Don’t make me think!

Spent a great afternoon with Headshift the other week, where I shared my thoughts about Enterprise 2.0 needing to be in the flow of existing collaborative tools.  I was challenged by Tom (blogs here) who made a strong case that collaboration always has context – and the reason we have different tools is because we need to communicate in different ways.  The way I communicate over email, twitter, instant messaging, SMS etc. is fundamentally different, in terms of tone, formality, and who I feel comfortable talking to using different modes of communication.  I may not want to instant message my customers whereas I am happy to do so with colleagues.  The danger, Tom put forward, was that if Enterprise 2.0 tools are put in the flow of existing applications, the wrong tool may be used for the wrong type of communication.

As usual – I think the there is a pendulum at work here, and the answer is somewhere in the middle.  I am absolutely convinced that integrating instant messaging, for example, within an email client can dramatically improve the update of IM within an organisation.  This is particularly true when someone receives an email, and the appropriate response is an instant message.  Even advanced Enterprise Octopus‘s can automatically fall into the pattern of using the same tool a message was sent with without thinking. 

This screenshot of how Office Communicator prompts people whether or not to respond via instant message instead of email can significantly drive up adoption.  I am not advocating that we need one ubiquitous tool to cover all our collaboration requirements.  However, there is no reason why at the front end we cannot combine communication tools at the presentation layer so that people don’t have to think as much about how they are going to communicate and which tools they are going to use.  There is a scale here in terms of how advanced people are in their adoption and usage of Enterprise 2.0.  Once people are comfortable with the concept of Enterprise 2.0 then they will naturally and intuitively know which tools to use without thinking.  At the initial adoption stage, however, putting guidance and pointers in the flow of existing tools can have a significant impact in terms of alleviating any fears of using a new system.  Some users may always stay in this mode, where they need the system to do the thinking for them in terms of which tools to use, and others may move to a position where the thinking becomes more intuition.

Tom’s concern about using the wrong tool is perfectly valid, but I think it can be allayed by gradually introducing tools which fit in the flow for users unfamiliar with Enterprise 2.0.  Introduce the tools gradually rather than all at once so that people can use them in the flow of their everyday working patterns and it is clear what they are for.  As people get more comfortable they will then know which tool to use when, whether in the flow or out of the flow.

The Enterprise 2.0 community needs to decide whether or not it is going to demand that everyone thinks about how they communicate.  I fear that if we make people think too much it will be seen as ‘yet another IT fad’ as opposed to something that could revolutionise the way we work, by making what appear on the surface to be rather minor changes.

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5 Responses to Don’t make me think!

  1. Tom Armitage says:

    That all sounds good to me, John!

    I don’t have a problem with creating better-integrated systems – quite the opposite. My concerns were mainly about the notion of creating artificial transparency, really.

    It’s important to reinforce to users that there are many tools and channels, and that different behaviours are appropriate for each. We can streamline the tools, but the value of the channels is that they’re separate. And so I like the dropdown in Office, because it exposes that there are two channels – IM, Email – but one action – responding to a message.

    Matt Chalmers called this “seamful design”, and I think it’s a really important maxim for the tools we’re beginning to create: better integration horizontally is important, but making sure that there are speed-bumps to highlight the transitions between channels and services. Integration provides for a more streamlined experience – but it’s still important to ensure the user’s mental model of the experience matches up with the product’s.

    So I hope you don’t think I was too confrontational in refuting some of the arguments you were putting forward – like I said, there’s clear truth in many of them, but the details are really important when it comes to understanding the differing nature of all these tools, and I don’t think we’re going to drive adoption of people aren’t understanding what’s going on.

  2. Jon Mell says:

    Thanks Tom – being challenged only makes us better!

    Thanks for the link to Matt Chalmers – I’ll check it out.

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