E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

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A World Without E-mail: One Man’s Vision of a Social Workplace – Wear Sunscreen

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves & Surroundings in the SpringUsually, weekends, as most of you already know, are rather quiet over here in this blog and in most of my virtual social networking hang-out places. More than anything else, because I use that time to unwind properly; to chill out, relax, charge some batteries from that week at work and, eventually, connect with my real life social networking connections (Those who don’t live on the Web…). I guess it’s all part of that work / life integration that one has got to put together in place in order not to lose that balance. Well, this weekend has been an exception… And what an exception! Late on Friday evening, yours truly was featured on the front page of Mashable (Yes, that Mashable!) on a beautiful article put together by Amy-Mae Elliot under the title “A World Without E-mail: One Man’s Vision of a Social Workplace“.

As you can imagine, that article has got a lot to do with this initiative I have been carrying out since February 2008, originally called “Thinking Outside the Inbox” and nowadays just simply living “A World Without Email“. In it, Amy-Mae tells the story of how I got things started over two and a half years ago on giving up corporate email and, instead, making a much heavier use of social software tools and how I’m still going strong at it, right as we speak, while still employed by my current employer, IBM. If you would remember, there have been a few other publications that have echoed, in the recent past, what I have been doing so far (Starting with The New York Times, Forbes and CIO, amongst several other dozens) and Mashable’s piece is the latest one on that very same topic. Exciting stuff, to say the least!

The interesting thing from that excellent write-up by Amy is that it captures, very nicely!, not only plenty of the great discussions we had last week in preparation for the article itself, as part of the interview, but also she captured the latest progress report available, so that folks could catch up with things in the last year or so; at the same time, she has also put together, and quite nicely!, the three major tips I keep sharing with folks over and over again on how they themselves can reduce some of their inbox clutter, should they decide they would want to tackle it at some point in time. To name:

  1. “Don’t Reply (to email)
  2. Study your inbox (i.e. group conversations)
  3. Tackle one area a week”

These are the very same tips that I talked about not long ago, when I blogged about the last progress report and where I included a link to a recent mindmap I put together on the topic as well as a recording of a customer event that I did just recently as well. So those folks who may want to find out plenty more about what this nearly 3 year old experiment has been like all along could surely have a look into those materials to find out the whole story.

Now, at this point in time, I am sure you must be thinking that I have got the job done; that I have proved it’s possible to survive in an email driven corporate world without making use of it at all and, instead, rely more heavily on social networking tools to carry out work. I guess there may be plenty of folks out there who feel that now that I have been featured in Mashable, I am done with. It’s time for me to move on. It’s time for me to go back to business and continue making use of email as before, since there may be a sense that all I am doing would just work for me and no-one else. You know, the eternal battle of the early adopter. Always go against the current. No matter what! However, that’s not the case. Quite the opposite!

Like I have mentioned in the past a couple of times, this is just another step; another move in the right direction to hopefully raise plenty more awareness of the harm that the misuse (and abuse!) of email has been causing within the enterprise for decades as a knowledge sharing and collaboration tool. To me, it’s just one more step towards continuing to push gently for that successful re-purposing of email altogether to bring it back to basics; back to where it belongs: a messaging and notification system of content that’s stored elsewhere!

Yes, to me, all of this living “A World Without Email” is just an initiative to keep pushing for more open, public and transparent interactions where multiple parties could take place and participate, where knowledge workers could help, finally, bring forward much more clarity on how they share their knowledge with others and collaborate more openly. After all, that’s the final frontier, as far as I am concerned, and Mashable’s Amy-Mae’s superb write-up is just another step in the right direction that, eventually, it will be happening!

Whatever it takes, whenever it happens, whoever decides to embark on it, I will still be there as well, wearing my sunscreen, which was my first reaction, to be honest, after I read Mashable’s article. “Wearing your sunscreen? Are you crazy?” You know, it’s still summertime, but what has got this article to do with wearing sunscreen then, you may be wondering, right? Well, I blogged about it over three years ago and thought I would finish off this blog post with it, embedding it over here, as a clear reminder of what lies ahead… Errr, what? Wait, don’t worry, watch the YouTube video clip in its entirety (It’s only 7 minutes long…) and you will see what I mean:

(Yes, Luis Suarez has got a dream, and it’s one that many of us
with our overloaded inboxes could well buy in to — a world without e-mail)

(Note: A big and special Thank You! to Amy-Mae for the great interview and wonderful article put together and to Laurie Friedman for making it happen! And another special thanks! to all of those folks who over the course of the weekend have been tweeting it, liking it, buzzing it , blogging it and sharing it across in multiple online places! Thanks ever so much!)


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A World Without Email – Year 3, Weeks 11 to 18 (Social Networks Spur the Demise of Email in the Workplace)

Gran Canaria - Municipio de MogánLike I have just mentioned in another blog post, I am making my way already to Boston to attend, and present, at the Enterprise 2.0 conference event that will start taking place next week Monday. And the excitement is building up more and more by the day. I am currently drafting this blog post on my way to Chicago, but I’m sure I’ll only be able to post it once I settle down in Boston, later on today or tomorrow morning on Sunday…  Either way, I will have plenty of time to spare for this one flight, right?, so I thought I would go ahead and put together another blog post. One that would include a much long overdue update on how things are going with that work related activity of living "A World Without Email". It’s about time, don’t you think?

