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    Tuesday
    Jan172012

    What a Year's Worth of Email Can Teach You

    Email. A burden. A time-suck. An endless stream of incoming messages, some batted back, some ignored, some discarded, most forgotten. But still a necessary and important tool for getting work done today, two decades after its introduction into our working lives.

    And despite dramatic and continuing popularity and value provided by alternate forms of electronic communication, (SMS, social networks, enterprise collaboration technologies), email, for most information workers, remains the dominant digital collaboration and discussion medium. We hate it but we can't live without it. Kind of like Reality TV or Facebook.

    But for a tool that is so dominant in many of our professional endeavors, we often have little insight into how we use the tool, and how our usage might be effecting our success, productivity, and career prospects. We know we use email a lot, perhaps even all day long, and we can see how many unread messages we have in our Inbox, but after that, the level of understanding about a communication and work platform is typically extremely limited.

    That's why a new service from ToutApp is so interesting, an 'Email Year in Review' report that provides, in a neat little infographic, a rich look into an entire year's worth of email traffic, messages, response rates and more. My full report of Gmail usage from 2011 is here, (a small sample of the full infographic is below).

     

    Other sections of the report dig into most frequent correspondents, most commonly emailed 'circles' or groups of recipients, and some interesting chronilogical data around email usage. Did you find that last Spring's project missed its deadline by a few weeks? Could have had at least something to do with a spike in email traffic right around the critical Go-live? Or do you find yourself mainly pushing email all day long, forcing you to do 'real work' late at night or on weekends? If you are like me, you will probably be surprised by at least some of the data from a year's worth of email.

    Currently the Email Year in Review is only available for Gmail accounts, so its usefulness for most corporate employees will be limited, but for frequent Gmail users the report is illuminating, and for all of us that are interested in improving performance and collaboration both personally and inside our organizations, the approach to analyzing the data is instructive.

    Email is one of those tools and processes that is so familiar, so entrenched, so deeply immersed in our working lives that it can be really hard to look at its use dispassionately, with some perspective, and with an analytical eye. But understanding more about how email might be impacting your success is something many of us should spend some time considering.

    If you are a heavy Gmail user, I'd encourage you to request your own custom email analysis report from ToutApp here. You might be surprised at the results.

     

    Friday
    Jan132012

    The Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy - Part VI

    Now that our long national nightmare, (the NBA labor impasse that resulted in almost a two-month delay in the start of the 2012 NBA season), is over, and a hectic, condensed schedule of 66 games is in full swing, it was only a matter of time before the next installment in the popular 'Jeff Van Gundy' series.JVG

     

    Since it has been some time since the last dispatch in the JVG catalog, perhaps a brief re-set is in order.

     

    Jeff Van Gundy, (JVG), is a former head coach of the NBA's New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. After leaving coaching in 2007, he embarked on what has been a successful career as a broadcaster, providing expert analysis for ESPN's NBA telecasts. JVG excels as an analyst not only for his basketball expertise, but for his good nature, wry humor, and keen insight into motivation, leadership, team dynamics - exactly the kinds of challenges faced every day in the corporate world. 

     

    I have been watching NBA games forever, and chronicling just some of the Wisdom of Jeff Van Gundy here on the blog for a while. You can catch up on the previous installments in the series if you wish here -  (Parts IIIIII, IV, and V).

     

    So for this latest installment of the 'Wisdom of JVG' series, I call your attention to an observation JVG made in this week's Dallas Mavericks v. Boston Celtics game, a sloppy, uneven contest eventually won by Dallas. As the game wore on, and the poor play from what seemed like two tired teams continued, JVG offered this insight when talking about the Celtics' veteran star Ray Allen, a player known for a high work rate and dedication to the game.
    Look at Ray Allen work. He has natural energy. No one has to 'motivate' him to run hard or to cut to the basket with force and purpose. He doesn't need to be prodded or pushed to give that level of effort. He just does it every night. 
    _
    JVG went on to talk about Allen's teammate Kevin Garnett in similar terms. But the larger point was that when the star players, the leaders, the team members that others look up to, set an example of pride, discipline, and dedication that it creates an environment where an expectation or a standard is set that in order to fit in, everyone else, who might not have all the physical gifts of Allen or Garnett have to follow. 

    Organizations talk a lot about leadership development, building leadership pipelines, and the importance of leadership in the modern age. And while formal leadership capability is certainly important, I wonder if informal, in the trenches, and demonstrated by example leadership from those key players on the team that don't really have formal leadership titles or responsibility is equally important.

    It's fantastic when the organization has an inspirational, charismatic, and effective leader at the top of the org chart. But it might be more important and influential in the long run to have more quiet leaders sprinkled throughout the organization that have that natural energy, setting the example for the rest of the team to follow.

    For me, I'm just glad the NBA is back so I can try and mine for more 'JVG' posts!

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Jan122012

    If we're all so original, why are there so many Starbucks?

    Most of us like to think we are kind of cool, interesting, hip, unique, and not at all as boring and predictable as the next person. This kind of attitude is perhaps more prevalent in the USA, where the ideas of rugged individualism, conquering the great untamed land and staking your own claim are still a part of the national psyche. We don't like to conform. We don't want to be told what to do. And we often chafe at what we sometimes perceive as artificial or arbitrary rules, policies, or regulations.

