AR and VR Potentials Look Exciting

Would you be comfortable wearing a headset that includes a sort-of goggles and speakers for periods of time? They would be a combination of virtual reality where you are immersed in a projected simulation and can be switched to augmented reality where you can see the physical area around you with an overlay of digital information.

The Apple Vision Pro unveiled at the June 2023 Worldwide Developer Conference (reviewed here) revealed Apple’s solutions to the many engineering and design challenges. Rampant speculation about using it and applications followed.

After listening to this conversation between Flexibits co-founder Michael Simmons and John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show has broadened my mind. “Michael Simmons returns to the show to talk about his experience at Apple’s developer lab for Vision Pro, and his enthusiasm for the future of spatial computing.”

You need to listen to the conversation. But Simmons discusses his hands on time with the product in a developer lab and his current thinking about developing applications. I’ve now changed my mind about its applicability for general computing. It provides ability to see multiple screens while the user continues to use keyboard and mouse or whatever. He said he did not tire using the headset for an extended period. Nor did he suffer effects such as dizziness.

Certainly you can watch movies and sports and play games. Watch developer activity over the next four or five months. I would not be surprised to see an Emerson or Honeywell adaptation. Perhaps also Rockwell via PTC Vuforia team.

How Do You Get Things Done?

I try to stay on the positive side of looking for ways to live a meaningful life. 

I picked up an idea from an interesting English writer—Oliver Burkeman who writes The Imperfectionist blog and wrote the influential book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.

Let’s say you go to a nice restaurant. They show you to a table. You and your guest are seated. They hand you an elegantly printed menu. You look over all the options presented and choose. Perhaps you choose an appetizer to start dinner. Then you choose a salad, an entré, and a dessert. Perhaps a bottle of wine to complement the meal.

Now, let’s change the venue. You are at your desk. You need to decide what to do next. You look at your to do list. You know, that list that never stops growing thanks to email and Slack and other computerized incoming enemies.

Do you just take the top item? Do it? Check it off? Then look at the next thing?

Do you look at the list and panic at its size?

How about your email? You read about “inbox zero” but know that it is an unachievable vision of heaven.

Burkeman suggests looking at these things like a menu. Ah, I’m presented with a fine list of options. Which shall I work on now? I will select this one first as an appetizer. Later I’ll select the entré.

Thank you, Oliver. Somehow I feel a little better about the whole productivity thing.

Have Digital Productivity Tools Failed Us?

My latest podcast on YouTube.

Do digital tools have the effect of adding more things to our plate rather than helping us get things done? Gary looks at how software helped him get productive and then seemed to bog down and still accomplish a lot, but it seems slower over all. Even more, what is more important—getting more done or doing what is impactful?

Has Digital Technology Failed Knowledge Worker Productivity?

Managers drilled productivity concerns into me from the beginning of my official work life. One year while I attended university I was the “curtain hanger” in final finish department of Airstream, the manufacturer of high quality recreation vehicles. The goal was not only how many trailers made it out the back door per day but how many quality trailers made it out the back door every day.

About half of my career was devoted to manufacturing of one sort or another. Even when I transitioned into the media market as a senior editor the question was how many articles written and how many news items posted. And, of course, how many advertisers mentioned.

I have ruined so many mental cycles and time searching for the optimum set of digital tools for my media and writing career over the past 25 years. Yes, cybernetic (digital) productivity did me no great favors.

On one hand, I’ve been able to do so many jobs that wouldn’t have been possible prior to digital tools. On the other hand, much time was wasted playing around with all the tools looking for something that worked.

Translated: I can do important things that I couldn’t have before. I can not feel as if I’d done more things than before.

I listen to Cal Newport (Deep Work, World Without Email, Digital Minimalism) Deep Questions podcasts every week. First thing Monday. A month ago, his essay lead in concerned thoughts on The Failure of Cybernetic Productivity.

Paraphrasing—cybernetic productivity, using digital technology, have put us in a bit of a gerbil wheel where new things get thrust upon us to do at a faster and faster pace until the buffer holding work to do approaches infinity. 

There is an old Pogo cartoon where the character says, “The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” That fits many of us today.

