Yesterday the MIT Technology Review had a piece about a new breakthrough technology that supports a type of 'brain-control' interface allowing users to dial the numbers on a cell phone simply by thinking of them.
From the MIT Technology Review piece:
'Researchers in California have created a way to place a call on a cell phone using just your thoughts. Their new brain-computer interface is almost 100 percent accurate for most people after only a brief training period.
Like many other such interfaces, Jung's system relies on electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes on the scalp to analyze electrical activity in the brain. An EEG headband is hooked up to a Bluetooth module that wirelessly sends the signals to a Nokia N73 cell phone, which uses algorithms to process the signals.'
The system has obvious benefits to people with disabilities, that for whom even dialing the numbers on a common cell phone can be an extremely difficult challenge. Once this type of technology is enhanced and improved, one can envision the 'mind-control' interface evolving beyond the relatively simple act of dialing a phone number, to more complex computer interactions (sending short text messages, clicking buttons, searching for content, etc.).
But beyond the obvious cool factor of computers and smartphones reacting to our thoughts, I think this story is a reminder for any of us that design and deploy systems in our organizations, or are tasked with creating effective and important communications and messaging. The audiences that we are trying to reach all have their own set of challenges, that often causes friction in their acceptance of our new systems, or that curtails their willingness and capacity to absorb our messages.
Mostly we realize these challenges and limitations exist. But we also assume that our position in the organization will make whatever we are doing seem important enought that employees will simply have to get over their problems and deal with it.
We create the standard and necessary communication messages to distribute to all employees and in the next breath say 'But we know no one pays attention to these emails'. We litter the screens of our online Employee Self-Service systems with help text and links to dense 27-page User Guides, with the full realization that busy managers and employees don't want to be bothered to read them. Our IT departments support corporate BlackBerry and lately iPhone and iPad, but almost none of the HR-related interaction (messaging, training material, access to HR systems and information), are available on these mobile platforms.
So employees continue to ignore messages, work around the set of systems and processes we have installed, or require what we interpret as irrationally high demands for support to use systems that we think should be simple, intuitive, and frictionless.
But often we fail to see our end of the problem in these situations. It would be, as in the example of the mind-control cell phone, if the cell phone manufacturer blamed disabled people for their inability to make a simple phone call.
So today I am thinking about the tools I have deployed, and the communications that surround them, and considering whether or not I have done the equivalent of handing a cell phone over to someone without the ability to dial.
But until I can deploy systems in the enterprise that operate on 'mind-control', I think, as you may agree, we have a longer and tougher road to go.