How online can outperform offline, in being offline

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, ones wisely said: “If you can do things better without digital tools you probably should.” However, creative use of digital tools can achieve things that never would have been possible without them. And it does not, only, have to be about winning in time and space. Here three useful examples.

If using an on-line-survey during a presentation, or a lecture, you can get answers from all people in the room. You can also do statistics on it, and show the result to all people there, live, at the same time as they answer. Use for instance SurveyMonkey and at the same time show the result on a screen. You thereby create an instant feedback-loop which can give interesting result.

Voila: it becomes like a Catch22-situation. If I know what you answer I might answer differently depending on what I saw that you just answered etc. It becomes live interaction with a big group.

This is something digital tools are extremely good at, but we as individuals are extremely bad at. How to achieve a live conversation with everyone you meet at the same time during a dinner? Answer: impossible.

You can achieve something similar, but instead between all of people in the room. You as the “critical node” are then not needed. Put for instance Twitter-Feed on the screen at the same time as you speak and ask participants to use a certain hashtag on Twitter. Then they can think/speak openly to all people in the room at the same time as you speak. If you want to adapt to what they say, or just let them talk to each other. Impossible to achieve without digital tools, simply because not everyone can interrupt you at the same time and speak openly.

Here is another example of what you can do, but it´s even simpler to achieve than the examples I just mentioned.

Two years ago, I was in Canary Island (needed to get away from the crowd in order to finish a book, see “Who´s behind” if interested).. However, at the same time I was running a course at my university, KTH, jointly with a colleague, Björn Thuresson. The “only” problem was that the course was based on live-projects. Instead of lecturing we “mentor”. Everything that is happening in the course is related to what students bring into the joint-meetings. We really go “live” education so to speak.

Before deciding to go to Canary Island I asked Björn, and the students, if it would be ok me going. If they would have said no, of course I would have stayed. But here is a funny observation: Neither the students, nor Björn, did even understand my question. They just said: “You have Skype and other tools, and answer on questions in a normal way, right?” Of, course was my answer, and of course that was the intent already from the beginning. But it still was somewhat interesting to see that at least in my country, young rather tech-savy people in the age of 25, already today have become so well developed digitally that they do not even understand this kind of questions. We will see more of this in the future.

Well. It is correct that digital tools have limitations compared to reality. Digital tools are for instance, at least not yet, not that good in transferring sent, and physical emotions (however; sadly, something that is used in the world of education). Moore´s law still have important steps left to take. There is also a reason why reality still exist, and we want to it to exist – even if not always can articulate why we think it should.

I joined the course, live, via Skype and other tools. It did cost nearly nothing. Roaming in Europe is now taken away, a Skype call from Canary Island back to Stockholm do not cost more than a normal Skype-call within Sweden. 4G, in both countries, are also now well developed, I did not need Wifi. I just connected my smartphone to my laptop and the “technical quality” in our communication became great. This kind of limitation that we had just some years back is now way gone (not already all over the world yet, but soon it will).

In the other end; all students in my country today have good laptops, and know how to use them. On top of that: Björn happen to have the best wide-screen in the whole country with tremendously good resolution (visibility, his normal field of research). So, in the room at our university that Björn and I normally use in order to show for instance pictures and do live meetings, it was very easy to put my Skype-face on his screen (making my face really big, with great resolution, if that for a strange reason would have been of interest, as you can see on the picture).

Below is a picture of us running a live-seminar with the students (Björn on the left, with the beard. Him being on site so to speak). Me at the same time sitting in Canary Island instead, my office. You see group work. I gave the students some ideas on what to do small “Beehives” on. Björn commented it, students also did, then they started working (A “beehive” is just another term for small groups of people discussing something for a couple of minutes). Bjlörn walking around in the room and checking things out. After a while an open discussion was up and running. You have seen this kind of live and interactive “lecturing/discussions” before. It is a typical method used, not only in the world of education but also in group-meetings at work, or whenever.

Nothing is unique here, so far.

One might claim: “but you already had met these students before so doing it this way was simple”. Correct, I had. But such kind of comment is based on the assumption of a need to know people at bit, before we can have use of digital communication tools for work, and is that actually correct?

Maybe you already know, but today it is actually showed daily that this assumption, at least not by definition, is not totally true. Lot of people nowadays work in great ways with people that they never ever have meet in physical life, and not even intend to meet (I myself for instance). I´m definitely not against meeting people in physical life (let´s keep the physical life). I´m just claiming that it not, by definition, is needed to meet people in physical life, before you can use digital tools and do serious work with them.

When thinking of it seriously: It is even possible to get very deep emotionally, without meeting people in physical life. How come otherwise so many marriages of today, even successful ones, are based on people mainly having met each other via for instance a dating-app? If digital tools can be used in order to “create love”, then communication at work is a rather simple thing.

So, instead of spending more time on this kind of discussion, I would like to direct your attention to something else. It was just a small thing that happened during this particular seminar. It was not even planed for, before the meeting started. But the result became great.

Björn and I have been colleagues for a fairly long time, and we enjoy each other’s company. We therefore are “Facebook-friends” and we are also connected on “Messenger”. We like chit-chatting privately, or about work.

What normally does happen if you run a seminar like this jointly with a colleague? You talk to each other during the seminar in order to adapt and make it better. “Björn; did you hear what they said in group X, it seems similar to what group Y is talking about? Henrik; Hm, interesting. I just heard group Z saying the opposite. Let´s use that for a discussion with all of them in five minutes”. Conversations like that, between the ones running the seminar, are an extremely important thing in order to make a good seminar.

During this seminar Björn suddenly sent me a message on Messenger about an observation he had made. I thought about if for a couple of second, then Googled something, and sent him a comment back. It nearly became like opening a new door. We started to chat more, and more, and more. But at the same time, he was just “walking around” in the room talking and listening to the groups working. No-one in the room noticed what suddenly happened (in at least my country it is not concidered strange checking your smartphone for a second or so during a seminar, if people even notice it that is). All students involved just continued working the way they normally do during seminars like this.

To the left; the first students arriving before we started. They obviously find nothing strange here. They do not even care about me being on the screen. Why would they? To the right; Björn checking the Skype-connection with me before we started.

Now, if you run a seminar like this in the physical world there is a limit on how “far away” from it you can step out, before the participants find you a bit rude. Imagine: me and Björn starting this seminar in the physical reality, then heading for the corner and chit-chat for ourselves for a long time (or constantly going back and forth to that corner). If you are responsible for holding seminars like this people expect you to participate, for a good reason.

What Björn and I could do here, just by using a simple digital communication tool, was to have a far better discussion between us than if both of us would have been in the same room, and that in return led to a better seminar.

Could a bit of creative use of digital tools, already today make us do even better “live-education” than we can do when just acting “live”?

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