Downloaded Windows 8 and Office 15 Previews yesterday as part of our internal “Dogfood” initiative. As noted I am working for Microsoft again, and yes employees enthusiastically sign up all throughout the product development process –and after to test it before it is release to market. Internally they call this “Eating Our Own DogFood”. My role in the corporation is to think about the future of IT and develop strategy, architecture and guidance for customers so they can realize value from their Information Technology investments. Basically helping enterprises use their information technology and other informational assets better; change management of a sort.
With that as a professional focus over the years, one would think I could change how I do things at a drop of a dime. Not so. Like others I am working through the new graphical interface that is a key feature of Windows 8. The rational for the change was to create simplicity for the end-user much akin to the “apps” on smartphones. I love the idea. Intellectually it just makes sense. If you look at our world today it’s a mass of complexity. We have created so much capability at our command through a host of product features. However, the price of all that capability in the world is an ever growing complexity. With all that is going on, people have become overwhelmed by all the details in front of them. Several years ago I wrote an article on Information Overload aka “InfoGlut”. The phenomenon was just starting to surface. Military and Civilian organizations that I had been working with had started to notice that all the additional information constantly bombarding us was causing extreme distractions while performing a task. In some cases staff were turning off systems as they only provided noise and interference when accomplishing a task. A decade or so later user interface simplicity is the goal.
A term thrown around in the information architecture circles is “removing all the chrome” harkening back to the 1950s when automotive manufacturers put chrome on almost everything which did nothing for performance of its main function. The new Windows 8 and Office User Interfaces (UI) are a well thought out [my opinion]. However, that does not make it any easier to switch to a new model of interaction. Today, I am in a mass of confusion as I poke around trying to accomplish several tasks I use to do almost blindfolded. Friends and colleagues consider me reasonably intelligent, maybe even smart, so it become all the more interesting as I step back to watch myself in this condition. Knowing I am going through a change process does not make it any easier to accomplish, other than realizing that is what it is.
One might theorize that its some hidden subconscious resistance to the change, however, I doubt it. On an intellectual level I see the benefit. If fact I had actually done a cost benefit analysis on upgrading my entire household to the new technology when it becomes publically available. [I’ll be buying a Surface Pro, Upgrading to Windows 8 and Office 15 and using Office 365 to store my content] The numbers do not lie. Having made that rational decision myself. If it makes sense why is it a challenge for me? Is it some dead emotional conflict; Doubt it. If it is not an intellectual or emotional resistance reaction it must be something else.
From the research I’ve done over the years some interesting ideas come to mind: muscle memory. When one practices a task whether physical or mental those patterns are etched into the neurons in our brain. The more we practice the more they are reinforces. This enables us to execute these patterns quickly almost without thinking. Consider typing as an example. When I starting using a keyboard I was literally a hunt and peck typist. Over the years I have developed the muscle memory so most of the time I do not require looking at the keyboard or thinking to type. Bringing this back to my current change challenge I see similarities. I have practiced using the previous UI to accomplish tasks that it is well etched in my mind. The intellectual decision to change makes economic sense. However, adoption into how I do my everyday tasks will take time and opening up how I can exploit these new ways (innovation) will take a little longer as I discover the possibilities.
This brings me to the pondering of whether much of the change management we talk about is focused on the wrong areas. Maybe organizations and people it them are as ready to change as I am, but are caught with the fact that they have spent years doing things one way creating “Enterprise Muscle Memory” and need a way to practice the future state to develop a new muscle memory?