In the course of my research for Who Shares Wins, I was told the possibly apocryphal story of how email was introduced into a law firm back in the early 1990s.
The senior partners had been sceptical about this new-fangled communications medium, and had resisted its introduction. However a more tech-friendly group of employees started to use it anyway. Then one summer there was a cricket test match series and one of the email contingent set up a mailing list that could keep people informed of the latest scores. One of the senior partners realised that they could thus simultaneously conduct calls with clients and keep up to date with the cricket, and the deal was therefore done.
When new technologies are introduced, there is often a period at first when this precious and often expensive new resource is rationed, and people are told that it should only be used for serious, business purpose. In early marketing for the telephone in the US, even domestic use was suggested to be for organisation and planning rather than for social contact.
As Claude Fischer tells us in his social history of the phone America Calling, “a 1910 add entitled ‘The Telephone at Christmas’ recommended the telephone as an aid in holiday preparations, not as a means for giving season’s greetings.”
Wind forward to the early days of the World Wide Web in business and access was strictly limited and then intended to be for “work purposes only” for the most part. This caused merry hell at the BBC for people outside of the world of TV production because with both entertainment and news being produced, legitimate work purposes could include pretty much everything for some people.
But the reality is that, like with the law firm’s email, it sometimes takes people to play with technology to gather enough familiarity and confidence to be able to use it for the serious business of work. It’s no coincidence that the acceptance of video calling at work only came after we had got used to it in a social setting through Facetime and Skype.
As we start to find new ways to work in our post-Lockdown work, allowing people the time and space to play with tools is vital if we want to help them to find effective new working practices. Practically encouraging people to show and tell the things that they have created, no matter how frivolous or silly, is hugely important in helping people to explore how new technology will help them. A quiz, and game, an artistic creation. Places where they can explore the tools in ways that gives them the confidence to then use them in the big, serious meetings.
It’s why I’ve done and continue to do things like WB-40, #51for50, @CoffeeRorschach or #NotAWebinar over the years. It helps me to explore, try things out, and then take what I learn back into the workplace – whatever it is that the workplace is these days…