THE CULTURE OF MESSAGING AT MICROSOFT

From Fortune’s article with Gates and Ozzie:

Gates on email in meetings: Around here people are thoughtful about this. For example, during which meetings are people allowed to read email? You have to create protocols around these things. There are three kinds of meetings at Microsoft: where it’s a free for all and you can do whatever you want; where people at the table have to pay attention but the others don’t (if you sit in a chair in the back. that’s a signal that you’re half paying attention); and meetings where we want your total attending. The default really is: If you’re sitting at the table, you’re supposed to focus on what’s going on.

Gates on IM: … instant messaging has been hard to get used to. How many people am I going to let me interrupt me? If I don’t let them, what kind of a signal is that?

In the January 2005 Harvard Business Review they write about ADT – Attention Deficit Trait, an organizational disorder not unlike ADD which is “turning executives into frenzied underachievers”. A fascinating read – and it will provide a new perspective on those meetings where 20% of the people are paying attention and the other 80% are chiming in randomly while doing email on their wireless laptop or Windows mobile device.

The definition of ADD (HBR, January 2005, Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform):

Attention deficit trait is characterized by ADD ’ s negative symptoms. Rather than being rooted in genetics, however, ADT is purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live. Indeed, modern culture all but requires many of us to develop ADT. Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points. Everywhere, people rely on their cell phones, e-mail, and digital assistants in the race to gather and transmit data, plans, and ideas faster and faster. One could argue that the chief value of the modern era is speed, which the novelist Milan Kundera described as “ the form of ecstasy that technology has bestowed upon modern man. ” Addicted to speed, we demand it even when we can ’ t possibly go faster. James Gleick wryly noted in Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything that the “ close door ” button in elevators is often the one with the paint worn off. As the human brain struggles to keep up, it falters and then falls into the world of ADT.

The article goes on to describe how this new culture negatively impacts the brain by pushing us into survival mode, which prevents fluid learning and nuanced understanding – counterproductive.

Ways to cope: promote positive emotions, take care of the brain (Studies show that exercise, eating right, sleep and fine tuning the brain (reading, learning, etc.) keep the brain healthy and reduce the impact of memory loss or onset of dementia in old age), prepare for the day (don’t get sucked into the email and firefighting vortex) and protect your frontal lobe (don’t get into survival mode) … you also may want to kill the Windows mobile or blackberry device (smile).

Order the article at www.hbr.org.

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