Friday, May 29, 2009

Virtual Meetings Mania

Well, the cycle has come around again. Over the years people have developed a strong appetite for using virtual meetings at various points in time. During oil crises, after 9/11 and more recently because of the economy and flu viruses. My phone calls and emails are full of questions about what technologies to use and how to design interactions in virtual environments.

Here's the thing. Virtual meetings are fantastic. I know that because I've been designing them for about 20 years using the full range of technologies from teleconferencing to Twitter. However, it's easy to be seduced into thinking that virtual meetings are going to save you a pile of money or that they're a viable alternative for replacing all or most of your face-to-face meetings.

Virtual meetings require just as much careful design as face-to-face meetings... and that costs money. You need bandwidth... and that costs money. You need marketing... and that costs money. Certainly there are ways to save money by using electronic alternatives, but don't fool yourself into thinking that just because Skype is free that you're going to slash your meeting budgets to zero.

During times like these, I always try to remind people that they need to think about the effectiveness side of the equation. Will the meeting medium you choose deliver the value you're looking for? Will people be more or less engaged by the way in which you set up interaction? What is the real purpose for your meeting and how should you appropriately integrate technology?

Technology-driven approaches to communication have a long history of a very high failure rate. Instead, use a purpose-driven approach. If you focus on your purpose and design your interaction around it, you'll be much happier with your results.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pretty in Pink

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an entry as a guest blogger on the Cognitive Edge site. The title of the piece was "Brainbows to Black Holes" but it was really about the connectedness of things. You can find the original piece here:

This week, the friend I reference in that article died. Today I attended her funeral. I live in such a small town that I was able to walk to the funeral from my house, walk from the church to the cemetary, and walk from the cemetary back to my house. While I was making those walks, I was thinking about a lot of things, but mostly I was looking directly down at my pink and green shoes and thinking about my friend.

She requested that her friends wear pink to her funeral. There were hundreds of people there and it was quite a sight to see a sea of pink at a funeral. Even many of the men were sporting pink ribbons on their lapels and pink ties.

The result of this very simple but elegant gesture was that we were all smiling when we saw each other and her spirit seemed all the more present. So, in the end, it was just as I had said about a year earlier -- her spirit was as vibrant as the colors I mentioned. What I didn't count on was her figuring out a way to remind us of that after she left us. She has taught me a new lesson in connectedness.