How and why I upgraded to a treadmill desk, creating a much healthier work/life balance, losing weight, all the while not adding any time to my day for exercise. This post was originally on Avaya’s site as well as B2C.
After years of back problems resulting in physical therapy, I knew I needed to make a change. The biggest problem for me was the 11 hours a day I spend at my desk, hunched over my keyboard. While I know that good posture could help out a lot, the truth is that as I get in to “the zone”, I stop paying attention to posture and the next thing I know, my body is aching.
The plight of strain caused by sitting at a desk is unfortunately not unique to me. Harvard Business Review did a great article on how Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation. I don’t think the title is an embellishment; like smoking, sitting at your desk is a bad health choice people willingly make every day. CBS News ran a story on how your desk job is making you fat.
After some thought, I decided to haul our unused and dusty treadmill out of the basement up to my second floor (did I mention my back isn’t doing great?) home office. With my wife’s woodworking skills we built some functional (not attractive) tables of the appropriate height out of 4x4s for the posts and plywood for the tabletop.
We then placed the existing tables on top of these new tables, effectively raising my desktop to be about 5 feet off the ground. This allowed me to place my phone (an Avaya Desktop Video Device on the left), three monitors, and my MacBook Pro at a healthy viewing height, with proper spacing and positioning (verified by OSHA’s website). To make the keyboard and mouse accessible, we built a wood shelf from a 2×8 board long enough to not only go across the handlebars, but also extend further to give me more counter space. This was the trickiest part as my handlebars are slanted, requiring some more creative building to get a shelf mostly level. Below is what that setup looks like.
The results have been great. In the first five months, I averaged six miles a day, with my all-time best being 11 miles in a single day. I typically walk at a pace of 2.0 mph, which is about as fast as I can comfortably go while still being able to type, work, and if on the phone, talk. When on a conference call that I need to speak on, I will reduce the speed to 1.5mph as my treadmill wasn’t really meant for this use and thus is a little loud in the background. I’m also doing more and more video conferencing which adds an interesting wrinkle as I look a little odd to others on the conference. Depending on the situation, I may pause the treadmill until the video call is over.
I finally read Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in The Atlantic this week at the prompting of my summer professor, Shari Worthington. I applaud Mr. Carr’s relatively balanced take on the topic. While reading the first half I found myself making several notes, only to find Nicholas make the same counter arguments in the second half of the article. However, I believe his lingering fear over the Internet’s impact to the way we think is unfounded. For example, he says that
The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the ‘one best method’—the perfect algorithm—to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”
As those of us more familiar with the workings and “design” of the Internet can attest, this is simply not the case. Sure, programmers, like anyone practicing a science are always interested in perfection, but the architecture of the Internet is really more like rules to make sure the variety of technologies, designs, and people don’t step on one another. There is no grand conspiracy on how information is organized and presented to the masses. Instead, like nature, lots of attempts are put forth and natural selection determines the ones that survive until the next challenge. Sure, Google wants you to trust its organization of what is out there, but there is nothing stopping from you using other services.
Mr. Carr speaks to how he and his friends are noticing a change in how they read books. While I wouldn’t attempt to argue that as we have more and more information available to us it becomes harder to focus on any one source (my wife and I both watch TV at night with laptops in our laps), Carr makes too large a leap by saying that this is due to the Internet causing a rewiring in our brains. I find it more likely that other factors such as age, ambient light, or a smartphone buzzing in your pocket are more likely at fault. I know that when I got on an airplane and pull out a book, I get completely immersed in my reading, but if I try to do 30 minutes of reading in the living room with kids running around, I can’t get past the second page. There is also research that suggests one’s attention span declines with age.
My favorite part of the article was when Carr brings in the legendary Frederic Taylor’s time/motion studies during the industrial revolution as a lens to use to look at the information revolution. A great approach, but Mr. Carr and I see different things through that looking glass. While Taylor was attempting to optimize manual labor in order to drive costs down and increased productivity and profits, Carr misses that Google isn’t getting profitable by rearranging how I make breakfast in the morning. The order I make my eggs and toast is irrelevant to them. Instead, Google is pioneering methods to know which eggs and bread I used and more importantly what I’m reading while I consume them in order to put the most relevant advertising in front of me. Taylor was about maximizing profit through work optimization. Google is after profit through data gathering. The Taylor lens simply blurs this phenomenon instead of bringing it into focus.
This blurring effect seems to bleed into Mr. Carr’s analysis of Google’s Sergey Brin whom he quotes saying
Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Carr interprets this as “idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines.
