Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be in New Zealand, leading a workshop on social media and I facilitated a module on mindful social media. It seemed very appropriate given that my host, Stephen Blyth, collaborated with Peter Sykes, CEO & Founder at Mangere East Family Service Centre and we held the workshop on a Marae. Peter greeted me at the airport and as I got into the car I noticed a copy of Rheingold’s book NetSmart in the back seat.
Yesterday, this tweet from Howard Rheingold, author of NetSmart got my attention! It is a simple, elegant way to train your attention while working online to keep mindful how you are spending your time. As he says in his book, your attention is one of your most available assets. Yet, we often squander it by not being mindful. Mindful online is defined as not just going into auto pilot to update your FB status or scan your Twitter stream but to consciously think about all aspects of your digital actions.
Rheingold’s low-tech technique, a post-it note on your computer monitor, is a simple and elegant way to help train your attention. During the workshop in New Zealand, we discussed different methods for being mindful and what might apply to our practice. Stephen Blyth wrote up this reflection from the workshop about mindfulness and points a recent Guardian post where Oliver Burkeman delves into ‘conscious computing’. The article showcases “Calming” technology – which is to use technology to help you focus or what he calls the “slow web movement.”
The article profiles the work of Alex Pang, a Stanford University technologist and author of the forthcoming book, “Distraction Addiction.” His work is focused on this question: What if there were a way to use the internet – and all our web-connected phones and tablets and laptops and games consoles – to foster rather than erode our attention spans, and to replace that sense of edgy distractedness with calm? According to the article, this question is motivating the embryonic movement known variously as “calming technology”, “the slow web”, “conscious computing” or (Pang’s preferred term) “contemplative computing”
Some points from the article that caught my attention:
- Rethinking that technology can only distract“Using some jujitsu to turn the agents of distraction into agents of serenity.” Describes some inventions like wearable sensors that deliver rewards (“calm points”) for breathing well while you work, developed by Stanford University’s calming technology laboratory; iPad apps to help you meditate yourself into a state of super-focused concentration; software that lets friends decide collectively to disable their smartphones for the duration of a restaurant meal; and scores of pieces of “zenware” designed to block distractions.” (Note: I created a list.ly with some useful Zen Apps)
- Points to Linda Stone’s pioneering work in the mindfulness online movement: Linda Stone was the first to write about about distraction and the need to breath while being online. Her work was the inspiration for Rheingold’s book (the mindfulness chapter). She coined a phrase “continuous partial attention,” to describe why we multi-task in an age of social media – not to get more done, but not to miss out. Here’s a recent interview with her in the Atlantic (by way of Rheingold)
- Some humorous, but real conditions that can occur from online distraction or addiction: “Paper Tweeting,” or scribbling supposedly witty wisecracks in a notebook as a substitute for the urge to share them online; sleep texting; and ”ringxiety.”
- Distraction by shiny objects is not new. Social media and mobile phones aren’t the first ever examples of “cognitive entanglement”, Pang’s term for the way we use technology as extensions of our own minds. Writing things in a notebook is entanglement! The problem is not the dependency on the technology but it is designed to make money for the creators than a focus on the user-experience. Distraction is still a problem and we need to need to find coping methods. These can wetware (training our minds) or software/hardware as the Pang advocates.
Bottom Line: What we need are techniques for exercising the muscle that lets you maintain control of your own attention, so that you can more frequently win the battle for your attention while trying to get work done on the biggest and best invention to date for distraction – the Internet. Glad that I have been researching, practicing, and doing training on this topic for nonprofits for a few years now because it is going to be a very important professional development skill set – and not just for social media managers.
Do you us mindfulness techniques like meditation, taking walks, or other ‘low tech” methods to help you focus or do you rely on “calming” technology tools? Or a combination?
NTC Scholarships don't just help first-time conference attendees. And that helps goes beyond just the scholarship recipient. TEXT "NTEN" to 25383 to donate $10 and nominate your scholarship attendee now!
NTC Scholarships don't just help first-time conference attendees. This year's conference wasn't going to be a possibility for Amy Quinn, Content Curator & Speaker, Fundraising Innovators, LLC. However, through the community contributions to the NTC Scholarship Fund, Amy was able to attend this year and came back bursting with information to share:Congratulations on an amazing conference! I'm finishing my "follow-up": reaching out to the many interesting and friendly people I met, reviewing my workshop notes, completing a survey for every session attended, downloading some presentations and exploring the video workshops still available to watch! Wow! So much is experienced in such a short amount of time. As compared to last year, my first time attending with a large agenda in hand (since my book was about to be published), this year I focused on enjoying the many people and being very deliberate about what breakouts would improve my skills and knowledge as well as help me cater to my clients' needs. It was such a pleasure and upbeat experience! Thank you very much for the opportunity to attend NTC 2013!
Let's all help the sharing continue: TEXT "NTEN" to 25383 to donate $10 and nominate your scholarship attendee now!
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Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Peter Shorney, Global IT Operations Manager at Rentokil Initial, an international services business based in the UK. The company works across 60 countries and offers services including pest control, hygiene services, workwear laundering and interior and exterior landscaping. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.
Whether it's getting rid of pests, cleaning up a crime scene or tending to office plants, Rentokil Initial is a service business whose primary aim is to offer customers the best possible standard. This can only be achieved if teams work closely together, sharing expertise and ideas and communicating constantly.
We used to have 180 email domains and 40 mail systems in place, so finding contact details and responding quickly to colleagues was a challenge. To tackle this, in 2009, we moved 35,000 business users, including our ‘on the road’ service technicians and salespeople onto a single communications platform, Google Apps.
