After the Oscars

Just quick thought today while I am waiting to board the next plane It seems to me that there is a bit of a common theme at the Oscars and Golden Globes this year: Communication. ‘The King’s Speech’ is probably the big winner along with ‘The Social Network’. Both movies relate to how we as human beings communicate with each other.

Colin Firth plays the king who struggles with his speech. He needs to inspire his nation and has to overcome some serious challenges with the help of a talented coach. ‘The Social Network’ shows the audience how Facebook was created along with the different human struggles (and lawsuits) along the way. Both are fascinating movies. Both movies deal with communication. Is there a reason for that?

Communication still is a major problem for us as human beings. Not only in our private life but also in business. And the issues seem to grow in this changing world. We are all traveling, we are busy, we deal with complexity. Here is the Dad who travels for business and wants to connect with his family. There is the finance manager who needs to communicate the brutal truth that the numbers are revealing. Or take the sales person who is trying to sell a new and complex product to a new customer who ‘who just doesn’t get it’. We sit through mind-numbing corporate slide shows without a clear message. But most importantly a great majority of people want their voice to be heard. And that is exactly what these movies are about. The kings is looking to convince his nation. Facebook is helping people connect with their friends and family so that their voices are heard and transmitted.

Luckily we have technology today. There is email, there are iPhones, there is Twitter. We use Powerpoint to deliver our message. We have Business Analytics to find meaning in data and communicate the information to our teams. The people in Egypt used Facebook and Twitter to organize themselves.

But at the end of the day we are still struggling with the same problems: how can we best get our personal message across? Technology is the enabler we still have to do the heavy lifting.

Social Networking = Better Performance = Happiness?

Amazon.com’s recommendation engine is pretty amazing I have to admit. The algorithms at work clearly know how to expand one’s horizon beyond the obvious choices. Needless to say, I was a bit surprised and almost annoyed when the engine suggested the fluffy sounding title ‘The Happiness Advantage’. Does amazon.com really think I need some self-help books??? To make a long story short, I ended up buying the book based on the enormously positive reviews and my general curiosity. Turns out that this was a good decision. But apart from providing some provocative ideas the book also revealed some highly interesting research about social networks. And this research is relevant to Business Analytics.

SOCIAL INTERACTIONS

One of the key points in the book is that the quality and the strength of our social network has a big impact on our happiness and our job performance. In other words: The more stressed we are, the more time we should invest in social interaction. We all seem to know that…sort of. One of the researchers mentioned in the book is George Vaillant. In an article from 2009 in the Atlantic Monthly he stated that there are ’70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world.’ That is a pretty big statement, but I guess we all agree with that. So, that is not a surprise. But there is a big surprise.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK AT WORK

Shawn Achor goes ahead and describes that studies have found that positive social interaction between employees during work hours are tremendously effective at protecting people from the stress of their job. As a result, those people that invest in these interactions typically perform better. Again. Seems like common sense. But it gets better. The MIT was looking at this stuff as well. So they spent an entire year at a small company that you might have heard of: IBM. The researchers from MIT followed over 2600 IBM employees over an entire year. The guys monitored and analyzed various different aspects of the social network of these employees: Buddy lists, size & scope of their address books, social interactions. Here is how Shawn Achor describes the core findings of this study:

“(The researchers)… found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. They could even quantify the difference: On average, every email contact was worth and added $948 in revenue. There in black and white is the power of social investment.”

Wow….interesting insights. Wouldn’t you agree?

1+1 = 4?

In a previous blog post I discussed how IBM Cognos 10 allows users to leverage the power of social networking. Using the latest Cognos 10 platform, we can collaborate around Business Analytics using the same techniques that we use on the popular platforms like Facebook, Flickr & Twitter. Most of you would probably agree that this is a powerful value proposition. And the findings make sense if you think about it: Business today is complex and finding solutions to problems is complex as well. The better networked we are, the easier we can pull relevant people into the problem solving process. And if all this is facilitated by technology, we can collaborate in real-time.

THE PATH TOWARDS HAPPINESS?

Over the past few months I did run into some skeptical people. They still regard social networking as ‘a thing that teenagers do’. But let’s face it: the way we communicate has been changed once again. Email did that a while ago. And this study shows that there is a tremendous benefit in expanding and using our social network. And if it’s not just about better job performance, how about increasing our own happiness? Now that is a unique value proposition, isn’t it?

