This is Habit 4 Think Win Win, the 4th post in our 7 Habits for Highly Successful Communication Managers. As we work to be less reactionary (Habit #1 – Be Proactive) and have a clear strategy (Habit #2 – Begin with the End in Mind) and work to prioritize tasks (Habit #3 – Putting First Things First),we must have an overarching gold for everyone to win. Habit #4 says Think Win-Win. Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.
Technology for the masses is fascinating. Most of us do not care about how something is done we only care that it works. For example, it is probably unnecessary to understand completely how electrons, interlacing, raster scans, and phosphors all work together to make color television work. We just enjoy the experience.
Do you remember the first time you sent or received an email? I don’t remember the specifics of the first message I sent but I do remember that it was on my Apple computer and I was using a dial up modem and a very slow local Internet Service Provider. The year was around 1994. I have often thought that we shouldn’t be surprised that email sometimes fails; we should be surprised that it works at all.
Consider the technology necessary to type an email into some sort of device with a complex operating system, that is connected in some fashion to the Internet, that can route to almost any other Internet connected computer anywhere in the world and even to outer space, and can transmit a message quickly to another recipient often traversing a maze of routers, firewalls, servers, copper wires, fiber optics, wireless networks, and satellites; the message is broken into little chunks called packets and then those packets are reassembled on the receiving end and all this forms a coherent message? Frankly the fact that this works at all is amazing!
Do I understand all the technology that makes this miracle happen? Absolutely not – and frankly I really don’t care – I just want it to work. Email has become a reflex action – I do it every day for hours at a time without giving a second thought to the process. It is now woven into the fabric of my existence and to think that just 20 years ago I couldn’t even spell email. (Well, I think I spelled it e-mail back then. When did we drop the dash?)
Now think about handing a child an iPad and watching them intuitively start a FaceTime conversation with their cousins. Do you think the kids spend any time worrying about wireless transmissions or codecs or network protocols? They use the technology without a single thought about how it all works.
I am in the middle of a Microsoft Lync project that has included hundreds of man hours configuring firewalls, understanding protocols, creating DMZ’s, testing and retesting configurations, building training materials, reading log files, opening cases with the manufacturers, whiteboard sessions, meetings to discuss other meetings, strategy sessions, change control, integration with the current PBX, new SIP connections, and research…after all this what do the users care about? They want to click a hyperlink and have the conference work. They don’t understand the heavy lifting it has taken to get the project to this point and frankly they don’t care one bit about how hard the job has been.
One problem in the technology industry is that we want everyone to know how much heavy lifting we do to make it all work. Do we think for a moment that the users of the technology inside our company, or the Executive suite for that matter, care one little bit about how hard this is to pull off? The answer is a resounding NO! Like email, or the apps on our smartphone, or satellite TV, or a combustion engine, these days the how things work matters less and less as people take the technology for granted.
So what do users really care about? And what should technology professionals care about? How can we make this a Win-Win? A Win for the professionals that make it all work and a Win the consumers of that technology?
- Step One is to stop worrying that the users don’t understand our hard work, sweat, and efforts and that they don’t really care about the degree of difficulty involved. They aren’t going to get it and they stopped caring about it long ago. Spending any time trying to explain the complexities of how hard our jobs are misses the point completely. There was a day when running a computer required a lot of hands on knowledge of operating systems, protocols, configurations, drivers, and peripherals. That ship sailed more than a decade ago.
- Step Two is to work extra hard at making the technology incredibly simple. The relationship between technology professionals and users becomes a Win-Win when the technology works reliably and the users find it so easy and intuitive that they can’t live without it. Once they can’t live without the technology, then by default, they can’t live without the technologist. You are the one that makes all the magic happen. The users Win because they get the technology they want and the IT professionals Win because they become indispensible as users adopt technology they will not take the time to understand but now cannot imagine existing without.
Making very complex things simple to use is difficult. Making high quality products that are intuitive is really difficult. In relation to making the technology fade into the background the late Steve Jobs said:
“I like things that do the job and kind of disappear into my life… and you don’t think about it much.”
“…Quality is communicated through a feeling … [Customers] don’t understand exactly why, but they know that a lot of care and love was put into the designing of the product.”
“…customers pay us[Apple] … to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers.”
Imagine if we all subscribed to that perspective as we create technology solutions for our fellow employees and customers. Therein lies our charge. We must make our complex networks, communication infrastructures, storage, and mobile systems so simple to use that everyone adopts them without worrying about how it all works. Only when the technology fades into the background does it truly become effective. And when the technology fades into the background, the IT professionals that keep it all running truly become indispensable.
What do you think? How do you work to make the complex technologies at your company as simple to use as possible?