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

From the blog

I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip – Additional Commentary (Part I)

As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, the purpose of this other entry is to actually cover some additional commentary related to the feedback input that the various readers from the NYTimes article "I Freed Myself From E-Mail’s Grip" have been leaving all along since I got it published a couple of weeks back. You may have noticed how I have already shared a couple of comments there myself, which you can find here and over here, but I thought I would expand on a couple of thoughts that seem to keep coming back over and over again. So without much further ado, let’s go ahead and cover them:

– e-mail vs. social networking interactions – where is the balance?

I know I have been getting plenty of comments in this respect and, while giving presentations at conference events or workshops, it seems to be one of the recurring themes as well over here. Most folks out there would want to know how much time do I spend on online social computing tools collaborating and sharing my knowledge with other fellow knowledge workers, because they all feel that I am spending plenty more time hanging about in them, than processing e-mail.

Well, my answer is always ask back how much time do they spend on e-mail themselves. So far some of the answers I have been receiving have been quite remarkable with people spending up to half a day just processing e-mails. Goodness! Talking about improving your productivity! Not! In my case, and ever since I gave up on corporate e-mail, about five months ago, my involvement with social computing tools has been much heavier and therefore I spend plenty more time than most folks, I am sure. But that has been my choice. My choice to be more productive because I am bringing out the conversations out in the open, public spaces, transparent to everyone and resulting in getting everyone involved at the same level.

I no longer feel comfortable hiding behind e-mail, hoping that no-one will notice, letting it go a week or two, thinking that people would just forget they sent out the e-mail in the first place, and I can move on further with things. I no longer let my responsibility slip away through an e-mail system where e-mails tend to disappear mysteriously , or get deleted accidentally because of a system error or just no longer having a record of the request just because someone had their laptop stolen in their last business trip. Yes, you know what I mean. All of those various excuses we have all learned to master incredibly well just to keep hiding, avoiding our own responsibility to collaborate and share our knowledge with others.  I feel it is about time that we break those barriers and come out to the other side of the fence while people get to interact in an open space where everyone is responsible because of a strong sense of ownership that e-mail just doesn’t cut it. That’s the current working environment that I am an avid advocate of, because that’s the environment that will help me get the job done incredibly faster!

I do realise as well that some folks have been commenting on why I am not producing, as part of the weekly progress report, some statistics on how my social networking interactions have doubled or tripled ever since I stopped using corporate e-mail. To be honest, I looked into it and I am not that much interested just yet. It is far too resource intensive to count the several dozens of interactions I get exposed to on a daily basis and besides it is also beyond the scope of the experiment. I am not trying to compare how e-mail relates to social networking tools as far as productivity is concerned. I just want to STOP using corporate e-mail. Period. And if that means I would need to double or triple my online social computing interactions, then let it be! At least, the conversation is out there in the open and everyone can contribute! Not just me! That’s when we can truly start talking about Collaboration with a capital C.

– e-mail as personal time management productivity tool

For the last few months I have been talking to a whole bunch of folks explaining what I am trying to do with giving up on corporate e-mail and for a good number of weeks it looks like I keep getting the impression that most folks feel I am no longer using e-mail at work because I just couldn’t manage it any longer. Between e-mail and social networking tools I was just doing a very lousy job at time management and getting the job done. Too funny, if you come to think about it, because if you read the various blog posts I have put together on the subject, I never mentioned time management handling e-mail as an issue, specially when in most cases I was getting between 30 to 40 e-mails a day at the highest peak of times, so I am thinking if that is what folks are saying, I am seriously thinking I am working in the wrong industry, because if I cannot handle 30 e-mails a day while managing my time, I guess I should be doing something else.

No, the fact that I gave on e-mail is not because of time management issues, or mail quota, or the infamous "Reply to All" and the Attachments buttons, along with the .cc and .bcc ones, or the political games that you see in specific e-mails where you first need to figure out what the political game is at play before you then decide what to do. No, I didn’t give up on e-mail because of all of that. I eventually gave up on it because e-mail is the worst collaborative tool available out there! I gave up on it because when trying to describe the collaborative process using e-mail you come up with a very realistic example, which Wikinomics picked up not long ago, of how poor it actually is and Chris Rasmussen‘s graphic speaks for itself, as I am sure you would be able to agree with:

That is *the* main reason why I have given up on e-mail as a collaboration and knowledge sharing tool, not because of time management issues, nor because I couldn’t handle the load any longer, but because I just wanted to live in heaven (See Wiki Collaboration quadrant above!) while I am sharing my knowledge and collaborating with others. Why would I want to make things much more complex and difficult for myself when collaboration can be *that* easy?!?!

– e-mail as a proof or record of what you do at work

That is perhaps the number one excuse that I keep getting from people I talked to on a regular basis as to why they haven’t given up on work related e-mail just yet. The fact they need to have a proof, a record, of what’s been shared thus far. Well, I am thinking that unless you are in Legal, or HR, or subject to corporate audits for whatever the subject, or in the IP, patents, trademarks, copyright world, there is no reason why you would need to have such a record. And even then most social software tools would still allow you to have that proof or record you have done your job, anyway. Anyone heard of Google (Desktop) Search, amongst many others? 😉

Here is the fundamental aspect though that I think we would all need to reflect on. The main reason why you would want to keep track or proof of an e-mail interaction is, in most cases, because you are lacking enough trust on the other party to respond to you in a timely manner. So you decide to file that e-mail, because you don’t trust the other person at the other end and, you never know, you may need it at some point in time. That’s what e-mail does to you and the interactions you have. We all know why people would keep those records for.

Now, take social networking tools and the interactions you are doing over there. Do you need to have a record of them? In most cases you wouldn’t need to have because the one major key success factor from any successful social network is a strong trust factor. People ask you for help in a social networking tool, and you tend to help out as soon as you possibly can because you trust the other person at the other end. Why? Because you have had an opportunity to make a connection & perhaps even make it an everlasting one! Their online profile is open to everyone, you can see the kind of interactions and reactions he / she has been having and more or less you can build up an opinion of how those conversations are going to take place. Because of that trust, the proof or record of an action does no longer exist. You would just focus on executing the action item and off you go, into the next one!

You are part of the network, a group of individuals who have been building enough rapport to share with everyone what they can expect. This is exactly the kind of environment I have been exposed to all along. I used to archive every single e-mail I used to get, just in case I may need it at a later time. It turns out that I am using social software tools much much heavier and have found out I no longer need to record stuff. I just focus on getting the job done with the folks I trust, instead of wasting everyone’s time escalating an e-mail after another.

Oh, and here is an open question to everyone to reflect some more on the topic, have you ever thought that when documenting something, whether it is on e-mail or any other traditional collaborative tool, you start putting together some thoughts and by the time you are done and ready to click on the SAVE or PUBLISH button the content is already out of date? Even before anyone else may have seen it? Even before you feel it is ready? Well, that’s the new reality of the corporate world of the 21st century:

Content is no longer key!

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