Pull, Push, Fast and Slow – Part I

Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes around in another form

Rumi

Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference

Tim Ferris

We are obsessed about push messages and overvalue the interruption. We undervalue the ability to pull messages and worry too much about what is lost in communication. We love fast chatter as activity. We undervalue the slow discussions and even slower discovery that create meaning.

Background

In my recent review of the Swoop Analytics Teams benchmarking report data, I made the following comment:

Don’t Kill the Golden Goose: You can love Microsoft Teams to death. The high end numbers of Microsoft Teams use in the report are actually more than a little frightening. Instant messaging and flying threads is not always the best way to think and to work. You can have too much engagement for reflection and work.

Steve Nguyen, Principal Program Manager for Yammer at Microsoft, asked one of his great questions on Linkedin – ‘Sort of related to the “Don’t kill the golden goose” section, would love your thoughts on fast vs. slow conversations sometime’. I will respond to Steve’s request with a two part post that explores the implications and issues with fast and slow conversations across both Microsoft Teams and Yammer:

  • Part I (this post): Will look at push vs pull communication in the light of Daniel Kahneman’s ideas on loss aversion
  • Part II (the next post): Will examine the impact of our speed of conversation on our interactions and our thinking.

Push v Pull – Power vs Productivity?

We moan about the volume of emails. We tire of waiting to push the skip ad button. We complain about marketing messages and calls interrupting our lives. We laugh at carefully and expensively prepared corporate videos that don’t reflect reality. A fast moving chat message stream has a real psychological and productivity load as we struggle to multi-task and change context. However, when it comes to employee communication and work communication we overvalue the push message to everyone.

Our willingness to push past relevance in pursuit of 100% communication is strange (and this applies equally to its related goal of 100% adoption) . We don’t need everyone to know and we don’t need to collaborate with everyone. As noted above, these messages are even a drain on productivity and engagement as they take us away from managing our own information and our own work.

Pulling the information we need when required is far more productive. Employees skilled in personal knowledge management and working out loud can productively rely on a network like Yammer to support and sustain there work with relevant information when and where they need. Creating this productive work network that enables employees to leverage an organisations talents to support their work and learning is the goal of the Collaboration Maturity Model approach, with its focus on connection, sharing, shared problem solving and innovation.

In the past, I have been focused on explaining away the bias to push communications as a feature of power dynamics in organisations. Leaders want to know that they have been heard. Employees want to ensure that they have evidence of sharing information with everyone for safety’s sake. Knowledge is power and this obsession with sharing knowledge universally, even at a real cost to productivity, is partly related to power dynamics.

Many high velocity push message enviroments have this dynamic where a leader with power is micro-managing by chat and the employees are demonstrating their compliance with an equally high volume of messages on status to facilitate the micro-management. This pattern was seen in the Swoop Teams research as one of its Teams structures. Even in flatter organisation structures, uncertainty and competition for power can lead to an unnecessary velocity of messages as members of the network compete to update, one-up and claim status.

Loss of Information?

Reflecting on Steve’s question opened up another factor in play. Daniel Kahneman who wrote Thinking Fast and Slow, won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on prospect theory, a challenge to the rational utilitarian view of human behaviour in economics. Utilitarian logic would question why . Part of prospect theory was demonstrating people’s aversion to losses. We don’t value gains and losses with equal equanimity as traditional utilitarian theory demands. Kahneman and his research collaborators showed that we value losses much more highly and are much more averse to losses than rational theory expects.

Even though we know most push communication is ineffective we still use it (Email open rates will tell us that). Why? Perhaps we are overly worried about the losses if we don’t try to communicate with everyone all the time. We worry that some disaster will befall us in the last 20% of employees to adopt or in the 10% of employees who don’t know. Many compliance regimes focus on 100% messaging for this exact reason even though we know that being communicated at is no guarantee of being understood. The number of people who know something in an organisation is always large than those who have been told it because communication happens most effectively through conversation – the development of shared understanding – questioning, debate and discussion.

We worry excessively about this potential loss and we respond with ineffective & increasingly uneconomic strategies to manage it. We worry about this loss exactly because it is undefined and uncertain. We assume that 100% push communication will elminate it but that is just an assumption and not supported by our own experience of understanding and push communication. A major barrier to the adoption of pull strategies is people’s fear of losing the outcomes of their ineffective push communication. They don’t know how well it works, they wish it worked better, but surely it is better than letting employees discover what they need to know.

Beyond Loss Thinking

The flip side of Kahneman’s theory is that we also undervalue our gains, as we overvalue our losses. Much of management has our focus squarely in the realm of linear thinking. We assume that the move up delivers a linear improvement in communication and collaboration.

However communication and collaboration in a network is en environment of exponential returns. We don’t need 100% of anything to happen because a small well connected group of individuals can deliver massive step changes in performance. They can break out of our persistent focus on 5-10% better and truly transform their work and the value to the organisation. More importantly, they can continue to collaborate and improve their work ongoing without the push of leadership or direction. Instead of worrying about everyone, we should put our resources into supporting the small teams that deliver exponential changes.

As we adjust to new ways of working, perhaps it is time for leaders and their communication professionals to consider how much we should invest in supporting this kind of pull communication in our organisations. This is where the role of the Inner and Outer circle working together matters most. The Swoop Analytic report highlights that those organisations using both Microsoft Teams and Yammer had the highest levels of communication and collaboration across both platforms. There is a role for the pull communications of conversation and collaboration to support the pace and execution of chat. More effective use of tools like Yammer can even reduce the need to pound Microsoft Teams chats with information, just so everyone knows.

Part II explores fast and slow thinking

2 thoughts on “Pull, Push, Fast and Slow – Part I

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