Tag Archives: technology

The Hidden Hazards of Technology (And How to Fix Them)

Technology exists to make our lives better—but does it?

For the most part, yes: instead of writing a letter, you can communicate in an instant over email or text; rather than cracking open an encyclopedia, you have the sum of the world’s history, art, and science at the tip of your fingers. You can order chic clothes from Paris with a click or forge a vital partnership with a business in Taiwan with a videoconference.

But for all its convenience, technology also brings new hazards, both to our health and our social lives. Fortunately, there are ways around them.

Take a Seat… Or Don’t

For both work and play, we’re planted at our computers more than ever. The problem? Most of us are sitting wrong, raising the risk for long-term injury.

How do you sit at your computer? Chances are good you’re hunching over, leaning far back, or bending your legs awkwardly. As physiotherapist Lorna Taylor tells Mashable, if such incorrect posture is “repeated again and again, lasting changes in muscles, ligaments and tendons can occur.”

Okay, so what’s the right way to sit? Keep your back straight against the chair, arms at a 90 degree angle, and feet flat on the ground. While it may feel robotic at first, you’ll be doing your human body a favor.

Hyper Connected, But Not in Real Life

With Facebook, texting, and instant messaging, you can reach all your friends in a millisecond. Reaching them in real life, however, may be more difficult than ever.

Gadgets haven’t exactly helped when trying to get the gang all together. In a hilariously true-to-life video, Alex Cornell explains, “cell phones have made plans susceptible to revision at any moment; thus, making them in advance is essentially pointless—futile, even.”

In the past, you made plans and stuck to them. Now it’s all too easy to be flaky when a night out is cobbled together on the fly. See that Facebook event? Notice how many people clicked the “Maybe” button. Next time you see a friend, try something radical: make plans in person and show up on time.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives—and mostly for the better. It’s given us all sorts of instant conveniences, delightful diversions, and powerful connections.

Still, it’s important to understand the new risks that technology poses and how to overcome them. As awesome as our gadgets are, it’s refreshing to take a break from time to time—they haven’t made the real world obsolete just yet.

Author: Natacha Arora


How a Strong Mission Helps B2B Companies Capitalize on Employee Advocacy

Employee Advocacy

Employee advocacy isn’t exactly a new idea: when your workers are truly engaged and excited about your company, they act as powerful brand ambassadors outside the office and can create a tremendous impact.

From generating new leads, to forging powerful partnerships, to spreading brand awareness, only good things can come from employees personally buying into your business. Think of it as an organic, low-cost marketing effort that can easily get your employees’ networks buzzing about your company, your offerings, and most importantly, your mission.

But wait… what if you don’t have a mission?

How B2B Companies Can Transcend Business

For B2B companies that don’t appeal to the everyday consumer, inspiring employees to advocate on the brand’s behalf might seem like a pipe dream. Sure, it’s easy for the guys at Google to tell their friends about how great the search engine giant is—but who wants to hear about paper supply over cocktails?

That’s where a mission comes in. Human beings love, dream, hope, laugh, and care; we long to be part of something bigger than ourselves—something that matters. A strong mission can unite your team, instill loyalty, and engender endless advocacy.

Maybe your mission can come straight from your offerings, like an educational resource provider that aims to help all children learn, grow, and achieve through their products. Or perhaps it’s a separate initiative, like a paper supply company that saves the planet by using recycled materials and planting new trees together on the weekends.

No matter what path you choose, when your company adopts a meaningful mission, it’s almost impossible to keep the good word from spreading.

How Technology Is Changing the Game

While employee advocacy and missions are nothing new, thanks to new technologies, their impact has never been greater: with the explosion of social media, it’s exceedingly easy for employees to tap into their networks and amplify your brand’s message.

Most people in your organization are on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (just to name a few) with hundreds of friends, family members, and business partners only a click away. (E.g., the average 25-43 year old on Facebook has 360 friends!)

The possibilities are literally exponential. If even one person shares a branded piece of content on LinkedIn, 100 new connections might see it; if those contacts like or share the content in turn, suddenly thousands are learning about your company, your offerings, and most importantly, your mission.

Inspiring Advocacy

Beyond spreading brand awareness and drumming up new business, putting your mission on center stage engages your employees and dramatically impacts productivity. Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by an astonishing 202%.

An inspiring mission means your company is about more than “just business.” It brings your team together and transforms everyone into a well-connected advocate trumpeting your message and inspiring others.

That’s not just good for business; it’s good for the world.

Author: Paul Wry

Top Tech in Movies and Television

Much of today’s technology was seen in movies first––it makes you wonder how much these movies have influenced designers.

Devices resembling the iPad have appeared in many movies throughout the years, including 2001: A Space Odyssey (whose HAL was a precursor to Siri) and Star Trek with its PADD (Personal Access Display Device).

Cell phone–like items have been seen many times over, most famously as Star Trek’s “communicator,” but in the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet, those aboard the United Planets Cruiser have phones attached to their belt buckles. And in more recent times, Jim Carrey’s character in The Cable Guy predicted we would have a phone, computer, television, and game-playing device all in one.

