Enterprises should take a tip from iPod

Contemporary workplaces are riddled with stimulation that derails productivity

People who live in dense urban areas or who work in turbulent environments are more likely to seek insulation from highly unpredictable stimulation. Or so a series of informal surveys I've undertaken on iPod use suggests.

A hit for its excellent design and UI that transcends electronics' craptastic norm, the iPod lets those who are getting more stimulus than they can handle immerse themselves in content of their choosing, buffered from the intrusion of others' thoughts or taste -- a comforting pod of personal, predictable choice.

Contemporary workplaces are riddled with stimulation (predictable and otherwise) that derails productivity. E-mail pinging, IM, arm-waving, and impromptu meetings all pull workers out of "the zone." And because every interruption costs workers an estimated 20 minutes of productivity, workplaces where contributors are pinged three times an hour are perfect black holes that zero out productivity altogether.

So take a tip from iPod affinity, and design selective insulation into facilities and systems. Most engineers and developers, for example, need more insulation (give them offices), while successful help desk staff generally need to interact more (where cube farms work better). For insulation seekers, a daily two-hour "no-interruption period" when incoming communications are blocked or ignored is something I've had immense success with as a manager. Caution, though: People who tend to buffer themselves too much are less likely to attain information they could not glean from other sources, to synthesize, ergo, to create and learn.

On the app side, the iPod's success suggests that highly customizable programs that allow for an element of personal taste are more likely to make end-users feel invested in using them. Systems that deliver have-it-your-way portals or dashboards are fast becoming essential. And it doesn't hurt to inject a little cool. Attractive, usable software isn't hard to design, and it usually pays for the front-loaded extra work within a few days of deployment.

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