I always wanted to learn French. Of course, I could learn French, but I don’t feel like going to classes or reading books and doing homework answering questions like “which one is the dog?” at the computer. I want to flip a switch and “BAM!” I know French. Like how Keanu learned kung fu in The Matrix. All the info you need gets poured into your head, like you were plugged into a computer. I want a USB-like data port in my head so I can just upload interesting and important information (like learning a new skill) and download the stuff I don’t need to remember all the time (like my friends’ phone numbers). That just seems so much more efficient, doesn’t it?
Science fiction has been selling us on the idea of an internal data port for a long time now. The data port, like the Ethernet or USB ports on our computers, have been sold as a way to enhance our abilities, allowing us to remember more, see more, experience more, and do more.
Silly science fiction, describing in more lurid ways what already exists.
What, you didn’t know you had a data port? It’s not in the back of your head, so stop feeling around the base of your skull. It’s your phone. Think about the most recent iPhone. It’s primary features are the ability to connect to the internet at decent speeds from anywhere, a camera, a GPS antenna, Bluetooth, and a big screen. The latest high-end Android phones have all that plus an NFC sensor, which allows phones to talk to each other quickly.
Now let’s go down the list of data port features: Additional functionality. Yep. Unless you’ve got a built-in compass, a GPS and NFC capabilities that the rest of us don’t. Do you carry an incredibly detailed map of the world that can show you where the closest coffee shop is, even when you’re in another country? Didn’t think so.
Ability to capture and store more information. How many of you have used your camera phone to document an insurance claim seconds after the event? Or took pictures of every screw coming off that machine you’re trying to repair? Or took pictures of that rental car before you got in it to document that that dent was there before you got there? This is the ability to capture and store more visual information. Do you record your meetings or client phone calls so you can review each line and collect great quotes? Again, capture and store.
Ability to learn new things very quickly, a la Keanu. Well, I’ll admit that you’ll be hard-pressed to learn kung fu in sixty seconds using your phone, but as the multimedia device you keep on you all the time, how many have used your phone to look up instructions on how do something? I used mine recently to remember a new way to tie my tie, look up how to reset my cable box, and remember what TV show I recently saw character actor Boris McGiver in (answer: he was the new Lieutenant in The Wire as well as the Editor in House of Cards).
Take it a step farther. Their is an app called DuoLingo that says it can teach you a new language in much less time because it uses video, audio, and text broken down into bite-sized lessons that is more digestible and rememberable because it’s on your phone. Kung fu, indeed. So that’s your data port.
Let’s assume you are launching your message at some sort of an event. A rally, a party, a meeting, whatever. You rent a conference room or a ballroom or a restaurant and the folks in your corporate communications department work overtime to build out the message, the materials, the tag line, the logo, the intro music, the leave-behinds, the swag and collateral materials.
It seems like a complete project, but it suffers from too much focus on the event itself. It makes sense: the corporate communications people have no control over their staff and their minds before and after the event, but they do have a lot of control over the event itself. So, they naturally pour their focus onto the event.
But what happens before and after the event is just as important as the event itself. For example, do you remember what you were working on the hour before the Boston Marathon attacks? Or the hour before you found out you or your partner was pregnant? Of course not. These big events do a lot of work wiping out our memories. Whatever you were working on probably seemed incredibly important at the time… until something else usurped its position in our focus.
So what happens ten minutes after your event is over? Will something come along and push all those thoughts and memories to the side? It doesn’t have to be something as dramatic as a bombing or pregnancy, but the normal course of a work day tends to erode our memories of most events. Can you remember the theme of the last corporate party you went to? Or the message from the last corporate retreat?
The plan is to use the data port to do two things that will help your message. 1: it lays the groundwork that helps your message be better heard, and 2: it reminds people about the message long after they first hear it.
How do we use the data port to clear the fields? We start with the objective of the message. Is the new mandate greater customer service? Ask staff to take pictures of people they see away from work doing amazing acts of customer service. This gets them thinking about the meaning and value of customer service long before your CEO takes the stage. It pushes them into a position where they consider the idea of the message, the value of it, before you put it in front of them.
Build an activity your targets can accomplish with their phone that lines up with your message without giving it away. Looking for better communication within teams? Ask teams to tell the same story of some incident individually and then have them listen to them together.
These are like the commercials designed to make you hungry so that they can entice you to their restaurant. It sets the stage for amazing dining experiences later because you’ve built anticipation – people have started to think about your message before you’ve given it to them.
After the event, how do you keep the momentum of the message going? You know when you go to a show and you get all fired up and motivated and inspired and then you make it back to your desk and all the inspiration goes out the window? Think about the data port as your back-up brain, helping you build better habits around your new motivation, or nudging you occasionally to try and implement that message you heard. Your data port is programmable where your brain is… a little more complex.
In your strategy launch, you want all the staff to understand how important it is that customer service align with product development. So design moments where people have to interrupt their normal thought and behavior patterns and re-consider your message. Send them automated text messages. Suggest that everyone add to-do apps that integrate with your corporate email and calendar tools and push reminders occasionally. Ask people in the development department to interview people in the customer service department and ask how they see their role in customer service supporting the company and other departments. Then have them change interviewing roles. Post the materials on the intranet for everyone to see. If it’s all built around mobile, the entire process can be done with the phone in their pocket.
The secret is to stop seeing phones as distraction machines (which they are and will always be), and leverage them as corporate communication tools for larger campaigns. It’s as close to having a data port you can use to push more information and knowledge into people’s brains.