Sounds to boost productivity

Background noise in open-plan offices can reduce productivity by as much as 66%!

Late last year, I delivered a talk for Ovum Group on Imagining the future Intranet. Looking at how interactions with Internet sites have changed thanks to social media and emerging trends such as touch and speech-enabled interfaces.

One of the closing observations was a look at physical issues that affect productivity. Specifically, the noise and interruptions of open-plan offices. I played a snippet from a TED Talk by Julian Treasure who noted that the noise in open-plan offices can reduce productivity by as much as 66%! And that the simplest trick to offset this loss was to put on a pair of headphones and play sounds from nature.

Fast-forward to last month and a visit to my GP who had a digital radio on his desk playing sounds from nature. I asked him about it and he was trying an experiment, to create a more relaxing consultation environment. He mentioned that it was a YouTube video, a one hour recording. And here it is. Sooo, having a stressful day? Noisy open-plan environment to cope with? Put on the headphones and press play…

[ba-youtubeflex videoid=”9CL77xgPyKM”]

Rabbicorn – an example of NPIRL

[Update: 10th March 2010] Bryn has created a great machinima telling the story, embedded below

Bryn Oh has been at it again. An amazingly talented artist specialising in immersive experiences in Second Life, this time has been let loose on one of IBM’s regions, creating an interactive story about the Rabbicorn (and a great example of NPIRL – not possible in real-life)


If you have a Second Life account, I highly recommend visiting both it and Bryn’s own region Immersive: (these links will launch a teleport within Second Life if you have the viewer software installed):

If you’re not into Second Life, here’s a video demonstrating Bryn’s work both at Immersiva and a tour around Rabbicorn at IBM 3, created as a proposal for the Ada Lovelace project:

And here’s the video of the Rabbicorn:

Tags: virtualworld | blog

When virtual training trumps classrooms

The common perception is that online or virtual training courses are no substitute for the real thing: a classroom with a teacher or professional. Yet research published in the New Scientist begs to differ.

A programme in West Africa created to pass on new technologies and techniques to women farmers adopted two approaches: 1. watch a training video; or 2. attend a training workshop. The results speak for themselves:

  • 74% of women attended the video, just 22% attended the workshop
  • Uptake of the new technique was 72% of those who watched the video and 19% of those who attended the workshop

To put that into context, imagine 2 villages each containing 100 women farmers. Village A is shown the training video, village B runs a workshop. In village A, 53 out of 100 women adopt the new technique. In village B, 4 out of 100 women change how they work.

Why such a difference?

The study comes up with some reasons that should be of interest to any organisation looking to improve training:

  • Democratised access to knowledge beyond the usual elites
    The video was shown communally in early evening so that everyone could attend. With limted places at a workshop, a selection process is inevitable
  • Storytellers were fellow workers and trusted more than the experts
    The video differed to the workshop in that it used fellow women rice farmers to demonstrate the technique. Viewers trusted the message. The workshops were delivered by outsiders – scientists and NGO* workers
  • Videos were designed to make the principles of the technique obvious
    67% of the women who couldn’t afford the equipment created alternatives. Attending a workshop, you do what the expert tells you… if you can.

“When they understood that rice shouldn’t touch the water, they provided their own solutions.” Paul Van Mele, Africa Rice Center

These 3 lessons could also be invaluable in any organisation. Online training can be made available to anyone, anywhere at anytime (even those who don’t use a computer as part of their normal working day). When introducing new ways of working, peer demonstrations trump management objectives. If there is no expert to give all the answers, people will innovate and provide their own solutions. And some of those innovations could lead to new opportunities…

As for the programme in Africa, the video has since been translated into 20 African languages. Five additional rice-related videos have been produced and more are planned for other crops. Brilliant!

References:

Tags: education blog

* NGO – non-government organisation

Exploring Virtual Worlds

One of my pet research projects during the past 10 months has involved dabbling in virtual worlds to understand if/when they will become a mainstream technology. The outcomes from the research will be publishd at a later date. In the meantime…

If you have heard about Second Life, it’s more than likely you’ll have seen it gain press attention for all the wrong reasons (if you really want to know, see here and here for examples but be warned, one link involves flying genitalia).

