Follow the Leader

17 Sep

I read a really interesting post on the Harvard Business Review’s blog yesterday titled, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology.” Any regular reader of my blog knows that I’m fascinated with new technologies, behavior change, and the intersection of the two. I’m particularly interested in how they come into play in science and in libraries, the two places where I spend my working hours. For all that technology has done to reshape both of these areas, I continue to be amazed at how reluctant many scientists and librarians are to try new things and adopt them into their work habits and processes. Despite a growing body of evidence that helps us see which tools work well and which don’t, what behavior changes improve efficiency and which create distraction, and how we can more effectively advance our information dissemination, sharing, and networking, many still say, “No thank you!

The post from HBR hits on several reasons that might explain the reluctance, not the least of which is the lack of investment companies or organizations or institutions place upon adoption of these tools. 

The real return on digital transformation comes from embedding new work practices into the processes, work flows, and ultimately the culture of organizations. But even in cases where the value of adoption is understood, cost containment often takes over. Faced with limited budgets, companies focus on the most tangible part first – deploying the technology. Adoption is left for later, and often “later” never comes. (Didier Bonnet)

I’ve observed this pattern on multiple occasions, but one of the clearest was when I was working on a study involving the use of Twitter to help people lose weight. The idea was that the microblogging service could be used to develop a free, easy to access, online support group that could supplement in-person meetings of people in a weight loss group. What we learned, though, is that unless people are already active users of Twitter, we needed to build in time and effort to help participants develop behavior patterns around communication that involved Twitter. Without this, we were really seeking two behavior changes instead of one, i.e. behavior changes around diet and exercise, as intended, but also the adoption of a social media tool. (See “Tweeting it off: characteristics of adults who tweet about a weight loss attempt,” Pagoto et al, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 2014 Jun 13.)

I’m sure that you can think of your own experiences where your organization or department or library or university implemented a new intranet or new personal profile pages or a blog. “It’s a GREAT IDEA!,” everyone thinks, but then lacking much motivation or incentive to contribute to it, the new, great idea slowly finds its way to the big cloud of wikis that went nowhere. Over time, we become jaded and cynical and whenever we hear someone suggest the next newfangled new idea, we immediately think, “Yeah, right. Like that ever works.

Yet, recognizing this, I think the HBR post hits on a fact that can, in time, truly make a difference in the adoption of tools:

Lead by example. You can influence the transition to new digital ways of working by modeling the change you want to see happen – and by encouraging your colleagues to do so. For instance, actively participating on digital platforms and experimenting with new ways of communicating, collaborating, and connecting with employees. It is the first important step to earning the right to engage your organization. Coca-Cola faced huge challenges when it deployed its internal social collaboration platform. Only when Coca-Cola’s senior executives became engaged on the platform did the community become active. As the implementation leader put it, “With executive engagement, you don’t have to mandate activity.” (Didier Bonnet)

From the Journal of Cell Biology. Used with permission https://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcb/4117496025/

From the Journal of Cell Biology. Used with permission https://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcb/4117496025/

One of the scientific communities doing a lot of leading here is the neuroscience community. When I began working on the neuroimaging project, I was thrilled to see how active this community is online. They have well-developed data repositories, online journals, information portals, and resources for cloud computing. (See NITRC, as an example.) They have an awareness of and openness to the ideas of sharing; to moving their science forward by using the tools that make sharing so much easier today. Indeed, I was brought on to the neuroimaging project to help improve a few processes along these lines.

And then this morning, I saw an announcement of another new online tool launched for the neuroscience community, this one an extension of the Public Library of Science’s (PloS) Neuro Community, a site on the platform, Medium*, “created as a collaborative workspace for reporting news and discussion coming out of this year’s Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting on November 15–20, 2014.” Moving past “simply” tweeting a meeting, the Society instead is thinking ahead and building a place for openly sharing, contributing, and reflecting before the meeting happens. And it will be successful. You know why? Because those who initiate these tools in the neuroscience community are the leaders of the community. They have been a part of their past investments, seen the pay off, and thus continue to invest more for the future.

We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.

*I’ve become a big fan of Medium over the past months as a place to keep up with a lot of interesting stories on the Web.

4 Responses to “Follow the Leader”

  1. Donna Kafel September 18, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Sally you raise some great points here. There’s cynicism among professionals in many fields about the value of new technologies and many people have little interest in exploring their potential benefits. A big factor in this disinterest is that technologies evolve so rapidly that people give up wanting to learn about them. I often hear, and quite honestly I often share the sentiment, that it’s not worth the effort to learn how to use a technology that will quickly be superseded by a newer, “better” technology. In this era of information overload, many don’t want to invest the time and energy to learn a tool if they think it’s going to become obsolete or add to the piles of information they need to process in the course of a day. One could call it technology overload. However, when it comes to Twitter, I love it and can attest to its value. I’ve often explained the benefits of it and the different ways it can be used to friends and colleagues who consider it an intrusive nuisance. On a professional level, we know how useful Twitter is in getting the word out to our Twitter networks and our networks’ networks…but on an individual level, many of us are wondering how to maintain a healthy balance with technologies. As Arianna Huffington discusses in her new book “Thrive” (recommended to me by our colleague Michelle Eberle, and which I’ve only read a few excerpts of so far)– allocating sufficient time to unplug on a daily basis has restorative value for our minds and creativity. I suggest that leaders looking to model the use of new technologies may win over some of their reluctant colleagues by exemplifying a healthy plugged-unplugged balance.

    • salgore September 18, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      Very true, Donna. Very true. It’s hard to place value in things that you know won’t last. The idea of the Maytag Repair “Man” is a thing of the past, isn’t it? Sigh…

      Still, I’m glad that we aren’t too jaded that we don’t try new things from time to time. You just never know what will really work for you.

      • Donna Kafel September 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

        Agree, you just never do know what tools you’ll end up loving and wondering how you ever worked without them. We often invest more time in naysaying than trying new things. Thanks as always,for inspiring me!

    • Fred September 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      There’s information overload, and then there’s learning curve overload. I’m already the computer geek in charge of keeping the library’s computers running, copier/printer repair person (aren’t we all?), occasional guest lecturer, webmaster, ILS sysadmin (and I’m taking a Linux sysadmin course at my community college so I’ll have an idea of what I’m doing), cataloger, attendee at morning report and ICU rounds, keeper of statistics, one-on-one computer teacher, and occasionally even a reference librarian. I finally broke down and got an iPad so I could be down with what all the cool kids are doing, so now I have to learn that. (And what’s intuitive for Apple isn’t necessarily intuitive for someone who started out using a PDP 11/40 and thought DOS 3.3 was a great leap forward.) Sometimes I just DON’T WANT to learn a new technology. Though I’ve heard about this really neat one involving letters on pieces of paper glued together to form a random-access wad of information. I’ve only read about it in books, but I’m eager to try it for myself.

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