The important part a human (that’s us) plays in this story is to stop and think and determine what we should be working on. What is the best use of our time? Then, we can use digital technology for search and research and storing ideas and writing and communicating.  It’s not that we let digital technology shove a whole lot of stuff at us and then we think. That would be too late.

I keep thinking that this cybernetic productivity people write articles about should be viewed like my first manufacturing job. How many quality tasks did we accomplish? What impact did we have on the success of the organization and our success? That’s what is important. Counting finished widgets is one thing. Counting reports? Not so much. Determining impact? That is all the importance for knowledge workers.

Thoughts On The Return To Office Movement

Executives, especially in Silicon Valley, have been on a concerted campaign to force their remote workers to return to the office. A few academic and/or journalist writers have tried to provide support by pointing to “studies” that show that when people work together they are more productive. On the other hand, there are studies (see links below) that show the opposite.

I recently listened to an interview with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who wants employees in the office three days per week. The reason—meetings. He thinks meetings are great. And looking at the “Brady Bunch” gallery of faces unsettles him. He needs to focus on one face at a time.

I have always found meetings inherently unproductive wastes of time. Maybe if everyone is in the office impromptu one-on-one meetings have some value. But, those also interrupt one or both people from the thought work they need to be doing.

I also listen to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson of 37 Signals and Michael Sliwinski of Nozbe and recently game developer Justin Gary. All run thriving companies with no office. Fried and Sliwinski have written books on the success of remote work.

The purpose of this recent movement is really control. Managers who do not know how to lead rely on control mechanisms to keep track of employees. I had a boss once whom I informed that I was going to spend more time working from home. “Well, as long as you’re working,” he replied.

How would you even calculate most knowledge worker productivity? Number of reports per week? Number of quotes sent per day? Projects per month?

People making things must be where the things are being made. And the number of cars or barrels or bottles can be counted. But reports? For the most part, who cares? Who reads them?

Productivity is nonsense in the knowledge worker domain. More important are impact and effectiveness. Peter Drucker saw this 40 years ago.

Questions for us:

What impact have you had on the success of the business or organization today?

How effective was your latest initiative for improving workflow?

These unfortunately cannot always be easily measured with a number. But everyone knows your impact and effectiveness. And for most, that doesn’t being chained to a cubicle. After all, how many CEOs are in the office every day? And how many are flying around the globe every week?

A good article from Forbes on the myths of productivity.

A study on knowledge worker productivity.

Measuring and Improving Productivity

Harvard Business Review, Knowledge Workers More Productive from Home

From Microsoft, new performance equation in the age of AI

What Is Productivity?

From my newsletter a couple of weeks ago.

What is productivity in this age, not only in manufacturing, but also in knowledge work? Do the old rules still apply? And, above all, how can we bring humanity into the workplace?

Seth Godin has written many books worth your time reading. His latest book, Song of Significance, is packed with thoughts that both inform and prod into action.

His themes according to my reading include bringing humanity into the workplace, doing work that is significant, meaning creating meaningful change.

My wife was discussing Facebook and other social media and why they all keep developing ways to capture your attention–not always in a good way (seldom in a good way). She asked why they do it. I told her it was to maximize income. It has nothing to do with serving people. In fact, people are their product. They sell people’s attention to advertisers.

Godin responds in this book as he has consistently in his books on marketing that the goal is providing useful goods and services to people. You win by serving.

I told my wife that in my career I’ve been in numerous meetings where the subject is how to increase sales. Only a few were about how to create a better product for our customers and prospects. One consumer products company I worked at for about a year 40 years ago still has product recalls. I’m not surprised. The culture hasn’t changed (even though the name has) in all this time.

Culture defeats strategy.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about productivity. Industry pundits have bemoaned that productivity as defined classically (output per hour worked) has not grown. You can define productivity in manufacturing by how many widgets per hour. But even there, perhaps they should look at how many good widgets per hour.

But for knowledge workers (whose number can and should include trades people as well as desk workers) how do you define productivity when so much work involves working with other people? And generating good ideas? And developing good ideas into businesses. These things are not instantaneous rates of change. Trash the calculus and look at statistics as a model.

Get this latest Seth Godin book. Read it, then read it again. Mark it up. Keep it on your desk.

You can check out my thoughts on recent Siemens Digital, Hexagon, and Honeywell Process conferences on my business blog. For my thinking on personal growth and development, check out this website.

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