E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip – So Much More Than Just E-Mail!

As you may have guessed already, the last couple of days have been incredibly hectic over here, moving further along with my recent publication of the NYTimes article "I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip", which I briefly blogged about it yesterday as well. The amount of buzz it is generating all over the place has kept me thinking whole day today on whether I should change the name of my blog to something like "Thinking out of the Inbox" and keep talking much more about this particular topic which seems to have hit the nerve quite nicely and with the right level of expectations to actually do something about it.

So, while I am pondering about that (Feel free to add your two cents into the conversation on whether I should change its name or just keep things as they are at the moment), I thought I would go ahead today and, over the next couple of days as well (While the it is lively and hot!), comment on various different blog posts which have picked up on this very same subject and added further into the conversation. Hopefully adding some more into the overall discussion on whether "Thinking out of the Inbox" is doable or not. And if it is how do we bring it into the next level of interactions as far as knowledge sharing and collaboration are concerned.

To get things going, I thought I would kick off this series of blog posts referencing another entry that one of my fellow IBM colleagues, Ed Brill, has published a couple of days back and which I thought you would also find it quite an interesting read, because it is one of those articles that advocates the usage of e-mail to some degree, although we agree on several things as well. I strongly encourage you all to have a read and then come back over here for my two cents of the discussion on a couple of important paragraphs that Ed has been mentioning over there.


Here we go:

"[…] That slide has a key phrase — Your in-box is a catalyst for productivity. Even if you move all of your collaboration to other tools, there still needs to be a prompt, a push, a tickle, an alert … something that draws you into the collaboration."

Ed has got a very good point in this particular case, but I still think he misunderstands the distinction I have been making all along and that is the fact that one thing is communication and the other collaboration. They are two different things and here is where e-mail gets into the spotlight. As a communication tool e-mail can be a good thing; however, as a collaboration tool it lacks some of the most significant elements from any kind of collaboration: openness, transparency, taking responsibility & ownership, co-authorship, co-llaborate etc. etc.

Yes, my in-box may well be a catalyst for productivity, but then again, it doesn’t necessarily need to be any longer. Yes, I may be getting all of those different notifications or triggers that Ed mentions in this post, what is also well known as Bacn, but those same notifications can be coming through other means, specifically RSS / Atom feeds. Yes, that is right. In the era of social computing and social networking tools, feeds are there to provide you with those notifications right where you are and without you having to move away. And without a single e-mail notification out of it coming your way!

I can imagine that plenty of folks would be very much in favour of getting those notifications out through e-mail, but, like I said, those Bacn notifications are nowadays no longer happening through just e-mail. Your feed reader is your best friend in this particular case! And that means, less e-mails and a whole new wave of interactions where you are in control. Now, go and try to say the same thing about your e-mail and how much control you have over it.

By the way, before I go on further with the next thought, let me say loud and clear how I *love* & *heart* Bacn, in case you may not have noticed. Mainly because of what I have just mentioned above. I wish ALL e-mails I get would be Bacn. I would be much much better off. And you, too, I am sure! Why? Well, mainly because all of those notifications are telling you that new / updated content is now available out there, in the open, public spaces, for everyone to digest and process further accordingly. Whereas with e-mail, you are still the one who needs to process everything in a locked, private environment where hardly anyone else has got a say with what you would want to do with that content. Not the most productive way of handling your interactions, don’t you think? Versus those Bacn notifications from whatever the social networking tool.

"If I blog about something, it will definitely reach a segment of my "customer" base. But many key IBMers will never see it (even if I started cross-posting to my internal w3 weblog, which is time-consuming), and that leads to e-mails, instant messages, phone calls, discussion forum postings, and all other manner of information-seeking. Thus, while I applaud and am proud of Luis’s thought leadership, I know that it is far easier to give up e-mail in a role such as his. In my role, my customers determine the method, urgency, and bandwidth of our communication."

This is another interesting comment from Ed, and one that I keep getting from various different folks I have bumped into over the last few months who have been expressing this very same thing. Most folks think that I am rather successful at giving up on e-mail at work, because of what I do within IBM (Being a social computing evangelist) and I must say that it is actually quite the opposite.

Way before I got started with this new reality of mine, I was heavily using social software for over 5 years and most of my closest connections and immediate teams / communities already knew how to reach me much better, faster and easier (And believe me, back then it wasn’t e-mail either!). However, I got started with this initiative, on my own, because of the other folks who kept hammering my productivity by contacting me through e-mail and engaging in endless e-mail threads that would then finish up on giving up on whatever the activity or a phone call to recap and get back in business.

