Conversation Context

If you are on WhatsApp, you are probably on a host of groups, which you have, in all probability muted. Ever seen a pattern in the conversations in these groups? If someone started a group, and you connect with old friends after say 20 years, the first few days are about exchanging notes, and reminiscing about old days. After that the lull comes in the conversation, and this is when most groups become about forwarded messages or jokes.

Friends from college have a group, which is the place for college-style conversations. After a while, the conversations turn towards politics, and discussions about the world, pretty much the way it used to be back in college (boys don’t grow up, remember?!). However, due to a number of reasons, we decided to start a separate group about political/intellectual debates. Yes, intellectual indeed, even if I myself say so. Over time, the original group, which all of us are still members of has become a group for forwarded messages.

The reason is simple … context. No conversation can happen between two people without some modicum of a shared context. Take the context away, and the conversation can’t last. As college friends, we have gone different ways in our lives. However, there is a strong shared context of our time together at college, but beyond that, the shared context is that of the world around us. And hence, these are the two topics on which conversations can sustain.

In other words, context is key.

Social Eminence

A discussion I was having the other day with colleagues about eminence and the role of social media in creating the persona of people who are experts at things brought out some rather interesting thoughts. One of the ideas that came out was that social reputation is based on one’s willingness to share knowledge. While I completely agree with that, this viewpoint confuses knowledge with the act of sharing. One can actually share things on social media without really knowing much about them. One of the things I see, for instance, on twitter, is that the rate at which people share links must mean they are reading like probably a thousand words per minute. Quite a few people I know just glance through an article or blog, and share it on social media. This is why I say hat sometime knowledge can be confused with the act of sharing.

Another important thing to understand is that it is very easy to manufacture things on social media. You might have seen a number of quotes from Albert Einstein on the web, and I don’t know how many of them are attributable to him. Taking an instance of a talk show I was watching, the analyst on the show was quoting a long-departed leader as having said something. This didn’t quite sound logical to me, so I started searching. After much searching, I found a blog which told how a lie was fabricated and why, and how it was circulated all over the world over social media. The “fact” may find it’s way twice around the world before folks start finding out. Also, there will be a number of folks on social media who will have spread the word, and very few who would take the effort to validate. What this means is that social eminence can be manufactured, and while there are self-correcting mechanisms which are there in the social ecosystem, these methods may not always be effective in a world with a very short memory. By the time you figure out something is wrong, nobody’s really interested, and setting the record straight is a moot point.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to be selective in the sources we subscribe to, and that we need to do our research before publishing something, a thing which is seldom done.

Social Marketing & Games

If you think social media is only for technology companies, think again. Heres a look at how Danone use social media to change the image of the Activia brand.

As you can see, its all about engagement. Now, i am not a marketing person, so i wont even try to look at that aspect of things, but another interesting aspect of this is the fact that the campaign was played out as a game. Users would go through a series of Activia challenges designed to create more engagement of users with the brand. One of the aspects which probably would help to create a buzz around the campaign would be the component of the challenge which would give users a sense of achievement have having crossed different levels of the challenge.

Now, this campaign could also have been run as a series of activities, probably the same set of activities, seemingly unconnected to each other (think activity of the week). The series of challenges, like the levels in a game, leading to the final event creates the level of excitement among users at crossing levels, at reaching the next level. This creation of a continuum of levels into “higher” levels brings with it the engagement which the brand needs, and gives a good illustration of the effect of gamification on activities, whether they be marketing or learning.

Training’s Khan Academy

Theres lot said about the way the principles of Khan Academy can be applied in the world of education. However, i see education and training as two essentially linked areas, and so, if there are lessons for education from Khan Academy, there must also be lessons for corporate training teams.

This made me think about what could be the key take-aways for a training manager from the way content is structured in Khan Academy. And an immediate answer that comes to mind is brevity.

Today, organizations are under pressure to increase productivity so that organizations are able to deliver more with the same number of employees. This means that employees need to deliver more in the same period of time. In consulting organizations, this is a euphemism for utilization pressure. Many of us would have heard those, havent we? And while L&D managers are under pressure to deliver training to enhance employee capabilities, there is also the constraint of getting participants away from their work for a few days to attend classroom sessions. There is of course e-learning, but can e-learning be an en bloc alternative for classroom or virtual education? I dont think so.

