functionality offers the advantage of writing once and using many times.  For example, creating service-based enterprise micro-messaging functionality (e.g. Yammer, Socialcast, Socialtext Signals, etc.) would allow it to be integrated into multiple, existing enterprise applications, rather than being confined to an Enterprise 2.0 software application or suite.

The primary goals of writing and deploying social software functionality as services are: 1) to allow enterprise software users to interact with one another without leaving the context in which they are already working, and 2) to preserve the organization’s investment in existing enterprise applications. The first is important from a user productivity and satisfaction standpoint, the second because of its financial benefit.

When the Enterprise 2.0 software market does consolidate, the remaining vendors will be there because they were able to create and sell:

  • a platform that could be extended by developers creating custom solutions for large organizations,
  • a suite that provided a robust, fixed set of functionality that met the common needs of many customers, or
  • a single piece or multiple types of service-based functionality that could be integrated into either other enterprise application vendors’ offerings or deploying organizations’ existing applications and new mashups

What do you think? Will history repeat itself or will the list of Enterprise 2.0 software vendors that survived the impending, inevitable market consolidation consist primarily of those that embraced the service-based functionality model?

Emerging Enterprise Content Management Trends

Crystal Ball Gazing

I was at the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco last week, where I answered questions as a panelist, moderated another panel, heard many excellent presentations, and joined in many engaging discussions. On the plane ride home, I took some time to piece together the individual bits of information and opinion that I had absorbed during the two-day event. This reflection led to the following observations regarding the state of enterprise content management practices and technologies.

Up With People

Many content software vendors are now focusing on people first, content second. This is a huge shift in perspective, especially when voiced at a content management conference! Kumar Vora, Vice President & General Manager, Enterprise at Adobe was the first person to proclaim this philosophical change during his opening keynote presentation at Gilbane San Francisco. He reported that Adobe has shifted its business philosophy to focus on serving people and their needs, as opposed to thinking about content first. Many other vendor representatives and attendees from end user organizations echoed Kumar’s emphasis on people during the event. It is too early to say definitively what this radical change in perspective means, but we should see more user friendly enterprise content management tools as a result.

Keyword Fail

Keyword search has largely failed end users and incremental improvements haven’t been able to keep up with the explosion in newly created content. Jeff Fried, VP Product Management for Microsoft’s FAST search engine actually proclaimed that “keyword search is dead!” The business world is at a point where alternatives, including machine-generated and social search techniques, must be explored. The latter method was on many attendees minds and lips, which should not surprise, given the shift to people-centric thinking identified above. Social search will be an increasingly hot topic in 2009 and 2010.

SharePoint Upheaval

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 has the potential to completely shake up the information management market. The next version of SharePoint will likely include a raft of (as of yet unconfirmed) Web Content Management features that have been missing or rudimentary. In her keynote address, Tricia Bush, Group Product Manager for SharePoint said that the promise of content management has not yet been realized and that her team is focusing diligently on the opportunity. This increased emphasis on content management is contrary to the first trend that I described above, and the negative perceptions many hold of SharePoint may increase unless Microsoft also better enables people in SharePoint 2010 (it is rumored that the product will also see substantial additions to its currently limited social collaboration functionality.) Those placing bets should do so knowing that Microsoft intends to, and probably will, be a major force in enterprise information management.

Simplicity Trumps Complexity

Enterprise applications and systems managed by IT departments continue to grow in complexity. As this happens, end users turn to simpler alternatives, including consumer oriented Web 2.0 applications, in order to get work done. The “problem” is that these consumer applications aren’t approved or controlled by the IT function. The opportunity is a potentially large market for software vendors that can create enterprise ready versions of Web 2.0 applications by adding security, reliability, and other attributes demanded by CIOs. For those vendors to succeed, however, they must retain the simplicity (intuitiveness and ease of use) that are the hallmark of consumer Web 2.0 applications.

Communication Beats Publishing

Communication applications are increasingly being used by end users to collaborate, because enterprise content management applications have become too complex (see the trend immediately above). Additionally, communication tools are favored by end users because they can use them to simultaneously create and distribute content. This increased speed of content publication also accelerates general business process execution, allowing users of communication tools to be more productive than users of formal enterprise content systems. Communication tools will continue to become an important and growing back channel that employees use to share content when overly complex publishing tools impede or fail them.

Having one’s ideas validated by a reputable peer is always rewarding. John Mancini, President of AIIM, published a blog post in the time between when I first formulated these thoughts on the flight home from San Francisco last week and when I published this post today. Reading John’s post should encourage you to believe that the trends I (and he) have described are for real. The question for all of us now is how will we respond to these emerging realities.

Photo credit: Charles Soper (via Flickr)