Minority Report has a scene with gestural interfaces, as well as other user-interface innovations, in front of transparent screens. In the same scene, there are also flexible and transparent displays!

Minority Report UI Innovation analysis from Philippe DEWOST on Vimeo.

Which other Hollywood inventions have become realities? What other ones would you like to have in real life?

Author: Susan Hallinan

After Procedures, What Comes Next?

In my earlier post “Neck-Deep in Procedures and Gasping for Air?”, I presented my Procedures Manifesto and some rules to follow when specifying and implementing procedures.

The next real question for procedure stewards to answer is: How can we improve? Specifically, how can technology be implemented to support a procedure and associated business processes? Support can come in many forms, from workflow transparency for team members or managers to complex, data-driven validation and automation. Most processes and their potential technological-support counterparts lie somewhere in the middle. It is our job as stewards of data across a process to identify the areas where technology can provide support. In order to do so, however, one must have a strong foundation in the concepts behind available technology and a working knowledge of the data or specifications of a given process.

Where can you learn about the concepts of process automation?
Look around the Internet. From the websites of IFTTT to Amazon to USPS to Vista Print, concepts of automation are all around you. You experience the end-user side of these systems daily, but step back for a moment and look at what information you provide to those sites. Basic info is irrelevant since contact info and demographic data don’t matter, but the specifics about your transactions with those sites push data into “behind the scenes” systems that allow companies to function.

Data specifications––who cares? I am not a programmer!
Wrong! You do care and you do know about data specifications. As you guide data through a given process, you often know if something “doesn’t make sense” or will cause an issue down the line. That knowledge is exactly what data specifications are built upon––the only difference is that the specifications are structured in a uniform way that is not always obvious. Ultimately, form is something that an expert can help with, but making a simple list of the variables or data points you need to begin a process can be an eye-opening exercise to see precisely how little or massive the amount of information you need to complete a process really is.

With the right business process shepherding accurate information, technology can support that process. The other missing piece is standards, but we will leave that for another post…

Author: John Carew

The Last Dinosaur Still Reads Books

I recently visited the orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden in my beloved Bronx. I spent two hours enjoying the beginning of spring by taking pictures and relaxing among 10,000 orchids and 500 like-minded people. Most people were taking pictures with their smartphones or tablets. I was part of the crowd, equipped with my iPad, but by the end of my visit I went to the garden’s bookstore and gift shop.

The books were displayed in a beautiful setting among flowers, plants, and mood lighting, but the store wasn’t busy. This allowed me to compare a few of the flower photography prints in the books to the photos I took with my iPad. The iPad photos were all right compared to the professional pieces, but they did not jump out off the screen the way they did when I was looking at the printed material. I thought about all of the people who bypassed the store to beat the traffic home and missed out on a big part of the experience.

I have been taking photos of popular bookstores throughout New York City the last few months, and I find it sad that they are slowly disappearing. Though many protest, I still find an attraction to the physical printed piece, which always seems to have a lasting impression that its digital counterparts can’t seem to replicate. When the bookstore becomes extinct, both a visual and physical component of reading will be lost. The sense of touch as experienced with textured paper or the smell of a piece straight off the press is just as much of the fun as the content.

I must confess, however, that this blog was written on my iPad and my Botanical Garden photos have all been uploaded to my Facebook profile. There’s no doubt that digital technology makes our lives easier and information much more accessible. If I ever need to look up one of the flowers from the garden, I don’t have to go all the way back to the store––I can find it online.

In my next post, I will be sharing the results of a survey I conducted of younger generations and their feelings toward printed pieces and print aggregators like bookstores and libraries. You know this dinosaur loves his print, but how important is it to the new hands in this industry? Stay tuned to find out.

Author: Joe Corbo

Neck-Deep in Procedures and Gasping for Air?

The Procedures Manifesto 

They are all around us: procedures. By definition, a “procedure” is an “established way of doing something.” From the time we are children, we learn different procedures, such as how to brush our teeth, how to make a phone call, and how to order food at a restaurant. As adults, we learn procedures like how to file taxes with the IRS or how to renew our passport or driver’s license. All of these procedures are comprised of smaller series of tasks, and each task might follow a given best practice, required sequence, or be improved upon by the addition of a tool.

Seems simple, right? Not so fast––like many things, after one procedure is established, other procedures can dilute the original idea. Let’s look at a common example, the prized possession of virtually every teenager: the driver’s license.

We have to jump forward to the point where you actually know what you have to do to renew your driver’s license, so let’s assume you looked up all the details online or received a piece of direct mail on the topic. In many states, this procedure can be accomplished by mail or online, but for an unlucky bunch this means a trek to the motor vehicle office with hordes of other unlucky souls shackled by the same procedure. At this point, you have gathered your necessary documentation in order to prove to the state that you desire to maintain the right to operate a motor vehicle. You then present your documentation, pay your fee, possibly sit awkwardly for another unflattering photo, and––poof!––out pops your driver’s license, an identification device used in likely thousands of other procedures in our lives. The procedure of renewing your license, as painful at it may be, is a necessary evil to ensure general driving safety, but all the other procedures that are designed to leverage a driver’s license add to the requirements of the license-renewal procedure.