Books, books & the Kindle

This device is almost as polarizing as American politics. Crazy! I spend close to 200 days on the road per year and to me, this thing is the best thing since sliced bread…well…almost. I am talking about the Kindle – Amazon.com’s eBook reader. We are in the middle of the holiday season and many of us still hunting for presents. Many of us have to read a ton to stay current with business practices and we also travel. As a result, I wanted to share some thoughts about the Kindle. I have had one for a long time. Since the very first version. It is an amazing, yet extremely boring piece of technology. I do recommend it to anybody who likes to read and travel.

AMAZING STUFF

Kindle vs the iPad

This Kindle is amazing because it allows you to read books on an electronic device that doesn’t feel like one. The Kindle is as light as a small paper back and the screen looks and feels like a real book. When you first read something on the Kindle it feels almost fake. Yes, the screen does look that real. Start reading something on a Kindle and you will notice that it ‘disappears’ within  a few seconds of reading. You just become one with the content. Just like with a real book. And you can read it anywhere. The screen is just as good as any book. Event at the beach.

COMFORT

The Kindle is extremely light. You can hold it easily. It is actually a lot easier to hold than many books. I have read books on a plane (less space needed), on a train, on a ship, in a car, in a bed, at the coffee machine and on the beach. It simply feels really good in your hands. Much easier to handle than a book. Seriously.

HEAVY STUFF

And then there is the capacity. I used to travel with a bunch of books. No more. Books are heavy. eBooks typically don’t require much storage and the Kindle can easily hold 100s of books. Perfect. Think about going on vacation. One tiny device instead of 5 hard-covers.

REAL-TIME

You see a book and you want it. The Kindle allows you to download books instantaneously. Once again…great for traveling. And they are typically pretty cheap.

NOTES & HIGHLIGHTS

One of the best things about the Kindle is the ability to highlight sections, to annotate them and to bookmark pages. The kicker is that you can download the highlights and annotations to a PC or MAC. Extremely useful for business books. I love having a txt file with all my highlighted and annotated sections. It is perfect for sharing with friends & colleagues or to use stuff for presentations.

THE iPAD

The Kindle iPad App

Some people thought that the iPad would kill the Kindle. Not really. The Kindle is like a real book. The iPad is icing on the cake. The Kindle App works extremely well. Books synchronize with the Kindle so you can read books on both devices. In terms of actual reading, I do not like the weight of the iPad. It is quite heavy. And the screen is not suited for reading outside. There is too much glare. BUT the iPad works extremely well for certain graphics-intensive books. Reading business or photography books on the Kindle is a real pleasure. So the combination between both is great. But the iPad is definitely not a Kindle killer to me. On the contrary: it really enhances the Kindle experience.

THE BORING STUFF

Did I mention that the Kindle is extremely boring. Perfect. It looks a bit dull and there isn’t much you can do with it. Sure. You can browse the web but it is a poor experience. There are some games, but they suck. Really boring. Some bloggers have called that the biggest flaw of the device. One magazine was disappointed that the Kindle wouldn’t support Voice over IP. Hmm. Not really. When is the last time, we placed a call using a book? The Kindle’s lack of functionality is its greatest asset: it retains the real character of a book. I sometimes read on the iPad at night. But guess what: I end up checking email, looking at Twitter, surfing…it is just too tempting. That doesn’t happen with the Kindle. It is a real eBook! And that is awesome.

Shhh…THE SECRET

The 3G version of the Kindle allows you to go online pretty much anywhere around the world. That means you can access social websites like Facebook and Twitter. There are some countries on this planet that do not like social media and they block access. Not with the Kindle, apparently. When I traveled to China I noticed that I could get my tweets. At first I thought that it must have been a mistake. But when I returned from the trip, I found some reports that confirmed my suspicion. (see…the Kindle is revolutionary!)

THE UGLY?

Honestly, there isn’t anything worth writing about. The Kindle is that great. Sure. It could look a bit nicer. I certainly do not like the fact that I have to turn it off during take-off and landing. But I honestly don’t care. The Kindle has allowed me to read a lot more than I used to.  And it is really fun and extremely comfortable. Hope you are enjoying your eBook readers as well!