Magazine article New Zealand Management

The Unplugged Executive: Why Mobility Sparks Brain Cells: New Technologies Are Helping Managers to Literally Get out of the Box and into a New Mode of Thinking

Magazine article New Zealand Management

The Unplugged Executive: Why Mobility Sparks Brain Cells: New Technologies Are Helping Managers to Literally Get out of the Box and into a New Mode of Thinking

Article excerpt

Research proves it: cubicles cause brain damage. Or at least they top the brain working. Research from Princeton University professor of psychology Elizabeth Gould shows that the brain stops producing new neurons in unstimulating environments.

Gould's research shows that "the structure of the brain is incredibly influenced by one's surroundings", according to an article in Seed magazine (quoted on the Creating Passionate Users blog at

The upshot of the research for managers is that the working environment can have a huge impact on creativity, productivity and morale.

Neurons aside, there are other powerful forces changing the places in which we work. Mobile technology is setting many formerly desk-bound workers free to work anywhere, anytime. At least that's the possibility.

Martin Butler, Telecom's head of corporate and medium enterprise marketing, sees two key factors that have driven businesses towards remote working. "On the supply side, there's quite a tight labour market," says the former economist. "Companies are investing significantly in knowledge and experience, both formal and informal." They are leveraging mobile technology to suit employees' lifestyle requirements, as well as employers' needs.

Butler also says technology offerings are becoming simple enough to use every day. "You're only going to use a tool if there's a convenience factor that makes it worthwhile," he says. "If it's convenient, it's likely to become habit-forming."

He has a point. But how well are companies making use of their investment in mobile technology? Vodafone's director of business markets Phil Patel got a shock when he visited a large corporate that had recently switched to mobile-only phone usage.

All staff were equipped with top-of-the-line devices that combined a phone with a PDA (personal digital assistant). Yet when Patel asked the manager for someone's contact details, the manager pulled out a notebook--one made of paper and cardboard.

This company is typical of many that have the technology but not the know-how. "In New Zealand we buy tools but don't use them," says Patel. "Change management, HR and technology are all involved in maximising return on investment."

The need to bridge the gap between technology and knowledge is the reason Mobile Mentors exists. The private company, part of Auckland's Icehouse business incubator, works under exclusive licence to Vodafone, training large corporate clients at no charge to the client.

Mobile Mentors' founder Denis O'Shea developed the idea while working at Nokia, where he saw increasing complexity in products and increasing frustration in users. O'Shea's aha moment came when he was researching user needs: "One customer said, 'I just need someone to sit down with me for one hour'," he says. A business was born.

Many more aha moments have followed, as clients discovered the hitherto hidden features of their mobile devices. Mobile Mentors asks each client for feed-back--what they found clumsy, what they found compelling and what they'd like to change--and a universal complaint has been difficulty of navigation.

"Often people are upgrading from a simpler phone with few features to a much more complicated device," says O'Shea. "They can't find out how to do the simple things they want to."

Telecom, too, has a personal team of trainers, the Phone Ranger Group, who train Telecom's account and technology managers as well as key clients. For medium-sized and larger companies, says Butler, the team takes a 'train the trainers' approach, recruiting power users within the company, or the IT manager and team members. "It creates a critical mass of knowledge, which has a ripple effect," says Butler, who acknowledges the vital role training plays. "If our devices and services aren't perceived to be useful, we've missed the boat."

It's no wonder people need training on many of the devices coming out--it's not that they're hard to use, it's just that they can do so much it makes the average mind boggle. …

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