Keep Calm. Use the Software.

keep-calm-and-use-the-softwareIt should be enough.

It should be enough that research is done, tests are performed, usage scenarios are evaluated, decisions are made, money is spent, and software is installed.

You now have state of the art, cutting edge software installed on your computer. It has been explained to you why the software was purchased, what management hopes you do with the software, and how the software can most effectively be used.

But this is not the software you regularly use. So rather than connecting with other staff team members using your new enterprise network, you send a group email. It might not be as effective as the new platform, it might not move the organization forward as your manager explained to you that it could, but you know how to use email. You are comfortable using email. You use email.

Rather than sharing documents using your online file library, you attach files to an email. Sharing a file online may reduce confusion, reduce multiple versions of the same file being sent back and forth and save everyone time, but this is not behavior you are used to. Attaching a file to an email feels much easier that finding the file on a website and clicking the share button.

It is not only that you are being asked to use a new tool. You are being asked to change your behavior and your habits. You are being asked to change the very way you work. This is not a simple proposition.

Because new software is not just about functionality, it often goes unused. Because using new software is not just about training and implementation, it often goes unused. Because we like the software we use now just fine, thank you very much, the new software often goes unused.

We succeed in software adoption when organization leaders recognize these many challenges, go beyond traditional training techniques to help employees realize the larger benefits and impact that using the new software can provide.

Train employees beyond simple functionality: We need to train our staff on how the software is used, but even more importantly, we need to train the staff on why the software is being used. What do we, as supervisors and leaders in the organization, hope the outcomes found and savings made through use of this software will be.

Model usage behaviors: Why would a member of the staff use the new software if their manager isn’t? Why should the staff be moving forward in functionality and effectiveness if the manager stays behind, using old software and technology. It’s easier not to change, and if the manager doesn’t change, then what are the compelling reasons for the staff to change?

Share clear expectations: Managers must not only make it clear to staff why the new software was deployed, but they must also consistently make a compelling use case.

  • “If you need to communicate with the team, be sure to do so on our enterprise network so everyone will see our conversation.”
  • “Thanks for sending me that file, but I’ll only read it if you share it with me from your shared drive. That way, we can easily track changes and versions.

Reward behavior: Staff is congratulated and rewarded for the fact that work gets done, but rarely are they rewarded for how work got done. Staff should be rewarded for working smarter, and for working with more impact. Staff should be rewarded for making investments pay off, and for setting an example for other staff to help realize new  levels of savings and effectiveness.

Acknowledge software shortcomings: No software does everything, and if a change is being made from a software that the staff has used for a lengthy period of time, they will experience an unwelcome change in functionality, user experience and comfort. These are changes which should all be acknowledged and supported. Change is never easy, and supervisors and management should help staff through these changes with support, understanding and care.

Make the changes that need to be made, implement the software that needs to be implemented. But don’t forget to set the usage example yourself, make expectations clear and actionable, train on functionality and usage goals, reward staff for embracing the software and be understanding of challenges and frustrations along the way.

Still, not everyone will be happy. That’s okay. At least they will feel trusted, understood and supported. Your organization will be working smarter and leaner, and when time for the next change comes, everyone will be ready.

So be calm. Use the software.

Paul Pena, and the Career that Should Have Been


Paul Pena, New Train (1973)

Every now and then I find a nugget. Whether through the recommendation of a friend, something I happened upon on the radio or read about, I always enjoy finding that rare musical treasure I had not heard of before. The discovery (though usually aided by others) is mine, and I hold it dear.

Riding in the car sometime in the year 2000, NPR news did a short story on New Train by Paul Pena, an album that was being released 27 years after it was recorded.

NPR played short clips from the songs and told his story. The voice was deep and rich, and the songwriting was intimate and sincere, but the record label had no idea how to market an album that went from gospel joy to country twang, from psychedelic mysticism to well-worn folk rock. New Train had a smattering of different genres all connected by Pena’s deeply satisfying voice and unique world perspective. Regrettably, an album without a singular genre, in 1973, was also an album (according to the label marketing department) without a strong audience.

Jazz pianist and producer Ben Sidran played on the album. A few years after the album was recorded and shelved, Sidran joined the Steve Miller Band. When Miller was looking for new songs to record, Sidran suggested one of the New Train tracks called “Jet Airliner.” Though his album was not released, Paul was now financially set for life having written a chart topping song. Later in life, Paul became ill, and his friends got together to release “New Train” with the hopes the album sales would help fund his ongoing care.