Yes, that’s right! I guess it’s about time that I share an update on how things are going, if they are still going… A bunch of the good friends who are going to be in Boston next week have asked me lately whether I’m still going strong with that, now consolidated, experiment of "giving up email at work" or whether I have abandoned it myself altogether and moved into other things… No, I haven’t, quite the opposite! Going stronger than ever!

If you would remember, the last time that I put together a blog post on this topic was about two months ago. Yes, two months! So I guess it’s a good time to come back and share with you folks what’s been happening. I am not planning on sharing the various weekly progress reports, since you would be able to check out all of those eight weeks directly from the latest one. However, what I thought would be rather interesting would be to include that new graphic that includes the timeline, week by week, from  over the last three years so you can see how the number of incoming emails I have received has been decreasing consistently and steadily over those three years. And how that trend seems to be consistent.

Thus without much further ado, here you have got the latest progress report and that comparative new graphic to see things in perspective:

A World Without Email - Year 3, Weeks 11 to 18

And here is the graphic itself with the timeline from the last three years for the first 18 weeks of each year:

A World Without Email - A Comparative of Year 3, First 18 Weeks of Emails Received

As you would be able to see from both snap shots, the decrease on the amount of incoming emails has been rather notable, specially from the second year into the third, where you would expect that things may not be the case. Let’s talk about some of those numbers…

For the first 18 weeks in Year #2 the total amount of emails received was 461, whereas in Year #3 that number has been 323. So that basically means 138 less emails from one year to another. Or to put it in another way, in Year #2 I got an average of 26 emails per week for the first 18 weeks, whereas for those very same 18 weeks in Year #3 the average has been 18 emails received. Not bad. Not bad at all!! Well under the 20 emails per week mark I have been going for over the last 16 months! Very nice, indeed!

The interesting thing from this particular trend is how, as I keep getting less and less emails at work, most of my interactions keep happening elsewhere, as you folks already know, i.e. social networking tools; however, as a result of that, I am finding out as well how more and more those colleagues who used to rely on email quite heavily, instead, take the plunge and start relying more and more on the same social software tools where I usually hang out. End result? Well, that over time a good chunk of our mutual knowledge sharing and collaborative efforts will be happening out there in the open, available to everyone to participate in, or not, depending on the need and / or the context. But the option is right there, which is not the same thing I could say about email itself, for instance.

Later on, in another blog post, perhaps, I will go ahead and share with you folks a couple of charts I keep reusing myself at various different conference events and workshops that cover the incredibly massive transformation that IBM is going through with its wider adoption of social software within the enterprise. To the point where some of that growth has been, if anything, rather exponential. Rather shocking, I can tell you, if you come to think how email driven IBM has been all along, and, perhaps, still is in some areas. It really is rather exciting to witness such transformation and even more exciting to show and help demonstrate how knowledge workers can remain as productive as ever, if not more!, by making use of these social tools!

That’s why, like I have said a couple of times already, there is no way back for me. I have seen the light; the many benefits; the tremendous power of relying on your social networks to get the job done as a group activity in half the time for simple things like putting together a presentation on whatever the topic, or helping answer the questions by the right experts; the lack of stress having to process hundreds of emails every week; the huge opportunity to share and collaborate in a much more open, public and transparent manner; in short, the unprecedented opportunity to take back control of my own productivity and, as a result of that, help others benefit from that exposure to an increasing and constant learning path, while on the job, established by those social networks. Priceless!

And in this context, I thought it would be a good idea to move on and share with you folks a couple of rather interesting links relevant to this topic of living "A World Without Email" that can certainly help set the stage on why email perhaps doesn’t cut it anymore as the main dictator of how communication and collaboration should happen.

The first link is a WSJ article put together by Sue Shellenbarger under the title Email Backlash Builds and which pretty much describes a rather interesting experiment from an American company, SuccessFactors, that just recently decided to stop using email for an entire week (Not just one Friday, but an entire week!!) and, instead, communicate and collaborate through other means, whether face to face, through the telephone, or, of course, making use of a social networking tools (Microblogging in this case).

