SMART Inflation

by Dave Michels

I remember my first three-way.

It was a two line phone from Radio Shack with buttons for Line1, Line2, and Lines1-2. It was miraculous, able to connect two separate calls into a single conversation. A friend of mine had a similar phone, so together we could connect up to four people. At least technically, in reality two people could barely hear each other.

It’s hard to imagine how such primitive technology could ever have been exciting. Our expectations become obsolete with our technologies due to Technical Inflation. What was cool yesterday is e-junk today, and we live in inflationary times. While the phonograph had a triumphant run of nearly 100 years (and you can still buy one today), most newer technologies are lucky to make it a decade.

Although the term collaboration came later, that’s what three-way calling facilitated. Collaboration wasn’t important back then, it was natural. Collaboration was something colleagues just did while at the office. But as teams got distributed, collaboration technologies became critical.

There’s been tremendous innovation in collaborative technologies: FAX, audio bridge, email, IM, and video to name a few of the biggies. But for the most part they have been a poor substitution for in-person meetings. But that’s changing. The technology, expectations, and experience of remote collaboration has crossed over – increasingly it’s now superior to in-person meetings which unfortunately too often are productivity killers.

Meetings, as a general rule, represent the non productive part of the day. This prompted Peter Drucker’s immortal observation “One either meets or one works.”  But collaboration is changing this paradigm because meetings don’t have to be uni-directional swan songs, and can instead be collaborative bursts of productivity.

I experienced this first with Google Docs – the idea that multiple people can type, edit, revise a document simultaneously continues to amaze me. It’s an example of how collaboration technologies change how we work. Multiple people simply cannot type, edit, and revise a single document in a conference room on a laptop with a projector (or a typewriter).

Too many people think collaboration means screen sharing. It’s a fine technology for presentations and group alignment, but additional solutions are better suited for collaboration. This brings me to SMART and the e-board concept.

If a picture was worth a 1000 words a century ago, what’s the adjusted for inflation value today?

When I think about collaboration I think of squiggly lines, diagrams, charts, and icons. The kind of things drawn on the backs of napkins and inside idea bubbles. Pictures, even of whiteboards, can convey an extraordinary amount of information. Photo messaging apps such as Instagram and SnapChat are among the fastest growing forms of communication.

There’s a reason Coach draws the big play instead of typing or describing it verbally. Simply stated, a drawing can be more powerful than a document or spreadsheet. This is why nearly every meeting room and office has a whiteboard. 

The whiteboard has not be easy to replicate over distance. There’s been several attempts from digitization pads to software that un-skews the video-cam capture. The right answer is to toss-out the Expo markers for a truly digital experience for one that both transmits and receives ideas in near real-time.

It is time to adjust for Technical Inflation again, and raise our collaborative requirements past screen share just as we did with the audio bridge. Collaboration can and should use both sides of the brain [around the room, campus, city, state, country, continent, planet]. Screen share is fine, but it is improved with a shot of free-board. Anything that can be shared in person should be shared in a collaborative meeting including diagrams, documents, pictures, and drawings. Even better if they become a canvas for more drawing. This is one area where education is way ahead of the enterprise.

Instead of projecting finished content, present work in process – then process it. If Drucker were alive today…