Thursday, February 19, 2009

My computer has to go to the bathroom... AGAIN.

“Its like potty training for my computer”

Ok, we’ve all been there. Spicy nachos, hot wings, melon, bad apple pie, summer warmed potato salad, 4 day sushi, etc. Pick your poison. Chances are something on this list has made you ill at some point, forcing you to hunker down over the porcelain in one way or the other.

But here is what I don’t understand. Why is my computer getting sick? I don’t think that I’m feeding it bad food. I treat its systems kindly. My IT group automatically and periodically pushes all sanctioned updates to my computer. And, according to my enterprise anti-virus software my computer doesn’t have any tape worms or parasites.

So why it is today after using my computer for a few days without turning it off I have to shut it down and start anew. I am not receiving a message to do this but as a savvy computer user with a few battle scars I realize that the reboot will purge the pipes and gets things flowing smoothly again.

Here is my real angst with this scenario that happens way too often. At this moment, spread across two monitors, I have the following open on my computer.
20 Word documents
2 PowerPoint presentations
5 Excel documents
1 FreeMind mind map
6 emails (originally more but I started closing them before I started writing this rant)

I think this is typically of high capacity professionals that really do use their computers as the productivity and communication vehicles they purport to be. Why must I close all of these items? Why is this acceptable? This really is a horrible customer experience.

Imagine a construction site that has to be rebooted during different phases of construction. What a ridiculous thought. Want to change the channel on your television. Well sucker, we’re sorry. You’ve had your TV on for several hours and you have surfed over 100 channels. It is now time to reboot your TV. Never mind that your show is about to start. Again this would be ridiculous. Why would we stand for this?

I invite software and computer architects like Ray Ozzie, of Microsoft or others to comment on the state of the “instant on” and “always on” personal or business computer. If this exists somewhere, and some knowledgeable reader knows something I don’t, by all means please pass the bread.

Here are 3 simple design principles to consider when designing future computing experiences.

  1. Ease into it.
  2. Stop starting everything at one time upon boot up. Ease into it. Give me choices. Learn from what I have been doing recently. I don’t give a damn that some program added itself to the start menu and now appears as an icon in my system tray. If I haven’t used that program for months or years, don’t waste my valuable computing cycles starting it up. Boot up time is TOO long. Learn from TiVo. They do a decent job. Better yet, learn from humans just waking. They ease into the morning and their day.

  3. Clean while you go.
  4. Learn from nature. Adult human beings take care of system needs by going to the bathroom periodically. They tend to do this at times convenient to them and in proximity to proper facilities. If my computer is sitting idle because I am getting an espresso (this is really about to happen), then that might be a good time for a mini computer bathroom break. Think of it as potty training for computers.

  5. Preserve history.
  6. If you are going to take my system down directly go a step further than allowing me to restore the open office applications that you crashed. How about the 20 mails I was going to respond to that I culled from the list of thousand of mails over the course of the last several days all residing in my inbox. Its simply is too painful to resurrect the path of finding these emails. This means lost opportunity and more angst. How about preserving my desktop and all of its applications and files much the same as if I walked away from a project in my kitchen, garden, or garage. When I return, voilla, it is still there just the way I left it. No missing spatulas, misplaced fountains, or electrical outlets void of power. If you have to send my computer to the bathroom, don’t hide my stuff and make me look for it upon return. If you don’t restore order for me, at least make me a useable map. As a human, I remember stuff. You’re a computer, you should too.

Most of us don’t live tidy little lives where we power up the computer in the morning, work away our day and then toward the end of the day neatly closing our applications, storing each of them in tidy purpose built compartments, just prior to shutting down for the restful period to follow. The real world is much more complicated than that and it is about time the computing world caught up to reflect that reality. I’m hoping that this article at least spurs some discussion in computer and software architecture circles of design. We need easier, more relevant computing experiences that enrich our lives and give us more time in an already time impoverished world. Observe some humans at and away from the computer and you might have some things worth mimicking, but hold the spicy nachos and hot wings. Happy designing…

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Your Company has Cancer, now what?

Now is the time to KISS.

No matter where you turn it seems that every week, ok every day, there is another report of companies shedding jobs while CEOs, CFOs, and other leadership in the public and private sectors are giving up their posts. These are turbulent times, no doubt. Chances are, you or somebody you know, has been affected by the current macroeconomic environment. Many smaller companies don’t even report their reduction in force, layoffs, or whatever euphemism one wishes to use. Contractors and vendors are reduced or eliminated entirely. And if that were not enough, many projects are on ice or have been canceled all together. There isn’t necessarily even a distinction between high value and low value projects. We are in a state of shock.

It seems to me there is a parallel to be drawn between being diagnosed with a fatal disease and what is going on inside of companies today. For those of us who have been touched by a terminal illness directly or indirectly you understand that when it happens you are ill prepared. Of course illness and disease happens but we go about living our lives in a state of denial, thinking that those things apply mostly to others. We don’t like to talk about them. So, it is no surprise that we are ill prepared when we get the routine physical that reveals bad stuff, or when a family member surprises us with “news”.

As I sat next to my mother-in-law in the last stages of her fatal brain cancer, I found myself wondering what was worth talking about. My next trip (that she could not go on)? How great the weather was outside(that she could not see from her hospice bed)? Etc. We mostly enjoyed the silence and held hands, the one hand of hers that still had life in it.

Our institutions fail to prepare us in a meaningful way to deal with things of death and dying. Not really their fault. Many of us would not be receptive to messages of death and dying (let alone training) if we heard it until we had the full context and reality. It is of sorts, a forced reality. With my mother-in-law brain cancer experience, our tight knit family prepared each other (in real time) through iterative dialogue with each other. It was far from perfect but most of us actively engaged in the conversation and I think it made for better quality time and coping along the journey.

The business environment is far from being a tight knit family but the challenges remain the same. Poor preparation, inadequate knowledge, and a dying process that progresses in spite of your deliberation, indifference, and denial. Leadership eventually grips reality (sometime too late) and prescribes medications and treatment. Like a patient with a terminal disease these company prescribed treatments and medications may or may not have an effect in the short term and certainly may not stimulate a dying patient to life. There may also be dangerous side effects to current programs, initiatives, personnel, partners, customers, etc.

Leadership in companies should tread carefully in this environment and seek out or be receptive to outside counsel on matters of death and company survival. As it turns out the people inside the company are sometime best at digging their own grave, consoling each other along a grisly downward descent. They often resort to covering their own butts and are reluctant to be the voice of reason that may be unpopular with the majority or CEO. After all it isn’t a time to make yourself a target. This is a problem and can create suboptimal results.

In my next post I’ll introduce the KISS principal for turbulent times. In short it is Kill, Ice, Sell, Support. More on that later.

If you are part of a leadership team facing difficult decisions and need a external impartial sounding board, shoot me an email. My coffee of choice is a double-tall mocha, ½ the chocolate, no whip.