Intuitive technology? Don't make me laugh!

Jun 10 2016 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

I have been assessing, buying and learning software most of my adult life. Whether its big, enterprise-wide stuff or the latest version of Windows Whatever, most of us have had to learn, use, unlearn and relearn ways to get the machines we rely on, help us get our work done. Thats okay, but theres one part of the process that drives me crazy.

Nothing sticks in my craw more than being told whatever software Im struggling with is intuitive. The implication is that we stagger out of our cribs and immediately know - through divine guidance or some innate evolutionary imperative - exactly how to make this bunch of ones and zeroes do what we want it to do. While some tools may come to us easier than others, very little of it is ingrained, especially if we are above a certain age and didnt come out of the womb with a Snapchat account already set up.

What they usually mean to say is, if youve used similar tools in the past, you will probably not struggle much learning this one. A prime example is using one of the Microsoft Office tools. If you know where to find a command in Word, odds are its called the same thing and located in the same place in Excel [or at least it was, before they ruined Office with that %#$%#@ing ribbon thing - ED].

I was reminded of this when reading an article the other day about how consultants are making money from teaching organizations how to use Slack, the latest must-have online collaboration and communication tool. We use it at Remote Leadership Institute, and I like it very much. As the article points out, however, a lot of companies roll it out and then people either dont use it at all, or more likely, use only a fraction of its capabilities. This means the organization doesnt get a return on its investment, and people arent getting the advantages it was meant to bring them.

While I find Slack easy to use, it is hardly intuitive, unless you are one of the millennial engineers in Vancouver who uses it all day long and designed the features. You designed it because it makes sense to you, but were not you. Heres a typical example in Slack. The away status button is two menu items away from the out of office status update. If it were really intuitive for me, they would be in the same %#$%#@ing place. Theyre not. Just saying.

The people who sell software often use the word intuitive as code when selling. It means one of two things, depending on the audience: 1) To the end-users its a way of talking them off the ledge and minimizing how disruptive the learning and rollout process will be and 2) to the corporate buyers its a way of saying, This wont cost you much for training. Neither of these things is necessarily true.

Some tools will be easy to learn and integrate into the normal workflow, others will take some time, but all have a learning curve and an initial loss of productivity associated with them. You can minimize the pain and speed up adoption, but you wont escape it entirely, no matter how intuitive they may seem to you.

  • People need to understand the context of the tool. How does it apply to their work and what problems will it solve for them? If youve never used a collaboration suite or a database management system before, do you even know what that means?
  • They need to see it used in context, and compare it to their current experience. Believe it or not, there is a huge difference to some people between annotation tools and whiteboard functions even when they are the same darned thing. WebEx calls them one thing, Skype for Business another. Thats hardly intuitive.
  • People need to practice and receive feedback when learning. If they are told to watch a demo or a YouTube video and then try it themselves, there will be wildly differing results.

The two big killers of software rollouts are ambivalence (ugh, why are we going to this tool. Itll be more trouble than its worth) and frustration (I have tried it a couple of times, it doesnt do what I want Im not using it.)

So if youre buying a tool for your company, or thinking about changing software, or - heaven forbid - trying to sell it to someone, remember that people arent born automatically knowing how to use it.

Youd think by now that IT people would know that. It should be intuitive.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments for more than 20 years. In 2016, he merged with The Kevin Eikenberry Group, to create The Remote Leadership Institute, and now serves as Master Trainer and Coach to the Kevin Eikenberry Group. Wayne is also is the author of more than 15 books, including The Long-Distance Teammate and The Long-Distance Team.