User-Centric Computing: No More Lip Service
What should IT be paying attention to above all else? How about our organizations' potential for human effectiveness?
Mon, October 14, 2013
Computerworld — Change and confusion reign in the technology world today. Consumerization, mobility and virtualization are disrupting the vendor landscape to an astounding degree. As an analyst at Forrester Research, I field between 90 and 120 inquiry calls every quarter from industry leaders trying to make sense of all these disruptions, which gives me a very good sense of what's missing. Gradually, new insights are emerging. There's one in particular that I think is most important.
The people calling are smart and almost always well informed about workforce computing technology, as well as compliance topics, because that's what they're being asked to look after by their leaders. But they're almost never informed about the human aspects of workforce computing -- the conditions that are necessary for the employees of their organization to be as effective as they can be, and how technology actually affects that. This is important because without this knowledge, we have no way to know how the technology and policy decisions we're making will affect the way people work, and that will have profound effects on innovation, productivity and business results.
As it turns out, this is not news to the scientists who study human behavior at work. In fact, the basic principles of when and why people do their best work has been well understood for more than two decades. Here's the kicker: What science knows is counter to the way most organizations operate. Theresa Amabile of Harvard Business School makes a compelling case in her book "The Progress Principle" that people are happiest when they have meaningful work and can make daily progress. Her research shows that this "inner work life" is a function of:
* Emotions: Examples: The joy we feel when we solve a complex problem, the disappointment we feel when a VP rejects our strategic plan, the gratitude we feel when a co-worker helps us with a favor, or the anger we feel when a co-worker betrays our trust and takes credit for our work.
* Perceptions: Examples: How we perceive things like the competency of our leadership, the viability of the company strategy, the value of our work, and the ethics of our co-workers.
* Motivation: Our grasp of what needs to be done at any given moment and our drive to it at that time. Example: Engaging, interesting and meaningful work are more effective motivators than financial incentives.
Amabile's work shows that, of these three, motivation is the most important, and her work echoes the earlier work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on motivation. Csikszentmihalyi's research was the first to explore a concept called "Flow" -- the state of optimal experience. In Flow, we are fully engaged in our work and we lose track of the passing of time. The more complex the work, the more effective a state of flow is for multiplying the results. Software developers and engineers will likely recognize this concept from their own work experiences, since they were likely experiencing Flow on those evenings when they totally lost track of time and ended up skipping dinner and going home at 2 a.m. after writing amazing code.