I’m thankful they thought to share this music with us.

The album is a revelation. Songs about travel, adventure, color, life and light, all from someone who lived in a world of darkness. Pena was completely blind by the time he was 20 years-old due to congenital glaucoma.

Pena spent much of his childhood living on a large estate in Massachusetts where his mother worked as a maid, and the album opens with “Gonna Move,” an autobiographical celebration of “pulling up roots, and moving on,” describing the point of his life when he left the comfort, safety and luxury of the home where he was raised. The original “Jet Airliner,” as recorded by Pena, is much darker and more honest than the version that everyone who grew up in the 1970’s has come to know. Independence is a good thing, but leaving home is hard. “Riding along on this big jet plane, I’ve been thinking about jumping out the door.”

Pena accuses Richard Nixon of acting “like a little boy whose dreams were shattered like toys by the wind” during the Watergate scandal in “Indian Boy” and he channels Sly Stone in the trippy “Cosmic Mirror” with fuzz-box, wah-wah guitar and lyrics like “Hear the birds go flyin’ by. Hear the birds go feelin’ plastic. See them open their shutters and take a birds eye view. Over this world that they’ve tried to make elastic.”

Paul lived and worked in San Francisco, and connected with the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia plays guitar on two tracks. “Go ahead, tell ’em about it Jerry!” Paul commands before a beautifully subdued guitar solo on “Venutian Lady.” The album closes with the deeply satisfying, reflective “Taking Your Love Down,” a song that drips from the speakers with warm sunshine, a cool breeze and dry leaves softening the singers steps. If music was food, this song would be a delicious piece of warm, deep-dish apple pie. “Saving all your smiles, stashing them in my stash pile.”

Pena died in 2005 at 55 years of age due to complications from pancreatitis, but he did not sit still all those years after his album was shelved. He became deeply immersed in Tuvan throat singing, and was featured in the Academy Award nominated “Genghis Blues” documentary film about his musical pilgrimage to learn more about this ancient music. He briefly toured after New Train was released in 2000, and even appeared on some late night television talk shows.

Listening to New Train all these years, it’s difficult not to imagine the artist Paul Pena might have been if the album had been released as intended in 1973. What new music would he have recorded in 1975, for instance? Which Beatle might he have recorded with? Would he have played at Live Aid in 1985 in London or Philadelphia? What other music of his might we be enjoying right now?

Paul Pena is gone, his career is not what it should have been, but at least we have New Train.


Bad, Smelly Design

I really hate bad design, mostly because I really love good design. Ever open an Apple product? Ever write with a really good ball point pen? Ever thumb through a book by Phaidon? These are all items which are thoughtfully designed, finely crafted, and incredibly satisfying to use.

We use poorly designed products much more often than we use well designed products. Sadly, these poorly designed products are often part of our every day lives.

Cardboard milk cartons. Plastic clam-shell packaging. The Pontiac Aztek. If you use any of these items regularly, you know all too well the pain and inconvenience of a poorly designed product. Fingers covered with milk droplets. Razor sharp plastic shards covering a Barbie doll. The Aztek speaks for itself, with apologies to Walter White.

The contemporary gas pump has to be one of the worst designed products any of us use on any kind of a regular basis. Mostly, we don’t care. We zip in, we scan our credit card and check Facebook on our phone while our tank fills up with gas, and we go. But, take a look at this last gas pump I used. I would guess it looks a lot like the last gas pump you used, and it probably looks like the next gas pump you will use.

img_41291. There are no fewer than five LCD screens on this one device. The top screen keeps track of how much gas we pumped and the rate for the specific gas we have purchased. Then, we get a separate LCD for every gas option price, and we get a larger screen for credit card instructions.

2. But, the credit card instruction screen is not where the credit card is scanned. It’s not even close! For that, we have to go to the keypad and scanner on the right. In fact there are no fewer than 14 opportunities for data input of some kind, if you count the numeric keypad and scanner as one opportunity each.

3. There is a button to press to speak to the station attendant. There are indicator lights on each gas button to tell us which gas is being used. There are signs, notes and alerts all over the pump. There is a separate slot that spits out your receipt. And to add insult to injury, many gas pumps now feature a TV screen showing advertising soaked sports, news and entertainment updates.

