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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Your Story: Throwing new tools at a communication problem?

I'm working on a (likely non-43 Folders) piece about a topic that seems to keep coming up whenever I talk with people about how their team plans, collaborates, and generally communicates with one another. I'd love to hear from you in comments if you have a contribution to make.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story about a time when your team or company tried to solve a human communication problem by adding a new tool? In your estimation, how did things turn out?


Yours doesn't need to be a horror story to be included here -- there are certainly ample examples in which a thorny problem disappeared by introducing a bit of high (or low) technology to the mix.

But, the anecdotes I hear from worker bees often focus on the frustration they felt when a wiki, a new CMS, a mailing list, or some other tool was introduced into an ecosystem that was suffering from a more fundamental communication problem. A lot of people tell me that this makes matters much worse all around, often amplifying the complexity of the original problem, in addition to piling on burnt cycles that were committed on getting everyone up to speed on the new "silver bullet."

If you have a minute over the next week or so, please share your story here. Redact details that you think need redacting, but please consider telling me how things went for you and your group. And, if you feel like a whole or partial solution to the core problem ever did come along, that would be great to know, as well. Already documented this someplace else? Know of someone else who did? Links to relevant stories are also greatly appreciated.

If things pan out, I may be contacting a few of you offline for more details, and conceivably, an interview or two. Thanks in advance.

Michiel's picture

At university: blackboard

At my university (Leiden, Netherlands) they introduced the Blackboard Academic Suite a couple of years ago.

It's an online toolset for students and teachers to work together and streamline processes for both.

The teachers can provide students with class information, reading lists, deadline info, give them assignents and return feedback.

Students can hand in their assignments, work together online on assignments, discuss in the boards and find their grades.

Sounds great, but I've been here for years and I haven't yet met any student who actually used it. Here's why.

The professors and students just don't want to use it. Their response to this new tool is just to simply ignore it. So they don't use it.

Then, who needs an elaborate online contraption to hand in an assignment? Sinds when did e-mail stop working? So yes, assignments still go through e-mail. It's just easier. Much easier.

Online discussion? Really? We see each other every day. Assignments are for groups of 2, 3 students, 4 tops. So how do we handle it? Go home, get online, log in, head for the boards and upload our latest thoughts? We have great cafeteria, so we go for lunch. Together. And eat and talk.

The general info for each class is handed out at the beginning of the semester by the professors. I can go on and on about the non-existing problems this Blackboard is trying to fix.

There is simply no need to ever log onto Blackboard and it's just something you check every couple of weeks when you remember to.

Concluding, this Blackboard Suite is a tool for communicating in a university environment that is still in search of a problem to solve.

As far as I can see a useless waste of time and money, they are throwing new tools at no communication problem.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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