Tuesday Nov 25, 2008

Facebook and the Wrong Definition of Productivity

I'm convinced that "productivity" is a dumb word. It presumes some magic metric for how people create value in the workplace, and that metric is usually, inexorably tied to a clocking problem. Work faster, work harder, work more hours - and my favorite - waste fewer hours! I hear Tock's admonishments ringing in the back of my head every time I see the red flag of Facebook notifications. The open question: is Facebook the new Solitaire?

In short, Facebook is a valuable business tool provided you treat it as a context creation vehicle and not actual work product (for most people; Sun has people whose primary work product is created via Facebook and that's because they're primarily recharging employee workplaces). If you spend hours a day creating goofy groups and inviting random friends, or searching for the transitive closure of your friend(friend(cousin(high school buddy))) relationships, then you probably do have a time management problem. But the problem with casting any activity as a "bad use of hours" infers that there's some sorting and prioritization of hours that belong to your employer versus your friends, family or co-workers. Whose hours are they, anyway? The subject is at the heart of what is typically called "work/life balance", but I've more recently heard simplified to "life balance". That's the right emphasis -- when you're always connected, always thinking, frequently Tweeting to inform your e-crew (and self-selected marketing bots), there's no thick-drawn line separating the two. While Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and their social relatives are heavily colored by non-work relationships and content, they can improve rather than impair productivity.

How?

Productivity is about reducing problems of time, geography, and knowledge. Who can help me with a problem, where is the information (or the expert) that I need, how quickly can I find the best answer? There's a negative side the scale as well - what's impairing progress, what if I take the first answer that later creates a myriad of issues, what if I follow a bad link (people, website, or driving directions)? Building -- and maintaining -- relationships drives the positive side of productivity, because they help you navigate to a suitable win more quickly. Actually paying attention to the content traversing those social graphs sometimes addresses the productivity impairments.

This was brought home, literally, last week when I twittered that I was "pissed off." Immediate Facebook status comments echoed Journalism 101: What upset me? Why? When? My status wasn't work-derived, only the after effects of a bad conversation with someone who sent me a very incorrect bill, but without the context it was an attention-grabber. I even got a ping from my boss, who readily admits that he follows me on Facebook as a way of managing me. There's probably some obtuse managerial treatise in that statement, but his outreach kind of snapped me to attention and quite honestly -- got me back to work. Well within the usual hour long damping factor needed to get productive again after such aggravation. Whose hour was it? No need to debate ownership: it was a useful chunk of time.

Wednesday Jul 09, 2008

Facebook For Business

I get (at times) grief for investing as much time as I do on Facebook, from creating groups to seeking out friends to thinking about how to build small, vibrant communities. One of my friends claims it's my competitive nature that makes me a "friend hound;" my kids insist I do this mostly to embarrass them (as if other embarrassment vectors weren't sufficient).

As I was reviewing the "Missing Manual" (O'Reilly/Pogue Press) for Facebook, I scribbled notes about business uses for the social networking site, from promoting themes and memes to building a readership to locating new channels for ideas. One of those channels hit me head-on a few weeks ago -- an old friend found me on Facebook, read some of my Sun blog entries that get imported as notes, and decided I might make an interesting interview for the Innovations Exchange for which she consults.

Today that Facebook "friending" turned into about 45 minutes of interview (which I'll recap another evening) and hopefully will show up on their site as a thought piece on where technology can disrupt the healthcare provider market.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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