I’ve always fancied myself an efficiency expert, but admittedly not due to any formal education. Rather, an innate laziness has always ironically motivated me to constantly and intuitively look for process improvement. Laziness, more than any other factor, is the true mother of invention.
But as successful as I’ve been in streamlining business processes and practices, that did not translate easily to communications. I was constantly criticized, personally and professionally, for using ten words where two would do. This has been, in yet more irony, a byproduct of the same storming brain that could identify quantum process leaps that had eluded peers. So many things rattling around up there at the same time that honing in on one of them has always been a challenge. In addition, I always wanted to share as much information as possible with listeners. A job recruiter recently remarked that I am one of those who, when asked the time, tends to describe clock construction. I had to admit he was right.
This trait used to be much, much worse. Difficulty in bringing focus to communications has long prevented me from advancing into certain opportunities. But the occasional insights brought on by attention deficit disorder paid off often enough that I avoided treatment. The cure was too often not worth the cost.
Working at Nokia, however, meant working with Finns– some of the most practical and efficient people with whom I have ever dealt. It has been pointed out to me that this is a consequence of their harsh living conditions and I can see that. Finland can be a tough country, environment-wise. It no doubt weeded out the DNA of the foolish and weak long ago.
The Nokia culture was a shock for me, and required adjustment. Long used to a desk, I now found myself liberated by the premise that I worked where, when and as I was needed… and that was not always in a chair. I had also avoided cell phones deliberately, and now found myself responsible for their quality.
Funny thing was, I soon found that the Nokia way suited my personality much more so than any other company for which I had worked. The need for flexibility, inventiveness and passion slotted into my own personality like precision-cut puzzle pieces.
But the one aspect that caused constant struggle was SMS.
Yes, Nokia, or at least the slice in which I found myself, thrived on 160-character messaging. No doubt some of this had to do with Short-message service (SMS) originating with Nokia’s GSM technology… but mostly it reflected Finnish efficiency. The brevity of SMS forced a discipline onto every user, like a robotic editor with little tolerance for novels.
My last manager thrived on SMS and avoided actual calls like the plague. Communicating with him meant that as a highly-mobile worker I was regularly pulling my car into some parking area in order to respond to an urgent request. Anyone who has ever texted while driving is asking for trouble… especially if it’s work-related.
And it was not just getting sucked into the SMS whirlwind that drove change in my conversational approach. I noticed early on that any time I proposed some sort of change it was immediately met with a furious tsunami of rebuttals, usually pointing out the challenges. After enough of these debates, I learned the power of pre-emptive strikes– acknowledging the challenges upfront and offering possible solutions for them along with my change request helped cut down the unnecessary entanglements significantly. In other words, I was benefitting those potentially affected by the change by at least mitigating some of their time.
The moral is that dialog often involves something disruptive, and people tend to become defensive over that. I found that I was exacerbating this in Nokia conversations by starting with a too-brief premise that grew into a huge time-wasting monster by the time participants were frustrated and exhausted. This reduced buy-in and guaranteed future efforts would be ignored or given extremely low priority.
This translates to community-facing discussion forums like talk.maemo.org as well. Dropping provocative word bombs into a thread is certain to stir up a hornet’s nest that will prove difficult to settle; coming in with carefully-crafted points linked to clear backing data will be met instead with karma-building Thanks. The same goes for tossing out ideas without making it clear the proposer is willing to do some work. Focusing on areas where one can actually help incorporate suggestions reduces defensiveness, especially the “you’re just creating work for US!” variety.
All of these are lessons learned or cemented during or due to my short stint in mobile devices.
So no matter what, Nokia contributed greatly to me improving my own signal-to-noise output ratio, and provided the tools/knowledge for continual improvement going forward. I’m not where I want or need to be yet, but at least I can see what still needs to be done.
Eventually I expect to master the fine art of expressing concise profundity in SMS and twitter bursts. But no doubt that just as I do, sending 5-second videos will have become the new mode… ;)