Easy Rules Of Time Management Between Study And Social Life

Time management

Student life can feel chaotic at the best of times, so it’s no wonder that you’re finding it hard to manage your time. With so much going on, how do you manage to do it all? These easy rules show you that there is a way to get the most out of the college experience while keeping your grades up, too.

Track your time

Everyone can manage to get good grades and be social, they just need to manage their time effectively. If you think you need some help, start with tracking your time. This means spending a week marking off the activity you’re doing every 15 minutes, either in a notebook or on your phone. After a week, you’ll be able to see how much time you’re devoting to each activity, and where you need to start making changes.

Set a schedule

Now you know where you need to be spending your time, so make yourself a schedule. A day planner or a large wall calendar can work well for this. Mark off any important dates, such as exams or quizzes. Then, create your schedule around these. You want to make sure you’re marking out enough time for studying but ensure you get rest periods, too.

Set realistic goals

Now, you’ll need some goals to work towards. What do you really want to get out of school? write down all the things you want to achieve. Now, set some goals that are realistic. To be realistic, a goal needs to be attainable, and possible within the school year. ‘Spend x amount of hours a week studying’ is a better goal than ‘Study as much as possible’, for example.

Make the most of your break times

Despite everything you may already believe, social media platforms, such as Facebook, are the tools of the Internet. There are multiple ways you can use these tools to effectively manage your time. If you’re on a break from work, reply to messages from your friends, planning a time you could meet up after your studying is done, or watch a funny video whilst having a break from your textbooks. This way you can maintain a social life whilst studying.

Pay attention to your environment

When you begin studying, find a place that’s quiet and free from distractions. The library could be a good spot or a quiet room in your house. Wherever you choose to study, make it a habit. That way, your mind will associate the area with getting down to work.

Carry ‘pocket work’

Student and website admin Sarah B. Debellis from Best Australian Writers says, ‘Pocket work is anything that you can handle when you have a spare moment. As a student, it can mean reading a chapter from an assigned text, or reviewing your marks from a previous assignment.’ If you have this work with you, you can make the most of any spare moment to get some studying done. Why waste that time stood in line or on the bus, when you could get ahead?

Recognise that procrastination is self-defeating

Every student is familiar with the concept of procrastination. It’s easy to put jobs off for later, and not think about it. However, to truly master time management, you need to recognise that procrastination is really self-defeating. You get a break in the short-term, but the work will still be waiting for you, and you’ll have less time to complete it in.

Give yourself a break

Having said this though, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a break. In fact, it’s better to give yourself regular breaks or your studying won’t be effective. The key is to schedule them in and stick to the time allotted. Around 5-10 minutes break per hour of studying is usually the best ratio, so give it a try.

Reward yourself for sticking to schedule

It’s easier to stick to your time management schedule when you have something to look forward to. Create rewards that will incentivize you to get on with your work. This can be anything from a candy bar if you finish this evening’s studying, to a theme park trip if you pass your exams.

Break projects down

If your work seems too big and overwhelming to deal with, don’t worry. You can make it easier by breaking the whole project down. Create smaller tasks that will help you towards completing the bigger one, and complete them one by one. This way, you’ll see the results much more quickly, and be less tempted to procrastinate.

With these tips, you can get the most out of your day, and balance your studying and social life. Give them a try for yourself.


The pros and cons of social networking in a modern world

pros and cons of social networking

Social networking as we all know is the use of applications and websites to communicate with many other users or to find people with similar interests to one’s own. Social Networking is on a developing pace more than ever.

It is quite remarkable to think about it and how to use to target and make contact with potential clients over the world. A significant portion of the general population on the planet totally depend on the web where they make a living with the assistance of web-based social media.

The merits of Social Networking in Our Society

Just a few of years back, individuals have a tendency to convey utilizing wired contraptions, for example, phones or ham radios. Today, the web has reshaped our reality beyond our imaginations. Individuals now make use of desktop or smartphones only for work additionally for communication and fun too.

Some part of the perpetually growing popularity of the internet as another method for communication is the approach of long-range social networking sites. These are restrictive sites that can be utilized by everyday citizens to post individual profiles, pictures, recordings, music and messages. Clients of social networking websites can welcome other “companions” to join their system to have the capacity to view and share individual data with each other.

There are a few social networking destinations today, among the popular ones are Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Most people from these websites are young people who simply cherish the organization of companions and other individuals. Nonetheless, did you know how critical Social Networking sites are?

  1. When looking for a job

A few organizations in the US and Europe are exploiting social networking websites to get talented workers. Then again, work candidates make proper use of these sites to post their resume and certifications. It’s an incredible device one can use keeping in mind the end goal to make a decent impression to an organization.