Since switching to Google Apps, we’ve saved millions of pounds (£) on IT maintenance and several hundred thousand pounds by cutting the time spent on administrative tasks through using tools such as Google Docs, Sites and Forms. For senior management, Hangouts have also proved their worth, saving roughly 54 hours of the senior management’s time a week - that’s over 2,000 hours a year.
As well as maximizing productivity, online sharing through Google Apps has meant we can now use the group’s size and combined expertise to our advantage by spreading knowledge and ideas organically across countries and divisions.
Individual teams have fully embraced the opportunity for knowledge sharing, using the group intranet, powered by Google Sites, to post training videos and access technical images. But it’s not all about official documents and meetings: online sharing is helping us to become a more personal, sociable organization, which is important for staff retention and working culture. Colleagues use our intranet to share personal achievements, from sleeping on the streets for a homeless charity to boxing in international championships, giving a true flavor of the diversity within the company.
Employees at all levels are embracing Google Apps to connect with colleagues. For example our UK Managing Director uses Google+ to post updates and pictures of his ‘road trips’ across the UK and his encounters with colleagues, from the CFO to our longest standing pest control technicians, providing new insight into his role in the business. Our 35 graduate trainees also have their own Google Group to share work experiences in the company. The ability to connect directly with our executives and create communities amongst our new employees is radically changing and modernizing the culture of our company.
All in all, we’ve been amazed by the journey which Google Apps has taken us on, connecting our teams no matter where they are and no matter what they’re doing and making a difference in almost every corner of our business. Thanks to Google Apps we see ourselves as better connected, able to offer a better service to customers and more competitive on a global scale.
How do you learn? When you want to acquire a new skill or apply some new knowledge, do you learn by passively sitting and listening to an expert lecture for 90 minutes without a break and 150 PPT slides? What do you actually retain? And, what do you actually apply? Or do you learn better when you get a chance to process the content every 15 minutes by thinking about it quietly or talking with a peer? Do you concentrate better when you move around versus sitting for too long?
I know for myself that I don’t learn, retain, or apply when content is endlessly shared – even from expert – without a break. If I can’t process what I hear by asking questions of the expert or checking in with another participate or sitting quietly and just thinking about what was shared, there is a point that I reach after about 15 minutes – it’s call “My Brain Is Full Up.” I wondered whether or not I was just weird, so I have been looking to some of the literature that looks at learning design from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience.
Now that could be hard reading, but Sharon Bowman’s “Using Brain Science To Make Science Stick” has been a terrific resource. If you are a trainer, you are working with the human brain every day and you need to know as much as possible about how humans learn and how to teach a topic well. Understanding what holds people’s attention or breaks it can make the difference between delivering a session that is valuable or a waste of time. The book offers several simple principles to incorporate:
- Movement is better than sitting
- Having participants talk is better than listening
- Images are better than words for instructional aids
- Writing is better than reading
- Shorter is better than longer
- Different delivery options are better than the same
The book goes into depth about each of these principles and how to incorporate into a training session. I’ve really taken to heart the movement principle. Despite what people may say in an evaluation, brain science suggests that the longer people sit the less they learn. The book offers some techniques to incorporate movement with the goal of improved retention and learning:
1. Body Breaks: The book suggests incorporating some sort of movement or body activity every ten minutes. One technique described that I use often is “share pairs,” it makes people get it up, take that body break, and check in with someone.
2. Walk and Talk: I do this a lot in half-day or full-day trainings. Participants might do an exercise, but the results are on the wall for a debrief. It is a more structured body break and incorporates more in-depth debrief on content.
3. Wall Writing: This an exercise where participants will write specific responses on labeled charts on the wall at designated times. It can be an answer to a question, a question learners still have, a summary statement, an opinion about the content, facts they want to remember, or how they plan to use the content.
What I’m struggling with how to incorporate body breaks with having participants being able to debrief in more depth, especially in the context of a 90 minute conference session. During a recent conference session where I used share pairs to keep people moving, one of the comments on the evaluation was, “The share pairs were too short/frequent to get deep enough.” Now that’s a design challenge – how to deliver an interactive session that can go in-depth with 80-100 participants in 90 minutes!
Talking VS Listening
The brain science literature suggests that learners understand and remember more when they talk about what they are learning. However, there are some people who attend conference sessions or training to have information wash over them and are uncomfortable with talking or moving. One comment in the evaluation from a recent NTC session, while in the minority, said it this way: ”While the presenters were engaging and had good information, there was too much time having attendees talk to one-on-one about their own experiences and situations. I want to learn from the experts and the time I spent talking to peers did not give me any meat and minimized the time that the experts talked.”
The book offers some great reminders about how to make your presentations more interactive. The best one, “Stop Talking: The longer you talk, the less they learn.” Even if you are just pausing for 60 seconds to give people a chance to summarize what they learned. If you are going to incorporate group discussion, it is important to remember that there is low-risk and high-risk. Low risk allows participants to collaborate on an answer to question and high risk asks one person to respond. It is good to begin with low-risk. The same goes for small group and large group discussions. Give participants an opportunity to answer the questions as well as ask open-ended questions. All these techniques incorporate interaction and better processing of your content.
In some instances, you might have extreme introverts – those who are highly uncomfortable interacting with other people to learn. According to research, they represent 2-12% of the population in the US. This was true for the NTC session, one person commented, “I’m an introvert, so partnering up with another person didn’t work for me.” Another principle will work for them – “Writing vs Reading.” You get people to quietly debrief in writing what they learned. I like to use as a closer, but perhaps it could be offered as an alternative for the introverted in the room.
How do you learn best at conferences or workshops? Do you want endless content or do you need some ways to process what you have learned? As a presenter or trainer, do you allow the audience to process your content? How?