Actually, Brin is conveying that if we had all that information easily accessible like that, it would maximize the productivity of one’s intelligence. And therein lies the true comparison to Taylor and the Industrial Revolution. Like factories of the time that benefited from plugging into the new electrical grid to power their productivity, the Internet fuels the new knowledge economy. Google, as the face of the Internet, is not looking to grow profit by changing the way you think. Instead, they charge a utilization fee (in the form of advertising) for plugging into their grid of knowledge.
To take this analogy one step further, while all factories with electricity were not successful, all humans with access to the Internet will not gain wisdom and new ideas. Innovation comes from pulling together new ideas from existing information. Imagine if Albert Einstein’s brain had immediate access to all of the world’s data: What other connections/discoveries could he have identified?
Carr actually touches on this point when referencing Richard Foreman‘s fear that we “risk turning into ‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.” I think Mr. Foreman is close, yet misses the mark. Yes, our new ready access to information has definitely allowed us to spread wide, and by definition somewhat thinner. And while discovery can come from going deeper in the narrow stovepipe of just one area, it can also come from going wide and seeing multi-disciplinary connections that others have never seen before. This is where our new information age offers the most opportunity for innovation and wisdom.
Bernard of Chartres (a 12th century philosopher) once said that
“We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.” (source)
Likewise, Google and the larger Internet allow us to see further than those before us. If that makes us dwarves in Carr’s eyes, so be it.
Just finished watching the final episode of The Office. A great ending to a great show. I feel like a much less funny version of the character Jim. He worked at Dunder Mifflin for 12 years. My 12th service anniversary at Avaya is this coming Tuesday. He met the love of his life, Pam, at the office. I did the same with my wife. I’m now enjoying thinking about what watching myself over the last 9 years would be like: I think it would be weird, but satisfying.
974 videos, 2,159 subscribers, 272,211 video views – all in just 17 months. Those are the key stats around the Avaya Mentor program, our fast-growing set of how-to YouTube videos for Avaya products that my team and I have been producing.
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the semi-annual Technology Services World (TSW) Conference, hosted by theTechnology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on the Avaya Mentor program, which I had also written about last August. This was a conference focused on services transformation and TSIA asked that I talk about how we at Avaya put together this video knowledge base, including challenges we faced. The breakout session was well attended and so I thought I would share this presentation with you here. Below is a YouTube video of me doing the presentation (not at TSW), which I’ve also summarized, along with more success metrics, for those who prefer to read.
As most of you have heard, the best example of using video to share knowledge is the Khan Academy. This non-profit’s website has a free collection of over 4,000 educational YouTube videos, surrounded by curriculum, quizzes, and incentives like points and badges. The topics range from simple addition, which has 1.7 million views, to the French Revolution with 400,000 views.
Khan makes a point of having its contributors avoid a teacher-at-a-whiteboard approach, opting instead for a style that feels like you’re sitting at a table with a tutor, working through the topic on a piece of paper. This better aligns with the many of us for whom learning is a visual experience. Being able to see how to do something taps into something different in the brain than just reading about it. The intuitive simplicity of this approach has allowed the Khan Academy to eclipse MIT’s own online education system with a total of 260 million views.
Another good example is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which helps speed up academic research through online video. When an academic team publishes a research paper, they include instructions so that peers can reproduce their experimental results and thus verify the research. Even to experienced lab researchers, understanding exactly what the authors of the research were trying to convey can be difficult, sometimes delaying the peer review process by months. Jove allows them to more easily include videos to demonstrate the procedure.
By this point, I hope you are asking yourself why you aren’t already using video for your knowledge base. Wouldn’t your employees and customers benefit from your company’s own Khan Academy? At Avaya, we found ourselves facing this question in the fall of 2011.
The President of Services challenged those of us in his extended leadership team to make our organization not just be successful in the market, but to be an organization that the analysts would write about. Put another way, it was no longer good enough to be lean and efficient; we needed to take the lead.
Going All In
My proposal was to put together an Avaya version of Khan Academy. We would use video to expand on the company’s existing knowledge-base-focused-support-model. We limited our scope to basic how-to videos designed to help those that install, maintain, and support Avaya products, be they customers, partners, or Avaya employees. These were to be short how-to videos, not anything that would replace the training that Avaya Learning develops.
Like Khan, we would focus on videos that were more live screen capture than talking heads. Additionally, I proposed that unlike Avaya’s existing knowledge base which is only available to our customers with a maintenance agreement, we would make the vast majority of our videos available for free on YouTube. By doing so, search engines like Google would be aware of this content, making it much easier for an engineer to find the answer to an Avaya-related question.