Beyond the simple fact that any world, real or virtual, will bring out the good and bad in human nature, virtual worlds offer a range of interesting possibilities. From copying real life to doing stuff not possible in real life to integrating and complementing real life, virtual worlds can assist education, communicatio, process simulation and prototyping new ideas. The research I am currently working on includes experimenting with 3D taxonomy management and syncing data between a virtual office and SharePoint site…

Here are some examples of the work people have created using virtual worlds:

World Builder from Bruce Branit

An aware winning example of integrating the virtual and the real including Minority Report style user interfaces

Attaining Presence: 4Jetpacks4 and Bryn Oh

A great example of ‘not possible in real life’. Both movies show how much easier it has become to create professional looking short animations with everyday tools. Bryn Oh is an amazing artist/builder

NHS Training for Innovation

Not as professional looking as the previous examples (devil is in the details, as usual), this is a video of the NHS training hospital in Second Life (developed by Imperial College, London)

Related posts:

References

Nlab Social Networks conference

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the Nlab Social Networks conference, held at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK. Big congratulations to Sue Thomas and all involved with organising the event. What was particularly great about this conference was the level of networking that took place between sessions. Arguably, we could have done with double the time allowed for coffee and lunch. Unheard of at your average conference…

All the sessions were great but three stood out for me (a.k.a. I took some notes). Here you go:

The Future of Work: Amplified Individuals, Amplified Organisation – Andrea Saveri, The Institute for the Future

Andrea introduced a new term (for me, at least) entering the workplace: Amplified Individuals (perhaps a flavour of AI that will really happen…) Amplified Individuals are highly collaborative, highly improvisational and highly augmented.

Highly Collaborative: Able to tap in to and contribute to the intelligence of crowds. Act as social filters for massive amounts of information (demonstrated in the use of tools such as del.icio.us, Flickr, Diff, Friendfeed etc.) Enable the use of prediction markets (see related blog post: More on idea markets)

Highly Improvisational: Create ad-hoc resources and infrastructures, as and when needed to achieve a specific goal. Have the motivation and know-how to bypass traditional constraints and form new relationships within and across organisational walls. Serena Software are a great example of this, what started with ‘Facebook Friday’ (see related blog post: Web Wisdom) became their new intranet (see recent news: How one CEO Facebooked his company, Fortune)

Highly Augmented: Employ systems, tools and hacks to enhance cognitive abilities and coordination skills (the drug Provigil, aka Modafinil, crops up again).

Amplified Individuals possess Superhero powers for business, including:

  • Mob-ability – ability to work in large groups, a talent for organising and collaborating with many people simultaneously
  • Influencing – able to be persuasive in multiple social contexts and media spaces
  • Ping Quotient – your responsiveness to requests from other people for engagement
  • Protovation – fearless innovation in rapid, iterative cycles (i.e. prototype first, discuss requirements later…)
  • Multi-capitalism – fluency in working in different capitals: social (reputation), financial, intellectual, natural (green)
  • Signal/Noise management – able to filter meaningful information
  • Co-operative radar – able to sense, almost intuitively, who would make the best team for a particular task (across employees, partners, customers, etc.)

Bioteams: What we can learn about nature’s social networks – Ken Thompson, Swarmteams Ltd

It’s difficult to describe Ken’s session, because it mostly involved an experiment requiring audience participation. And my inability to use my mobile phone (ruins my Ping Quotient) at anything more than a snail’s pace interrupted note-taking. You can try it for yourself at the Swarmteams web site. It’s an interesting concept. You create a group on a web site. People can then join the group by sending a text message from their mobile with the line ‘join group username’ (e.g. ‘join nlabs joiningdots’). The web site sends out a question, and everyone in the group receives it on their phone and can send a response back, all via text messaging service. (Great, given I have 3 billion unused text messages on my phone contract.) And the web site gathers all the messages together in a single folder. It’s a little like Twitter. And is a great way of organising groups on the fly for a niche event, or to gather feedback on a given subject (i.e. a perfect tool for those Amplified Individuals).

