28 July 2009

Blackberry causes ADD at work

Today's blog is less about pure business intelligence, but has everything to do with serving customers and colleagues.

We have probably all been villain and victim of the Blackberry syndrome, where you are in a meeting / presentation and the Blackberry device sends that all-too-familiar vibration alerting one of the parties to some freshly delivered content (probably email).

15 years ago, as a production DBA, I used to carry a pager with me everywhere. I knew when this thing went off that something had hit the fan otherwise I would have received an email. There was a priority and it went along the lines of:
  1. send Ferenc an email
  2. Depending on priority, call Ferenc.
  3. If he was on the phone sorting out some other "emergency" or out to meeting / lunch / home with his family / away on leave / anywhere but at work, then send a page.

Today, the modern smartphone devices that have been designed to solve our problems, have landed up creating a whole new set of problems. I have often sat in meetings where we are designing and architecting (is that even a word?) a solution when my Blackberry (ok, I am sooooooo tempted by the new 3GS iPhone, I am probably going to get one when my current Blackberry contract expires) goes off with an email and the all too familiar vibration that EVERYONE in the room has heard, since the device was on the table. During a momentary lull in the presentation, I pull the Blackberry out of its pouch and check the email, or at least who it is from. Chances are that it is a response to something I am eagerly awaiting, so you guessed it ...... I open it up to quickly scan over the contents. BTW, the iPhone reference is a deliberate interruption I put in there to show how annoying these "incoming comets of thought" can be.

The next thing I know, 2 minutes have gone by until I am mentally "back in the room", realizing that I have just missed some important dynamics or facts about the presentation, so I try to backtrack and ask questions that inevitably make me look rather stupid. Actually, selfish, inconsiderate, rude, counter-productive, disrespectful should be the words going through my mind, thinking about my actions. My selfishness has firstly cost the people in the room, who may have been preparing for this presentation for days, who are looking to me for a proper solution.

As time goes by, instead of changing my actions to be more like the man I want to be (dependable, insightful, considerate, etc.), I am pacified by the fact that this behaviour is rife and "everyone is doing it".

I play the electric bass as my "outside work" activity, to get away from work. I love it, get a huge kick from it. Our band plays 1 or 2 weekends per month and I love being part of that band. Let's say we're in a middle of a really good blues song (like Joe Cocker's "Unchain my heart") and someone in the audience has a T-Shirt on that reminds me of Jaco Pastorius and in the middle of the song, during a 1 bar lull, I decide to run off into a jazz riff and play something that is technically quite challenging to pull off (as most of Pastorius' lines are), even if played to perfection, it will create a shocking interruption in the song. First the band members will look at me, the band leader will probably shout into my in-ears mike "What the hell are you doing?" and no doubt the audience (even those who are not muso's) will be asking "what was that about? It sounds awful, out of context, what's he trying to prove?". If I did this once I could be forgiven, however if I kept doing this, eventually the audience would leave and label me a totally incompetent musician who cannot focus. Worst of all, I would have taken the entire band with me, all my "team mates" who have put in hours and days of practice and rehearsals. Isn't this exactly parallel to what we have let our smart phones do to us in our business and personal relationships?

No amount of technology is going to bring about disciplined behaviour, anyone with teenage children can vouch for this. But the discipline of being 100% present, whether it be a meeting, conversation, one's own presentation, driving on the road, yields the benefit of gaining the respect and trust of my audience. In fact, if I continue to drift off and allow interruptions, I will eventually be shunned by all because I will have been perceived as selfish, inconsiderate, rude, counter-productive, disrespectful by the people I am trying to serve.

Isn't this what smart business and building a smart planet is about? I once heard that "when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority". Being smart about business tools is the ability to prioritize.

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