I bet you may be wondering what triggered such a radical experiment, right? Well, Lars Dalgaard, CEO of SuccessFactors, puts it quite nicely. And, in fact, when going through the quote I will be including below I just couldn’t help thinking about how some of those various reasons stated in the article are the very same ones that prompted me, amongst several others, to give up on email at work over three years ago in the first place… Here is the quote, so you can have a look:

"Mr. Dalgaard objects to email partly because people use it to avoid talking with others, or to hide negative or critical messages or information from coworkers, sometimes by hitting the “bcc” button. His goal in setting the ban is to get employees “authentically addressing issues amongst each other,” he told employees. “Confront issues head-on, don’t hide behind emails.” So far, the edict is working; people are grabbing their phones or walking to each other’s desks to talk, Mr. Dalgaard says. Employees can still contact each other online through in-house social networks, where groups post short messages that can immediately be seen by everyone"

Goodness! Who would have thought, right? Not sure what you would think, but I suspect that Dalgaard pretty much nails it when detailing some of the evils of email and how knowledge workers keep abusing it for purposes and contexts that should not be used in the first place. Of specific relevance in this case it’s the political reference to using the ".bcc" button. I just can’t remember the last time, it must have been years ago, that I used ".bcc" in a notification. I guess I know now why and suppose I would be rather grateful for it. Indeed, I am! Playing political games through email exchanges can be so harmful to any business that may have a strong, trustworthy, open and transparent corporate culture. So much so that they should be avoided at all costs. Just imagine how much time did you spend the last time you sent, or received!, one of those political ".bcc" or ".cc" to realise the kind of damage they could provoke!

The other interesting reading that I thought was worth while sharing over here is this other one, put together by the smart folks of SocialCast, under the heading "Social Networks Spur the Demise of Email in the Workplace" and which pretty much comes to put together "10 reasons why email is dead". Well, I am not really sure, just yet, to declare whether email is dead or not, but certainly the article brings forward plenty of really good points as to why "email no longer rules the communication dictatorship in the office".

However, I particularly like the graphics used on that blog post that try to demonstrate how email may no longer be the best communication, knowledge sharing and collaborative tool out there within the enterprise and as such, if you would have a chance to read through the article itself I can certainly recommend you check it out and pay special attention to that graphic, because it is rather revealing, to say the least.

It’s probably a rather long read, but certainly, one I can strongly recommend, specially for the sections on Information Overload (Check out the average number of emails that people still send across per day, compare to the statistics I shared above!), Information Fragmentation (On the topic of prioritising incoming emails to figure out what to respond to first), and, finally, the section on Activity Streams, which, by the way, I totally agree with, since that has been my very own same experience when using those activities streams behind the firewall with our very own Lotus Connections Profiles Boards.

Well, I guess that’s enough for an update on what has happened over the last two months of living "A World Without Email"; somehow I suspect that if things continue to follow this trend on the second half of this year I’ll start seeing how more and more I’ll be getting closer to the range of 10 emails, or less!, per week than the just a bit under 20 I’m getting at the moment. And, as you can imagine, somehow, I just can’t wait for that to happen!

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The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections – On the Misuse of Email

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las NievesI am not sure whether you may have been listening to the CBC radio show Spark interview I did with Nora Young earlier on this week, and which I have blogged about it over here, but, if you have, you may have noticed I have tried to explain how all along, during all of this time living "A World Without Email", I don’t have anything against it per se, as a system to help people communicate with one another. In fact, I still think it’s probably one of the best tools out there for 1:1 communications.

A different matter would be email as a collaboration tool, although that’s perhaps the subject for another blog post at some point in time. What I have been up against all along, throughout all of these months though, is not email as such, but how we keep misusing it (And abusing it!), over and over, for the daily tasks that we know we could use better tools for, in the first place, but that perhaps we don’t because email is just way too easy.

To follow up that statement with an example, I would love to point out to you a YouTube video that one of my fellow IBM colleagues, Jean Francois Chenier, has made available and which has been so incredibly popular inside IBM with hundreds of views and downloads that by that same popular demand it made it into YouTube itself, and the best part is that it won’t be the last one!

Go and have a look into The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections; a short, incredibly accurate, and hilarious, video clip of a bit over three and a half minutes that describes the painful experience of going through such a relative easy task / activity of sharing files with your colleagues using what we have been using for years: yes, indeed, email! (Funny enough, if you would ask me for the number #1 misuse of email file sharing will be it, by far!; hummm, well, perhaps followed closely as well by Reply to All !)

You will find plenty of humorous commentary that describes pretty well (Too well at times!) the scenario that we go through every time we share a file through email. Pretty much along the lines of what Chris Rasmussen detailed not along ago with this graphic, but this time around showing it with an amazingly funny animation.

The rather interesting part of the video clip is from minute 2:14 onwards, where you will be able to see what a difference it would have made making use of a social software tool for file sharing. In this particular example, it showcases IBM’s Lotus Connections (The Files component, to be more precise, which is by now one of my favourite social software tools behind the IBM firewall! And I am sure you will be able to see why after you go through the video clip).

I tell you, indeed, after you watch that last part of the video you will see the huge difference between both approaches and you will see as well why I’m so keen on living "A World Without Email", specially when someone decides to send me a 10, 20, 30MB large presentation just because they wanted to make things really easy. Really? Do you think so? Specially, after going through that video clip? I am not sure what you would think, but I don’t think so!

A special big thanks to Jean Francois for putting together in a wonderful video clip the struggles we go through with relatively simple tasks just because we didn’t want to start Thinking Outside the Inbox! Well done! Thanks for showing us the way, Jean Francois!

Have a good one everyone!

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