What was most interesting was Ken’s reasoning behind this idea. The use of short instant messages to communicate (or, rather, synchronise) is common place in nature – the bee’s waggle, fireflies flash, ants waft pheromones. Be it motion, or emitting light, sound or smell, most animals have the need and method for instant short-term communication. Humans do too, but few organisations recognise, acknowledge or take advantage of the tools freely available…

If you’re interested in the connection between nature and business, here’s some books I have enjoyed on this subject:

Social Networking beyond the Dogma: Let’s Make Some Money – Jim Benson, Modus Cooperandi

Wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the title of this session. But Jim delivered some grounded comments about why businesses should be using social networking tools. His use of concept maps, rather than traditional slides, to convey his message was very effective. I’m planning to try something similar when I get the chance (it reminded me of a comment Euan Semple made a couple of years ago, about how the software interface for collecting knowledge should be like walking through a village…) Here’s a sample of what was said:

  • Small businesses do not need more stuff to do… but they do need advice, peers, customers and partners, all of which comes from communities
  • Communities create value through participation, which takes time
  • Time is expensive therefore invest it wisely
    • Understand intangibles, which include more clients, future services and business partners
    • Employ judgment – in the use of social tools like networking sites and review sites
  • Learn – your community, your limit, your market – by experimenting
  • Start now – small and directed, what fits immediate needs and your personality

Finally, Steve Clayton did a great kick-off presentation about how Microsoft has approached blogging and social networking. My non-amplified self sulks at giving him links when I’m wallowing in the lower ranks of Technorati 🙂 but his presentation is available online. Multiple hat tips to all the speakers. They delivered some great content and I have captured a mere sound bite of it here. And thank you to everyone I met on the day and have chatted to since on Twitter, some great conversations all around.

References:

And hat tip as always to Wikipedia for assisting with references. (Even if I did have to navigate past the band Fire Flies to locate one of the pages.)

Related Blog Posts:

Filed in Library under: Social Networks

Technorati tags: Social Networks | Social Computing | Collective Intelligence | Smart Mobs

Mobile Social Networks

A few days ago, Charlene Li (Forrester) posted an article – Social networks will be like air. My immediate thought was ‘the mobile phone is the social network’. But perhaps it should have been ‘the mobile phone carries the social network’. It’s a thought that has been percolating through my brain since the comments from Davos:

¨If someone doesn’t have a mobile phone they will lack the basic functions of what it is to be human¨ – Wang Jianzhou (CEO, China Mobile)

By the middle of this year, it is predicted that 1 in 2 people will own a mobile device. The PC will never get that close. Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google), commenting at the same Davos conference, was right to state that we will see new kinds of applications thanks to the mobile phone (and its integrated features – GPS/location-aware, camera, audio/video, storage, telecoms + wifi etc.)

Bill Thompson, in an article on the BBC – How Twitter Makes it Real – makes a comment that highlights how social networks are going mobile:

¨Thanks to Twitter I carry my online networks with me¨

I think we are seeing a glimpse of the early formation of Web 3.0. I can’t be doing with people calling Web 3.0 the semantic web or social graph. Semantics and graphs are tools that feed, and feed upon, all that we are seeing as Web 2.0 – the read/write web, abundance replacing scarcity, digital natives and digital social networks. At best, tools like social graphs upgrade Web 2.0 to, maybe, Web 2.5

Web 3.0 (and yes, the analysts will probably call it Web 3D) will be another paradigm shift. I think it will become known for ‘augmented reality’ – bridging the virtual (think SecondLife), digital (the Internet) and physical (Earth) worlds. In the future, Web 3.0 won’t need a specific device. It will be meshed in our daily lives through ambient devices – sensors in our clothes, houses, cars… and eventually our bodies. But the first device to bring it to reality will be the first device that we constantly carry with us – the mobile phone. And the first software application to bring it all together is Twitter.

[Update: 27 Mar 08] Interesting comment made by a frustrated Motorola employee, as reported by Engadget:

“the next big feature in [mobile] handsets isn’t a camera or a music player – it is social connectedness”

References and further reading:

Filed in Library: Trends/Mobility and Systems/Social Networks

Technorati tags: Web 3.0; Web 2.5

Bring games to work

Another example where using games can improve productivity

Reported in the New Scientist magazine – Don’t miss a trick (Print ed. Can’t find it online) – research from Duke University at Durham, North Carolina, suggests that airport security could be improved by getting baggage screeners to play shoot-em-up video games. Why? Tests showed that video games that require fast reactions and the ability to quickly spot targets improved the same behaviours when scrutinising baggage screens. Slow moving games, such as Tetris, weren’t so beneficial…

Filed in: Trends – Virtual versus Reality