Your eyes dart from side to side. You are not sure which button to press next. The buttons on the right side of the pump control the LCD screen in the middle of the pump. Everything smells like gasoline, and soon you smell like gasoline. And unlike almost any other purchase you make, you have to enter your zip code to verify your credit card. Buttons, screens, slots, noises and stink.

Addison Duvall, writer and designer, writes about the 10 Golden Rules of Simple, Clean Design and reminds of some important eternal truths, such as “less, but better,” “make it pretty” and “be understood.”

Take a good look at your next gas pump. Was this poorly designed machine created by an inept committee of well meaning engineers, designers and accountants, or is the gas pump merely the result added functionality and features through the years? Whatever the reason, we are here, and our lives are worse for it.

But we can make it better. So, to anyone in the gasoline industry who may be reading:

  • Give us one screen to use, not five
  • Let me pay with my phone
  • Have antiseptic wipes nearby so we don’t stink like gas
  • You are the only ones who ask me for my zip code when I pay with my credit card. Cut it out.
  • You need to have a button? Fine, you can have a button, but just one. Have the functionality of the button change with the operation.

I don’t need you to automatically fill up my car with gas, though I am sure that will happen some day. Just take a good luck at the pump, realize how very, very poorly designed it is, and fix it. Thank you.





Microsoft Ignite 2016: Top 10 things learned by an Apple loving, non-IT, Jewish non-profit professional.

During the last week of September, 2016 I attended the Microsoft Ignite conference in Atlanta, GA with 23,000 IT professionals, community leaders and technology visionaries. I had never been to a conference like this before, and I learned a lot.

  1. Microsoft is cool. They are not making sleek iPhones or watches, but Microsoft software looks incredibly good, and Microsoft is working diligently and thoughtfully to connect users to colleagues and information to work more effectively in a collaborative, transparent environment. There are some very impressive things happening at Microsoft.
  2. Nerds love Star Wars. There were over 23,000 attendees at Ignite, and so very many

    Wearing the free t-shirt, embracing my inner “nerd”

    of them were wearing Star Wars shirts, getting Star Wars related swag at vendor booths, and some were even carrying around plastic light sabers. At least I think they were plastic.

  3. Yammer is on the right path. The enterprise social network platform will now be implementing many features that users have been asking for. We will soon be able to edit posts, move posts, make groups more accessible, and get users more engaged. New file previews, photo albums, group banners, etc. Keep up the good work, and keep those developments coming!
  4. 10,000 steps is a lot. I learned that 10,000 steps is approximately 5 miles. In the 5 days of Ignite, I walked about 93,000 steps, or 45 miles, or 9 miles a day. Ignite is huge, and if you are attending Ignite, you are walking Ignite. Embrace it, enjoy it, track it…boast about it!
  5. Swag gets old. Swag is everywhere, and it quickly loses its luster. After about a day and a half, you realize you have become a walking billboard, lugging around mugs and baseball hats you will never use and never wear. How will this all fit into your suitcase? What will you do with it when you get home? Why do I need a branded tin of mints???
  6. Community, is community, is community. A big conference focused on technology does not necessarily scream “warm, welcoming community!” but that is exactly what I found. People welcomed me into circles of learning and friendship. People made themselves available, and people sought me out. I felt welcomed, valued and appreciated.
  7. They are getting close with O365 groups. Yammer is now a core application in the O365 suite, and O365 groups will be the primary means by which Yammer connects to Outlook to Delve to Graph to Delve to Excel to Word and beyond. I hope they crystallize and clarify the language around these developments as the new functionality is rolled out, but they are absolutely on the right track.
  8. This was not a Jewish conference. A big sign hovering over everyone said “Did you say Pecan Smoked Bacon?” 14446170_10154530182587902_8941209549394128103_n
  9. This was not a non-profit conference. Always free soda, coffee and juice. Dove ice cream bars at 3:00 p.m., free drinks on the exhibition floor at 5:00 p.m. Fresh fruit, salty snacks and giant barbecue turkey legs served along side corn dogs, chicken sliders and s’more ice cream cones.
  10. The conference continues. The conference is over, but my new colleagues and friends are still in touch. Whether posting in the new Microsoft Tech  Community, on Twitter or in the Yammer Service Updates external Yammer group, we continue. We continue to keep in touch, we continue to learn together, and we continue to engage our  own communities in collaboration, transparency and technology adoption.

Until Ignite 2017!