The value of Face to Face

Yesterday has been the day of promoting face to face interaction. I read two independent blog entries.

The first one by Esther Derby called Face to Face Still Matters. It compares the cost vs. the use of face to face meetings. The point here is that the use has no cash value while the cost (like travel etc.) has a clear and measurable price tag.

The second one “Face-to-Face Trumps Twitter, Blogs, Podcasts, Video…” by Kathy Sierra brings a different perspective to the topic. Kathy talks about being highly motivated by meeting people face to face as well as the magic bit that is still missing in other means of communication.

Both perspectives make a point that all our technology can not fully substitute meeting in person. I want to add one other point here: Talking to people face to face is a matter of respect (particular in one on one meetings).

(See also my post on communication effectiveness).

Information diversity

While commuting this morning I listened to the latest episode of TWiT. In there the guys had a discussion about news papers vs. online news (around the 1h mark). Wil Harris brought up a very interesting point: Are tailored/personalised information (feeds) harmful? One “feature” of an old fashioned paper newspaper is that you get information that you are not interested in in the first place instead of just getting your usual food.

On one hand there is more information that ever before these days, so you have to stay focused and try to get the information you are interested in without having to spend much time searching for it. Internet, customised feeds and portals are good means of delivering these kind of information needs.

On the other hand it is quite essential for us to look beyond one’s own nose from time to time. To get new perspectives, to think out of the box, to build new analogies. IMHO this is the essence to progress and develop. You can do that by browsing a new paper, reading something totally different on the internet or zapping around in television a bit. Doing this for a couple of minutes each day helps to broaden my view.

Just staying with your primary interest doesn’t bring you further…

Effectiveness of Communication

Why thinking about this? Thing is that work tends to be more and more distributed and the temptation to use the modern communication methods like email (in one form or another) and instant messaging is bigger than ever.

Before going any deeper into this, let me first admit that I do not have an scientific data/evidence or other sound foundations for my theories. All of this comes from my own observations and the writings of others (namely Alistair Cockburn).

So, what is the most effective way to communicate? IMHO the best way to communicate (two persons up to small teams (about seven people)) is a vis a vis scenario with flip chart or white board. This way you can talk, listen, sketch, see, feel, smell. You see the reactions (say emotions) of people, you can even stop in the middle of a sentence if people do not react as expected.

The more I do in terms of (project) management the more I value this form of communication. My feeling is that the effectiveness (and risk) of communication is dropping quite significantly if you go from live to video conference to telephone conference to instant messaging to email.

Why is this? In the end of the day, communication is the interaction between human beings. We have a long history of implicit knowledge in communicating to each other vis a vis. This is what we are conditioned to since a couple of 1000 years…. We use a lot of our senses.

With video conferencing you loose smell (let alone that most people are feeling uncomfortable in front of a camera and “act” unnaturally).

With telephone you loose seeing emotions and reactions.

With instant messaging you loose hearing emotions.

With email you loose interactivity.

So, what’s left? A lot of room for misunderstandings?!

Please do not get me wrong here. I do like the modern means of communication. Sometimes it is so much easier to write something in a brief email instead of having to talk to someone extensively, it is even very essential if you want to document things. But I do think that you should choose the best possible (say effective) way of communication if the topic at hand really matters to you.