And this is where the Khan Academy concept comes in. This is something i had championed to some extent over a period of the last few years. I am talking about training modules which are a twitterized form of training. In other words, module videos which are to youtube what twitter is to blogs.

In this scenario, the fundamental idea is that people are more interested in training to enable them to do their jobs more effectively. This means that they would be more interested in short, crisp programs (not more than 5 minutes) which help them learn how to do specific tasks as part of their job. Just the things which are required for them to become more effective in their work.

Think job aids meet youtube meets twitter.

Changing Face of College Education …

I had written earlier about how technology is changing the face of education. Besides, theres plenty written on the topic, so theres not much point is me writing more. Having said that, though, not much has been written about what could be the new face of education. I came across a blog which i thought was a bit different, in that it spelt out the changes which we could see. There are three things which the blog says:

1. Most initial level teaching at university level will be done through online presentations.

2. Learning and assessment will be more social.

3. Teaching will happen in very different ways.

I believe the teaching of classes is something which universities could look at changing quickly. Instead of professors teaching the same courses year after year to different students, the teaching could be more technology-enabled. This means that:

1. Theoretical aspects of courses could be video recorded, with the professors providing the content, and presenters presenting that content to students. This way, professors get much more time to do things other than teaching the same content again and again.

2. Professors could use this time to better engage their students through coursework. What this would mean is that instead of teaching classes, professors could develop assignments, design comprehensive project work, moderate discussions, answer student questions, run quizzes, referee peer assessment, all this without taking any extra time to their working day. All of these could be done in a social form.

In other words, students would collaborate to learn, and professors would:

1. Provide theoretical inputs through online classes.

2. Create learning environment.

3. Facilitate the learning process.

This means not just that the profile of the teacher could change, but this also means that the way students study, learn, and are evaluated, could change. And the learning structure would change, from being teacher-centric, to being student-centric.


Came across a piece about an organization banning email. Now, that might sound a bit radical, but there you are. You can find the article here. The CEO believes that only 10% of the emails people get are useful. Even if thats a trifle too little, the idea still remains that email may not be the productivity tool that we think it is. Lets look at why this may be.

To begin with, the purpose of email is to communicate, collaborate. Looking at the basic concept of email, we find that email is not a tool for conversation. Most of us would agree that the best way to communicate and collaborate is through discussions, conversations. And email, by its very nature is not meant to be a tool for that. though, quite a few of us do use email in that way. How many mail chains have you seen which run into pages? Sometimes, it seems like an email ping-pong which goes on. At times, you might get included in the email at a very late stage of the mail chain, and its rather a task to be going through the entire mail chain to figure out what its all about. This is because email is being used for conversing when thats something it is not meant to be for.

So, if the essence of communicating is conversation, which is also the tool required for collaboration, then wouldnt it be easier to collaborate if we use tools which are available to us, which are meant for collaboration and conversations?

About Reading and Blogs

A discussion that I was having with colleagues the other day was about why I usually don’t read management books. And I was surprised to think that I haven’t read a management book for a while now. In other words, a few years, I suppose. And I got to wondering about whether I have stopped learning? This is not to say I have given up reading, but the reading I do now has taken an altogether different form from what it was maybe a decade ago.

I have read a number of management books about topics at the edge of management thought … From The Fifth Discipline to The Balanced Scorecard, to Business Process Reengineering, and many more. So, what am I doing not reading now? And this is where I looked at how learning patterns have changed over a period of time. Today, a lot of information, and so learning, reaches us, not through books, but through the social media around us. This isn’t just about millenials, but senior citizens too. A lot more information is available out there in the form of, especially, blogs. And this information reaches us through the social network. A large number of blogs reach me through tweets, and this, to a large extent, has become my learning channel. Whether it is something new, or whether it is something where I need to upgrade my skills, I look more and more online to learn. Let me give you an example. I have been trying to understand Clifford algebra. And I have found the information available out there, without having to read a book.

Does this mean that books are history? I don’t think so. Books are still an important way of learning. Books are still an important form of story-telling. Where I see books today, and maybe in the future, is to give a structure to the learning. This means that I get from books what I need to learn, and the learning from books is supplemented by blogs. For example, why am I studying Clifford algebra? Because I am reading about quaternions. Why am I reading about them? Long story. So, in this way, books are giving the structure, outline, and quite a bit of detail, while blogs are giving a lot more detail to add to them. This is why I feel today, blogs and books go together in the learning process. Another step towards the social learning paradigm, you would say?