As we got started, getting buy-in from leadership was obviously important. A big part of that was that my team of engineers would need to reprioritize some of our work in order to make time for generating 800 videos in only 9 months. We had great support from Mike Runda, the leader of Avaya Client Services, who gave us the green light to move forward.
The Gear We Got
We evaluated a number of video production software suites and settled on Camtasia Studio. Camtasia gave us great features like the ability to use templates, splice video and audio in, as well as special editing features to highlight or zoom to certain parts of the screen. These licenses ran ~$150. Adding Camtasia required that we upgrade a number of our engineers’ laptops to meet the minimum specs, an upgrade that everyone was excited to have a good reason for.
We also went with a high-quality $80 USB microphone called the Blue Yeti. All in all, that’s about $230 per engineer. We felt it was important to maintain a common look and feel to these videos, so we built a template for Camtasia with legal and branding-approved intros and outros as well as standardizing on things like transitions. Due to our high quality standards, after reviewing the first handful of videos, Avaya’s branding team gave us carte blanche to publish to YouTube without further oversight.
For topic selection, I was lucky to be starting with an amazing team of subject matter experts. Most had no trouble coming up with topics for videos. For those that did get stuck, the engineer would talk with the support engineers to determine the most common repeat scenarios that they encounter and find a way to use these videos to speed up resolution and/or prevent the tickets from being opened in the first place.
As word got out about our videos, we also started receiving requests from internal and external users. We set a limit of 15 minutes for all the videos and encouraged them to be under the 5 minute mark. The length would really depend on the topic, and I would challenge the author of anything over 10 minutes to see if they could break it into more than one smaller video. To give you a feel for our topics, here are six that show off the variety covering hardware, software, different product portfolios, even our own customer-facing tools.
- Setting up the iLO3 Interface on the HP DL360 G7
- How to Setup Avaya Aura Session Manager
- How to reset the System Manager Web Admin Password
- Administering a SIP Trunk in Avaya Aura CM
- How to log in and run reports using the Avaya CMS Supervisor Web feature
- Avaya SAL and the Egress-based Connectivity Model
As the lead for this effort, the most time-consuming part for me was the review and approval process. It was very important to me that we has a very high quality product and thus I personally reviewed each and every one, sending back to the author a list of changes that I wanted to see. The bar was set high and a single review could easily take me half an hour.
To help reduce the number of errors, I would frequently share an updated list of common problems I was encountering. This was important as some had a harder time with the learning curve than others, encountering more than 20 issues per submittal, and multiple submittals of the same video. It is worth noting though that while everyone got much better at it with time; some were submitting perfect videos on day 1 while others never quite got there. Some of my engineers were frustrated with me as they felt the bar was set too high for quality. If I heard any extra noise in the background, or if a transition wasn’t crisp, I’d send it back.
But our users noticed that quality and complimented us on it. I feel it was important to our success. After three months, I delegated the approval process to one of my top engineers, Bhavya Reddy. She was one of the best at producing error-free videos and thus I knew she could maintain our quality. Here’s her video on setting up Avaya Aura Session Manager, which has garnered more than 6,200 views.
After six more months, Bhavya transitioned this role to the company’s formal knowledge management team where it could be better integrated into the other KM processes. This is important as we made sure we always dual-published all YouTube videos to the standard knowledge base by embedding the YouTube video in an article. This helped us ensure that our users could trust that a search of
would return everything. The videos that were deemed proprietary were uploaded to an internal server instead of YouTube and published as internal-only articles in the existing knowledgebase.
Getting the Word Out
Building a knowledge base, or any tools, is pointless if you can’t get user adoption. I felt it important to delay the initial announcement until we had the first 100 videos published. I was concerned if someone came to the site and only saw 5 videos, they might never return.
So once we reached 100 videos, I had the President of Services announce the program internally, followed by similar announcements in external communications to our partners and customers. To reinforce this in a more detailed way, I blogged about it on our corporate site wrote as well as created a Twitter account for Avaya Mentor, allowing people to receive tweets when new videos are uploaded.
At last year’s Avaya’s User’s Conference in Boston, myself and others passed out materials to all the customers and partners we met with, be it at the conference center itself, or in a bar later in the evening. The IAUGgroup was actually so impressed with the program that they helped with advertising on all the plasma screens throughout the conference center. We’ve also partnered with the product documentation teams to include references to our program directly in the product documentation.
With 16 months now under our belt, I thought I would share with you some of the measurable success we have had with the program. As I mentioned earlier, we have published nearly 1,000 videos on YouTube which have been watched more than 270,000 times.
