The measured employee

Someone recently recommended I listen to Aza Raskin’s 4Thought talk, where Raskin discussed how measuring something on an ongoing basis, changes future behaviour – because you anticipate the future recording of what you’re about to do in the present.

Simply put – if you write down every time you eat chocolate cake, then over time, you eat less chocolate cake. Another example are Prius drivers, who see a live display of fuel consumption data and in response, subtly modify their driving style to conserve fuel.

Feedback Loops

There are two ways to create positive feedback loops:

  1. Recording activity in the past, which influences future behaviour.
  2. Displaying live feedback/data from current activity, influences current behaviour.

Raskin combines these behavioural observations to shape the design of an iPhone app that positively changes eating habits.

This made me sit bolt upright – I’ve been that Prius driver, and also I’ve lost some serious heft via a fitbit, with which I diligently record my eating and exercise.

The feedback loops (and anticipation) of recording what I eat, the realtime tracking of the exercise I (should) take, and fuel consumption as I drive, has fundamentally changed how I drive, how much I eat, and exercise.

Can I work better?

Could the same approach help me work better?

Would well-designed feedback loops make me write better email, collaborate more effectively, or run better meetings?

It’s a touchy subject – mention employee measurement, and you immediately invite visions of Taylorism, cube farms and allocated ‘comfort breaks’.

But Taylorism isn’t what Raskin is advocating in his app designed for people not Managers, and Taylorism is not what I’m thinking about here.

How could feedback loops positively influence (not control) individual behaviour – an employee improving themselves for themselves, and most importantly, by themselves?

More specifically, how could the apps I use be designed to make to make me better at my job?

It’s not about badges

There’s a lot of feedback loops in popular apps and games (FourSquare, Farmville, etc), and as usual, corporate IT continues to ape the successful trends from consumer tech – ‘gamification’ appears to be this season’s must have accessory. Cue the Gartner quadrant

But crudely ‘layering’ the most obvious interactions and outputs (badges, rewards etc) of consumer apps on top of corporate apps misses the subtlety of data+interaction that makes a Feedback Loop successful.

Raskin’s emphasis on designing measures, continual feedback and learning how interactions create ongoing behavioural change and maintaining that change, is a far more interesting and useful approach.

Employee weight loss?

So, I’ve ended up in a loop myself – what is the equivalent of a weight-loss app for an employee?

I’m not sure I know, but I do think there’s a whopping opportunity for delivering the answer.