We must curb our technology ‘bad habits’ or risk damaging individual and company creativity, says Microsoft’s Dave Coplin

Today’s ‘always on’ connected environment has triggered bad habits among people which is damaging creativity and propelling burnout, according to Microsoft’s chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin. This is one of the core themes Coplin explores in his new book - ‘The Rise of the Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge’ – in which he sets out to explain how we as human beings have “got technology all wrong”. Speaking to The Drum he said: “People are starting to moan about technology – ‘there is too much information, or I’m always on my email’ – and as someone who is excited about the potential of technology I think – hold on - that’s stupid, we need to address that. The problem is, we have all inherited bad habits and there is a bit of a digital deluge. “Humans are now much more likely to want to read the next email, or click on the next link or tweet, than they are about taking a moment to take a step back and think about how to respond to the last one. It’s a natural, normal thing to do, but people do it without making a conscious choice – they do it without understanding the implications of what doing that is doing to them in terms of how they think and what they learn,” he said. He spoke of his own personal experiences to explain further and highlight how our misuse of smart devices can blur the boundary between home and work life in a damaging way if left unchecked, and lead to an unhealthy life and work style.

Dave Coplin is chief envisioning officer at Microsoft

“I have an eight year-old son and I love putting him to bed, and there is this window of time – between getting in bed and having his story when he goes to clean his teeth – in which I’m kind of redundant, so I found myself having a quick look at my emails on my phone to see what’s happening at work and in that moment I’m no longer at home, I’m at work, and mentally that’s a very different space.

“The best case scenario - I’m just slightly distracted with my son as I’m reading his story, but the worst case – you know what happens when you get one of those really shitty emails – from a colleague or something and you are just spitting – and if I get one of those then he can forget his story. That decision I made to check my email was just a bad habit – what this book aims to do is to wake people up to the impact of that,” he said. One of the statistics he has come across in his research for the book and the one he admits he finds the “scariest” is that 58 per cent of people check their smartphone 15 minutes after waking up, and 52 per cent check it 15 minutes before they go to sleep – the latter habit particularly bad if you read a bad email that then prevents sleep because it has fired you up. “You’re not helping yourself or your company by doing that – because you’re just acquiring more information – you’re not really thinking about it,” he added. “This bank holiday it’s natural that people will think about work, but rather just skimming through your emails why don’t you take a step back and collect your thoughts and cogitate about stuff - you will provide more value to your organisation that way than just trying to catch up on your emails.”This leads on to another core theme of the book - the concept of the connected employee. The basis of this is similar to how marketers and advertisers are trying to think of the connected consumer or customer – as a holistic human being with multiple personalities and needs – a particularly important area to understand to nail mobile marketing strategies, according to Coplin.

“Agencies and marketing teams in particular tend to lock away all their information in their inboxes. But we should be working like a network, like we do in our personal lives with social media, and making that information freely available unless there is a good reason not to. “When you can work like a network as an organsiation you are then powered by the cumulative power of all the people within the business, rather than individuals within it.”

Meanwhile another issue raised in the book is how technology’s progression is edging us towards an algorithm-dominated landscape in which machine-learning will one day become the norm. Yet he believes that future is a way off yet, and it’s vital people don’t view this future via a sci-fi-heightened lens. He cited IBM’s two super computers – Big Blue and Watson – programmed to be the world’s greatest chess and jeopardy champions respectively. “These are incredibly powerful computers, but I could beat both of them with one hand tied behind my back at a game of snap, because they haven’t been programmed to do that – that’s what we must remember,” he said. “There is a growing fear in the white collar world, especially around marketing and advertising, that the more powerful the algorithms, the less we need human beings to do, whether it’s buying, choosing which ads to buy, or choosing the format for how the campaign might work. “Algorithms are going to do that stuff, and if you sit back and do nothing then you’re missing the point. Our opportunity in this industry is to say well if they are going to do that stuff then how do we augment that, what do we do on top of it – how do we stand on the shoulders of that incredible power and find a way to do more for our clients and deliver better campaigns – that’s the opportunity we have to give in to,” said Coplin. Coplin’s book is available via digital download, and in print versions on Amazon from this week.

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