Social Media to Social Business

Nice post at HBR blogs by David Armano about social media becoming social business. David makes the point that organizations today are understanding more the value of conversations and hence the value of being social in terms of business functions. Two parts where i feel he makes some important points:

On one hand, the public desires authentic interactions in social spaces from real people. There is now an expectation for real-time response. On the other, a business or organization requires a system to be in place that coordinates activities.


Organizations that integrate social into how they do business will embrace social as a layer that’s woven into the fabric of each business function over time.

Look at it carefully, and it seems we are rediscovering something inherent here. Why i say rediscover is because these reminded me of what i understood of Enterprise 2.0, as an organization form rather than the technology which enabled, in some ways necessitated the change in the form of the organization. These discussions were happening not too long ago, something i have written about before.

I am not sure many organizations have reached the stage where they are looking at an E2.0 form of working, and we dont yet have an understanding of of what this form would be. One aspect, for example, is whether hierarchies would remain in the E2.0 era, or would they disappear, or would we see them morph into something different from what they have been.

Are you seeing changes in the organization form? The way i see it, i see changes in the way people are interacting when it comes to work, these interactions becoming more social, but when it comes to organizations, this change would be far more gradual.

About Google+ …

I recently posted a poll about whether you would like to move to google+ from the social network you are existing using. The two responses which are getting the maximum support seem to be:

1. People would move to google+ if their friends moved to google+ … something which is expected. What i have heard from some friends is that since they dont have many friends on google+, they really dont know what to do there. After all, a social network is about connections, so if you dont have connections, whats the point. In other words, its still early days yet to see acceptance.

2. People would probably start using google+ along with their existing social network. This would seem to mean that its not either/or, which is what we see today as well, people using a number of social networks. What this means is that there would be a need for apps to publish updated to google+ from other social networks. Or, a need for a social network aggregator, maybe?

The poll apart, the feedback i am seeing about google+ seems to be varying from one end of the spectrum to another. On the one hand, people are raving about it, on the other people are saying its not worth it. There are plenty of comparisons being made with facebook, but i feel maybe the thing folks need to look at is whether google+ could be used as an alternative to twitter, which is something which seems to be getting missed out in the discussion.

10 Things About Google+

Theres quite a bit of buzz about google+ (i am not trying to play with words here), and opinions about the social network seem to be divided. Some folks i am coming across believe that this is the next big thing in the social space. Others believe that theres not much to it, and that there is not much to say that it would be as well accepted as some think it would be.

I tend to take a position somewhere in between. I feel its early days yet to find out how google+ would shape up. What more functionality would google add to it? My thoughts:

1. The look and feel is quite cool, but it would take some doing to get used to the usability. If you are used to linkedin and facebook, you would probably find usability to be a bit different, which at times (at least with those on the other side of the hill) leads to some form of an adoption curve which would need to be taken care of. Not that the curve would be steep necessarily, but it would be there.

2. Some of the features are cool, but at times i feel much more is being read into them. By and large, folks quite like the concept of circles. Though facebook has lists which, from what i understand, are somewhat analogous, the look and feel of circles seems to be quite nice.

3. Using circles to share content privately may not be the right way of looking at it. Rather, circles could be more useful to share content in a more targetted manner, so you can share content which is relevant with a set of people. For example, if you are sharing something work-related, your college friends dont need to see it. Apart from this, i am not sure whether one should read much into it.

4. I have been trying to share an unplugged AC/DC video, but havent been able to do that because the Public option is right at the bottom of the list, and if you try to scroll, the list closes. But then, its early days, and i would think that google would be taking care of a lot of the things folks are saying.

5. Hangout is something which needs to be tried out. Seems to be quite cool.

6. A social network is more about people than about platforms, so the discussion needs to be more about usage than about features.

7. This one’s from Amit Virmani … would google+ have got more traction if they had an option to transfer content from facebook?

8. Posts and comments look like people discussing something and is quite nice.

9. Older posts come to the top of the timeline if there is a recent comment, which means that a post which creates conversation remains at the top of the timeline, which is quite cool, but not always, and could distract from the latest updates coming from your network.

10. Sparks is a neat feature.

Do leave your feedback about these thoughts.