I was reading Aubrey Daniel’s blog the other day where he was discussing the new sitcom Outsourced and the challenge of managing people in different cultures/globally. Aubrey is the leading authority (an author) on applying the scientifically-proven laws of human behavior to the workplace.
It made me wonder about the challenges of managing technology globally as well as the role of technology itself. … In Aubrey’s post, he mentioned that some behaviors are fundamental because no matter where the team may be geographically, “they are people too”. Of course with automation, they may have some characteristics of a cyborg.
I was fortunate enough to talk with Aubrey to get his opinion on the intersection of technology, outsourcing, and behavior. The following is a summary of what we discussed.
- What role do you see technology having today in supporting or enabling good human behavior and interaction?
It has an increasingly important role and one that has not been properly recognized. Aubrey is a firm believer in the role of positive enforcement in getting desired behavior. Technology increases the rate of reinforcement more than anything we’ve experienced before.
Anytime you do something that is easier and more positive, people will adopt it. The fact that a keystroke can provide information in seconds today that used to take hours, is a key benefit and change in our behavior and expectation. There is also a great example of how video enables global innovation from TED that discusses how a global audience can innovate in new ways.
Just a decade or two ago we used to send snail mail and diligently wait for the response. Now we start to fidget if people don’t respond in real time.
A video game is a great example of how many small reinforcements can addict people to play even more. There is also the counter example as that’s been in the news where lifeguards are being reprimanded for texting on the job. When you think about it, what has less continuous reinforcement than being a lifeguard? Granted, when they save a life there is a great deal of reinforcement, but those situations should be few and far between. It is no wonder they are attracted to texting.
Another good example is texting while driving. But in this case there may be a technological solution, since there are now Apps that prevent the delivery of the text message when the phone is moving faster than 5 or 10 MPH.
Returning to the area of technology and globalization though, without technology none of the globalization activities could exist. What is key is people who work globally still need to understand human behavior. Those who design systems to reinforce or understand the context of the individuals and support them in their efforts have an advantage. The same can be said about those who use social media tools to interact globally.
Heading into any environment, you need to understand what drives the individuals – what they view as reinforcers. Some reinforcers may be regional but there are other things that drive behavior as well.
- Some of what you talk about is culture by country or region; do you think technology users have a subculture within a country’s culture? Which is closer, technologists to each other or the individuals to their country?
The more you can look at individuals the better, but technology is a culture in itself. As people use and understand the technology, they are changing the culture. Each domain has rules and habits that govern the way we act. Just like there is a golf culture in business with social norms… there is an Open Source or Microsoft developer culture. The people within a culture have the advantage of access to common languages and technologies to reinforce their behavior.
It varies between individuals, but they are probably closer to the ones that provide the most reinforcement and many times those are within the sub-culture.
- How do you see the globalization phenomenon being supported or impacted by technology?
It is clearly the case that there is something new every day. This is shaping younger people more than older folks. Geographic boundaries play a lesser role, because technologies allow greater insight into what’s true or not true no matter where you are located. Now we all have access to the same Internet with some rare exceptions.
The world is speeding up, do you know why? It is caused by the increase in the rate of reinforcement, which accelerates behavior change.
Even within the technology space, our expectations are changing. It used to be that 8-10 seconds to load a web page was the tipping point where people left a website. Today it is closer to 6 seconds. We get bored waiting there and may spend the next 20 seconds trying to find a page that loads in 1 second. From an efficiency perspective it may not make sense, but from a reinforcement perspective that’s the way human behavior works.
- In your post, you mentioned that monitoring processes to optimize goals and reinforcing behaviors can’t be overdone. How do you see technology being used without becoming too much of a big brother?
Computers can be used to help or hurt someone. Computers that are implemented to punish someone are going to have a negative impact in the workplace. Gamers learned the laws of behavior by experience and they are a great example of how technology adjustments can make the difference between a block buster game and one that is frustrating.
One of the problems with automation is that any time you bring technology into an environment; you reduce the reinforcement for the people. Now people may only monitor what they used to do. The effect is like the life guard example mentioned earlier. Rare errors are produced by people monitoring equipment and sensors that never vary. The errors are so infrequent that people do other things. There are multiple ways to address this and one of those is having monitors monitor the monitors… those are the situations that can feel big brother-ish.