    So why in this nation of free-thinking, freedom loving, don't you dare tell me what to do, think, feel, say, or buy kinds of people do we have so much sameness? Every town has a McDonalds and Starbucks, (usually more than one), you can score a $5 dollar Subway footlong everywhere, and in town after town a seemingly limitless string of non-descript strip malls remind you that even though you may be thousands of miles from home you have not gone very far.

    A recent post on the Psychology Today Ulterior Motives blog titled 'Why We Love Independence, Individuality, and Starbucks' offers some ideas as to this apparent paradox - why we will sometimes travel across the globe only to seek out a cup of joe from Starbucks that we can easily get in our home towns. After reviewing some recent studies on the topics of mobility, choice, and familairity, the author offers the following observations to attempt to explain the seemingly contradiction:

    The independent lifestyle that we often lead in the United States creates great freedom. But that freedom comes at the cost of our connection to community. When we move from place to place, we disrupt our connections to family and friends. We also force ourselves to adapt to a new house and a new environment.

    In those times, we tend to attach ourselves to things that are familiar as an anchor. There are lots of things that we might use for that anchor. One of them is the places we shop. Shopping at a familiar chain store after moving provides a sense of balance to counteract the chaotic feelings we might have as we try to re-root ourselves in a new home.

    Ok, that makes some sense. If you have relocated, left most all of your familiar surroundings and friends behind, then seeking out the relative sameness of chain stores, shops, or restaurants does certainly provide a level of comfort, and anchor of sorts as the piece describes. You may not know anyone in your new town, or at your new company, but that grande mocha with whipped cream will taste exactly the same as the one you used to get every morning on your way to your old job. And that is, mostly, a good thing. It's assuring, it's safe, maybe it is even control when everything else around you seems out of control. Starbucks and McDonalds are on every corner because we want them there, not really because there aren't better places in every town to get coffee and hamburgers.

    So what's the hook back to work, or human resources, or anything at all relevant to the folks that might read this post?

    Probably not much of one. Perhaps only that it might explain a little bit of why those unique, remarkable, and innovative corporate cultures we hear so much about (Zappos, Google, Netflix, etc.), seem to be the outliers, no matter how much they are discussed and analyzed. For all their notoriety and acclaim, the vast majority of us never get to work for those companies, the ones that are the corporate versions of that incredible hole in the wall local diner that makes the best handmade burgers and fries. 

    Most of us tend to spend out time at the corporate equivalent of the Starbucks. Good. Quality. Solid. And exactly the same wherever you go. And that is the experience we bring with us as we move through the world. 

    Wednesday
    Jan112012

    There will always be jobs the robots can't do. Maybe.

    I know the entire 'Robots and other automation technologies are displacing human labor' line of discussion can get a little tedious at times. After all, advances in technology that fundamentally change the labor markets and the need for certain types of labor is an old story. And when other contributors on Fistful of Talent take on the robot subject, we may have finally jumped the shark on this one. But against my better judgement and with the quasi-approval of my friend Chris Wilson, I am going back to the robot well one more time. So here goes.

    How many family farmers are out there anymore, working a few dozen acres of crops? When was the last time you took a train across the country to attend a business event? Have you had to individually print, collate, staple, assemble, and mail company reports or binders in the last 10 years or so? (Right now, someone reading this is thinking, 'Hey I still collate').

    Old story, I know. Technology advances unabated, makes our lives better, (hopefully), raises the standard of living, and provides ample ammunition for our incessant, 'I remember back when I was a kid...' admonitions to our kids and friends who simply would DIE without their iPhones or free Wifi at Starbucks.

    Besides, the standard thinking goes, there will always be entire categories and classifications of labor that simple will not ever be usurped by robot or other automation technologies. Robots can be programmed to perform simple, repetitive tasks, and respond accordingly to relatively simple external cues and stimuli, but advanced, nuanced, and subtle kinds of jobs and tasks are still the (more or less), exclusive domain of human workers. Service jobs and construction jobs in particular seem immune to the forces of robotization.

    Case in point - robots, on their own, could never build something like this, right:

     

    This picture, sourced from an article on the NPR Krulwich Wonders blog, is of a brick tower designed by Swiss architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler. The entire 20-foot tall tower was assembled by a team of four flying robots that grabbed each brick individually, then flew to the correct place on the rising tower, and finally set the brick in place before returning to the dispenser to re-start the process. The battery powered robots periodically stopped their work to plug in for a recharge when their batteries were running down.

    Sure, it took humans to design the tower, build and program the flying construction robots, and monitor the entire process, but eventually couldn't the building, programming, and monitoring tasks themselves be automated?

    You can take a closer look and see the flying robots in action on the video below, (email and RSS subscribers will have to click though). While you watch the video I challenge you to think just for a moment about our generally held ideas about labor, automation, and the future of work.

    Eventually, is there going to be anything the robots can't do?

    Tuesday
    Jan102012

    Check out the new and improved Fistful of Talent

    For the last couple of years I have been a contributor on the outstanding blog Fistful of Talent. Last week Fistful re-launched with a fantastic new design and layout that does a great job of highlighting the contributions from the superb team of writers.Fight!

    Today on FOT, my friend R.J. Morris takes on one of my favorite topics - how relentless technological progress, increased automation, and improving robotics are pressuring the workforce, even in so-called 'creative' fields of endeavor. Check out R.J.'s post, 'What HR Jobs are at Risk', as well as the rest of the new Fistful of Talent, you will be glad you did.

    Thanks R.J. for the mention today, and thanks to everyone at FOT for the work you all do and for allowing me to play along too.