At this point you should be wondering why we let other procedures rely on yet other procedures as prerequisites. The answer is often efficiency or cost savings. If every time you went to purchase something that required a proof of minimum age, like alcohol or cigarettes or, heck, even spray paint in some areas, you would have to prove your age to the store to get some sort verification of proof (like a shoppers club card from a grocery store that allows you to pay with a personal check). That would not be efficient, so stores rely on your state-issued ID in its most common form, a driver’s license, to indicate your age, and after a little mental math on the clerk’s side, you walk away with your age-restricted purchase.

Now let’s talk about tools. In recent years, purchasing some cold medicines has now required use of your ID/driver’s license. This was a measure put in place to limit the amount one could purchase in a fixed period of time and relied on your driver’s license to prove age and identity. Some merchants leveraged their checkout systems to scan the barcode on the back of your license to extract the necessary personal information. This made the procedure more efficient for both the customer at the counter and the other customers waiting in line. The merchants who chose to use the tool weighed the procedural efficiency and cost savings of not having to key in customers’ personal information and upgraded their purchase systems accordingly.

Reality-check time. Procedures are around us constantly––we are simply stewards of information at various points during the procedure. When we don’t understand how a procedure works or don’t know the requirements for any given task or are not using a tool properly, the procedure breaks down. You, as the steward of information in a procedure, have failed.

So whether you are the information steward or the procedure innkeeper, do your job well. Strive for perfection and settle for nothing less. Keep the following principles of process improvement in mind as you continue in your role as a steward or innkeeper:

Don’t shove the wrong secondary procedures or requirements onto other core, relatively efficient procedures. Be sure to keep an eye on the core purpose of the original procedure.

Measure, measure, measure.
If you can’t quantify key steps in your procedure, you are doing something wrong.

Beat down the status quo to constantly improve.
Apple doesn’t make design that redefines product categories by assuming the first draft was sufficient. Think like an agile developer.

Leverage existing standards.
Someone else sat around before you did to determine the best practice or most efficient data model, so use it––at the very least––as a starting point.

Tools must be usable.
You would likely not buy a hammer whose handle was too wide or narrow for your hand for use in the procedure of building a house. The tools you use to accomplish your procedures therefore must, must, must be usable, first and foremost. Close behind should be accessibility (mobile, desktop, off-site), extensibility, and scalability.

Transparency will set you free.
Knowledge is power, and sharing what you know about a procedure can pave the way for others to learn and for the process to improve in the future.

A clean procedure supported by the right tools and monitored by the right analytic platform is a recipe for success.

Author: John Carew

Bill Gates Reaches Out with Reddit AMA

No matter where you stand in the Apple vs. PC war, the name Bill Gates means something. Actually, it means a lot of things, and being able to talk to the cofounder of Microsoft in real time about his current thoughts on technology and philanthropy is priceless to the many people who have grown to idolize the tech giant. So when Bill Gates appeared on Reddit to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything), the online community was ready with the questions they always wanted answered.

To make sure as many people knew about the AMA as possible, Gates posted a picture of himself announcing his handle and the soon-to-happen AMA. Additionally, a YouTube video was published to raise awareness of the event that answered some of the more popular questions, from “How much money is in your wallet?” to “Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?” ($100 and a horse-sized duck were the answers, for those of you who are wondering.)

Gates immediately weighed in on SOPA and similar proposals, giving his opinion but not taking a side. When asked about the ongoing Bing vs. Google competition, Bing was obviously his favorite. When asked to compare Windows 7 to Windows 8, the answer was “higher is better.” Other tech responses revealed that Gates’s current computer is a Surface Pro and that he still occasionally codes C, C#, and Basic. One of the most poignant responses of the session was Gates’s wondering why code has not gotten simpler and urging kids in school to start learning these programming languages.

But the bulk of the session was focused on Gates’s philanthropy work. On measuring the success of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates cites the progress that the foundation has made in reducing the deaths of children under the age of five. He considers the foundation’s greatest achievement to be the distribution of vaccinations for diarrhea and pneumonia. Half of the foundation’s money is contributed to global health issues like these and others, such as polio vaccinations. Following the thread, it is obvious that Gates’s passion lies in continuing his work to improve worldwide health and quality of life.

Gates is one of many famous people to participate in a question-and-answer session over the past year. Reddit’s following exploded during President Obama’s AMA before the Presidential Election in 2012, showing its communication value. Since then, the public eye has been fixed on the site, and influential people are using it to reach out to their fans and followers.

The Reddit AMA was a good portal into the mind of one of the most influential people this century has seen, and it showed both Gates’s tech savvy as well as his momentous work in improving the world. So what did the man who has it all sign off with when asked what was left on his bucket list? The only thing left to do: Don’t die.

We tend to agree. There is so much work left to do.

Author: Zack Smith