While the U.S. provides our largest set of viewers, I’m happy to say that we are in 196 distinct geographies. What our support folks are most excited about is that we’re at 1,100 hours of video viewing per month which equates to about 10 full-time equivalents of people, which we figure equates to at least 3 FTE of labor avoidance.
But perhaps the most interesting metric is that we are seeing significantly more views per article than Avaya’s text-based articles. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given that we used some of the company’s most knowledgeable resources and posted our content publicly. However, I still think it is clear that video-enabled content is that much more compelling than text alone.
Three Unexpected Benefits
There are many surprising results from the Avaya Mentor project. The most exciting one for me as a manager was the impact to my employees. At first, I had some resistance from some of my engineers. They were not yet convinced of the value of these videos and combined with the steep learning curve and high quality expectations, some folks just weren’t interested. However, after the good press started, with people directly contacting these authors thanking them for their videos, they came around to its value.
I also saw increase in their self-confidence, which is typical after demonstrating how-to do something to others. Having those people publicly thank you helps a ton, too. Our most popular video is actually about setting up an interface on an HP server - it has gotten more than 19,000 views! This video was created because many of our applications are sold with this server and this configuration is important. What we didn’t expect is that non-Avaya people would find it valuable to their usage of the same HP servers. I’ve found our video embedded in a variety of websites out there, having nothing to do with Avaya.
The last surprise was discovering that a business partner pirated a few of our videos and re-uploaded them to YouTube and other sites, touting them as their own. This is something Avaya typically doesn’t care about as our videos tend to be marketing-based. The upside of this is that the message is getting out to more and more people. What makes me nervous is that if we find a problem with a video and need to take it down and re-release it, this partner likely won’t see that and bad information will continue to float around.
We’ve received great feedback from our users of the program. We get these comments on YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Sometimes we get suggestions for new videos to create, product support questions, or just encouraging statements like the ones shown here. As mentioned previously, feedback like this is very encouraging to our engineers.
I want to thank my team who helped make this program a success. We dedicated at least a third of our time for nine months building this program up and it was no small feat. I’m proud to say that Avaya has recognized all of them with well-deserved awards.
Like many of you, I’m a consumer of information. At this point in my life, almost all my information is digital in nature and thus it seems almost all my consumption is on a screen. To help keep my life organized, I’ve adopted the principles of Getting Things Done (GTD), which at this point is all about how I manage my to-do’s via email folders. This worked well for me but as my consumption has moved more and more to Twitter, my system was failing me.
My time on Twitter is mostly in small intense bursts; I don’t have hours blocked out to leisurely view my feed. After half a day, I could be so far behind that tweets would be lost and I would worry (no snickering now) that I was missing some information I would find quite valuable, and this would cause stress, something I couldn’t afford.
As I prepared to close out on our first quarter and prepare for a winter holiday trip, I asked for advice from my social networks and GetPocket (f.k.a. ReadItLater) came highly recommended. This service allows you to save off any URLs to read later. Not only does it save them off but it will cache a copy of the page, allowing you to read the content offline. This made a huge difference for me when consuming Twitter and Facebook content. When I saw something that looked interesting on my phone, I could either email the URL to pocket or copy the URL and paste it manually into the Pocket client. When on a PC, Pocket has a great plugin for Google Chrome that allows you to one-click save a page you are looking at to Pocket.
I was enjoying the service but even after getting the hang of it, I found it cumbersome to get content to Pocket when on my iPhone. However, that all changed when I purchased TweetBot for iOS. This was my first paid Twitter client and I immediately saw the value. Not only did it offer great features for Twitter, but it also had an integration with GetPocket. Now I could save off content with only two taps. Furthermore, the source tweet would be saved with the content, allowing me to remember where this came from. When using the iOS GetPocket app, I can access that original tweet directly, allowing me to retweet, quote, reply, etc.
After two months now, I’m still loving GetPocket and TweetBot. In fact, I’ve learned to use GetPocket for all the reading I do. That way, when I’m done I can mark it read, but it will remain searchable. Days or weeks later, I can easily go back and find an article that I read. I’ve become so dependent on TweetBot that since they have no Windows client, I only do Twitter on my iPhone. When/if I move full-time to Mac, I’ll be sure to purchase their MacOS client.
So, Instapaper is a place to store things you’ll never read?
— Jason Good (@jasonmgood) February 6, 2013
My biggest problem now is that I have 30+ items waiting for me in Pocket, forcing me to be a little more picky about what I really want to read. The last thing I need is another to-do list to feel behind on.