What I did learn about the whole thing, and this applies specifically about the interactions with people outside of your immediate reach, like other fellow knowledge workers, customers or business partners, is that if you take enough time to spend it with them to show how you would both work, collaborate and share knowledge in a completely different, but much more productive way, all of them would be incredibly delighted and ready to move on along with you! I have yet to find one of those interactions who still wants to stick with e-mail for the kind of interactions that Ed mentions.

The key question over here is, do you actually want to make the time to educate the people you collaborate and share knowledge with to find the best (Social or not) tool that will help enhance and enrich the already existing interactions? That, to me, is the key to the whole thing of being successful in moving away some of those conversations from e-mail. More and more I keep getting folks sending me e-mails still wanting to collaborate together. Depending on the nature of the e-mail (Whether it is private or not, or whether it is confidential or not), I decide to spend some more time with them showing them how to shift the way they collaborate, then find out whether they like it or not, and if they do, move on!

Yes, I know, It takes time, plenty of energy and effort, but it is a one time action, I can tell you. Look, though, at the huge amount of benefits over time of shifting those kind of interactions into a much more open, transparent, involved, committed environment where everyone, not just yourself, or themselves, can contribute, but everyone else! Wouldn’t your customers want to do that along with you? Aren’t your customers demanding move involvement into your innovation efforts? Well, I doubt it will get any better than this! (Believe me, I have tried it, and we all love it! Give it a try yourself and you will see what I mean …).

I know that you may say that in most cases your customers or business partners may not be ready for such a drastic change of behaviours towards collaborating and sharing knowledge, but you would be amazed some times how far you can go with just introducing the topic to them and taking the effort of preparing them for what is already there! Don’t think anyone could refuse being shown how to be more productive with less effort. What do you think?

"Thus, for me at least, the right direction forward is a model that brings together all of my collaborative tools. A way in which I can work with things like instant messaging, discussions, activities, shared spaces, and external tools like web content, Twitter, RSS feeds, and widgets."

This is where both Ed and myself are on the same track! 100% agreeing with him on his thoughts there! I am certainly game for that model that brings together all of my collaborative tools, but then again e-mail is NOT a collaboration tool, but a communication system, so as such I would want to keep it separate, i.e. I would want to re-purpose it in such a way that I would only get to use it for one-on-one conversations of a private nature discussing confidential stuff. For the rest, I want to go to that model that brings together all of my collaborative tools into a single experience and big time! And that is what my RSS / Atom feed reader(s) do already!

I can imagine that most folks out there may be wondering by now how can I go and start bashing about, just like that!, one of the core products IBM has been selling for years, right? Yes, you are right. I am referring to Lotus Notes. Well, not sure what you would think about this or not, but if you have been using Notes for a while (And I have been using it since the late 90s!) you would know how one of the most remarkable strengths from that particular application is how it is just so much more than e-mail & calendaring!

It always has been the case, but with the availability of Lotus Notes 8 those words I mentioned above take a new meaning! Yes, indeed, it is just so much more than e-mail! With it, I can engage right away in multiple Instant Messaging conversations using Lotus Sametime; I can work on my Lotus Connections Activities; I can use the offline feed reader to syndicate those resources I want to keep up with; I can use Twitter with TwitNotes; I can use the connector to Lotus Quickr; I can make extensive use of my productivity tools making use of Symphony; I can make use of the various different widgets, based on eclipse, that may be available to extend my own productivity into new levels and the list goes on and on and on.

Like I said, all of that, and so much more without just a single time processing e-mail or calendaring events! That, folks, is the way to move forward for Notes 8. Pushing the limits as far as innovation is concern moving the client out of the Inbox and into a space where we all feel we can collaborate and share our knowledge and information much easier. And, as a proof of that, here is the main reason as to why Lotus Notes 8 and Lotus Sametime are the top two tools I use the most on a daily basis to think out of the Inbox and walk away from e-mail successfully.

And not to worry, I will expand further on this in an upcoming blog post, too. For now have fun! watching this video:

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  1. Hi Luis,

    Quite convincing arguments. I had a few queries, though …

    1. Are we not, in a sense, simply replacing the email client with the RSS feed-reader, from the perspective of the user? From the perspective of content, i would say that there is far more openness, which is what a lot of KM practitioners would like to achieve, but i am not sure how many folks care about it.

    2. I do quite agree with Ed, that adoption is the key. If folks are not reading blogs, then you are never going to reach them. I do quite agree witj you that its a huge effort to educate folks, but realistically, i am not sure how many folks would convert … look at the statistics … even within IBM, there are around 12000 (maybe more?) bloggers … thats not very encouraging adoption statistics considering the number of folks who arent blogging (and isnt the largest challenge most of us face?).

    3. Discovery … With more and more content coming online like this, unless there is far better way to discover content, lots of stuff out there could just lie around with noone ever reading it. And at the same time, the issues folks face when searching for a blog outside the firewall, would just propagate to within the firewall?

    Cheers …

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