The paradox of the active user

This is the first in a series of fundamental user experience concepts useful for understanding people’s behaviour when using the web and mobile.

The paradox of the active user is a concept that was first articulated by John Carroll and Mary Beth Rosson in 1987 at IBM’s User Interface Institute [PDF].  It describes a phenomenon that is ever-present, and still relevant to the way that people use the web and mobile devices today.

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Data-driven decisions? Yes, but please understand the data first

Wherever you look in digital, data is the new black. Big data, smart data, data that helps make you the hero, rather than having to bow to the opinions of the “HIPPO” – the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.

dilbert dashboard

However, working with a couple of clients over the past few weeks has been a stark reminder that data on the web is not always what it seems.

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Turning management upside down

“Industrial age” management – that which has been in place since the Industrial Revolution – models all kinds of work endeavours as factories. Managers must set direction, define processes and achieve consistency of outcome. Staff must demonstrate competency and deliver what they are told to deliver, otherwise they will be “performance managed”.

In contrast, leading proponents of new styles of management are arguing for ‘autonomy over automatons’. This is particularly prescient in a time when many are predicting that robots and artificial intelligence technologies will take jobs away from humans.

In his recent post, Simon Terry argues that the new role of the manager is not to reduce variation in the work and increase consistency, it is quite the opposite.

“Too many managers can be replaced with robots because of the predictable nature of the algorithm at the heart of their work.  Worse, those who suppress variation in their teams will be left behind in the disruptive economies ahead.”

Read on for more…

Why so many modern IT programmes feel like fighting World War 1

On this historic day – one hundred years since the Battle of the Somme – this article by Richard Moir at Vanguard Consulting eloquently describes why modern management practices have so many similarities with World War 1.

“The common response to projects showing signs of failing has been to increase oversight by committees, boards and sponsors through increased emphasis on reporting in order to regain control.

[…]

Efforts to reduce bureaucracy and simplify project delivery are laudable and on the face of it very plausible, however in themselves they are unlikely to provide a sustainable change in project delivery performance.

The various artefacts and control mechanisms that may be the target of simplification efforts will not have appeared in organisations by chance or as a result of any physical laws of nature.  They will have been introduced by somebody at some point in time to satisfy an assumed, but often unstated and misunderstood, need such as maintaining control of activity through compliance.”

I couldn’t agree more. The real battle, however, is persuading those who instigate these processes and controls that they are ineffective. Because doing that questions the  value they believe they bring to the organisation. Tread carefully and carry a big stick.

The power of ‘black hat’ thinking

If you’ve worked anywhere near technology over the last 10-15 years you will probably be slightly wary of the phrase “black hat”. For those in tech, ‘black hat’ typically has negative connotations as it’s usually associated with devious hackers who can hack into systems to steal your personal data, or with clever search engine optimisers who can game rankings to drive additional web traffic. But that’s not where ‘black hat’ comes from.

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