  1. Closer to family and friends

By keeping up a profile on these websites, your friends and relatives don’t need to call you all the time. One can exploit posting messages, pictures and personal recordings of themselves for their friends and family to see again and again. It’s shabby, quick and constant innovation accessible to everybody.

  1. Crisis

Have you known about a few a great many people saved using social networking websites? Twitter has been an extraordinary apparatus for some to hand-off messages to a large number of concerned residents in a snap in times of catastrophe and natural disasters. Individuals who look for gathering pledges and gift can utilize Facebook or MySpace destinations to call unto liberal people.


Many individuals consider these destinations as a work of the fallen angel. It could be. In any case, one must understand that anything can turn out to be great or awful relying upon the individual’s expectations. Social Networking destinations have molded our reality in any case, and it will end up being an essential device if it’s utilized for useful purposes.

The Pros and Cons of Social Networking

Social Networking has turned out to be progressively well-known these days as there are a lot of destinations that offer this administration. MySpace and Friendster are the most widely known websites that plan to construct groups of individuals who share regular interests and exercises, or who are keen on investigating the premiums and exercises of others.


A long range interpersonal communication site resembles a virtual meeting place where individuals can hang out and talk about various subjects. Anything under the sun, truth be told. Some utilization these systems administration destinations to advance their web journals, to post releases and refreshes or to utilize them as an extension to a future love intrigue.

These are only a couple of the reasons why social networking is getting a considerable measure of consideration of late – it makes life additionally energizing for some individuals.


Nonetheless, it is best to ensure that well-being and security are the top priorities of the social networking site that you as of now make use of. Twitter is on account of the social networks sites require or give you the alternative to giving personal data, for example, your name, area, and email address. Unfortunately, a few people can accept this as an open door for data fraud or as we all know, identity fraud. They can duplicate your data and put on a show to be “you” when participating in illicit exercises. So be careful of what you enter on a social media website.

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Benefits of social media in the workplace: An employee perspective

Benefits of social media in the workplace

The current post, “Benefits of social media in the workplace – An employee perspective” is an updated and enhanced content version of the earlier post “Benefits of social media at workplace”. The article talks about the visible benefits of social media in the workplace from an authentic employee’s perspective.

The best practices and content is drawn and distilled from world class organizations and research publications (Including the Harvard Business review, HBR working knowledge and MIT Sloan management review) around the world.

In the recent times there has been a lot that has been written about social media collaboration, its usage and its associated technologies as one of the prime trend areas that will shape the future of work.

Understanding and exploring the benefits of social media in the workplace has enormous potential, not just for its designers and proponents but also for the employees who work in the organization.

There was a study that was conducted by an organization called Dynamic markets. It was found that nearly 74% of working population in Europe preferred social networking, social media sites and online communities to solve problems at workplaces. The two biggest benefits mentioned by employees were increase in knowledge for solving problems and secondly, cultivating a collaborative team spirit among employees on a daily basis.

Its impact as a “community building” and “social interaction” tool within the four walls, has social effects within the workplace. These two areas are the two most oft-repeated benefits that are linked to the usage of social media in the workplace. But then, their social effects go beyond these two into other real visible areas.

The positive effects of social media in the workplace is felt by Nerds, Geeks and managers (Who form the typical office crowd) alike within the organization. The term “Social media” is usually interspersed or used synonymously with the word “social media collaboration”, “Corporate social network”, “Enterprise social networking” and “Social collaboration” within an organizational context.

The senior management, would like to the see the word “Collaboration” attached to the word social media for obvious reasons. They understand “Collaboration” can bring in results, productivity and profits.  On the contrary, there is a perception that, employee’s time on community building and social interaction alone, may be unproductive and may not add value.

The below paragraph provides a quick summary of the benefits of social media in the workplace and then we will go into the greater details later in the post.

Please also read our article:Learning from HBR, Making corporate social network successful”.

Consumer social media has its influence on the benefits of social media in the workplace

True. We have already seen that happening. People across the world are more well versed (Particularly, the younger generation millennial) towards the usage, general acceptance and friendliness towards consumer web social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and others.  This has influenced the behavior at workplaces as well. People at workplace, are now more open to ideas, sharing information, being collaborative and creating communities.

Many Fortune 100 companies have opened the doors and have become trailblazers for the adoption of social media in the workplace beneficially within their organizations.

Some of this collaboration, has taken the garb of innovation hubs and idea banks while others have become knowledge sharing platforms.  They all share a common purpose aligned to business goals. With management commitment they are well shaping up to be the future of work. The business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace is obvious.

We are all aware of the recent news that Microsoft has acquired LinkedIn. LinkedIn, is again a social media network tool on the consumer web space for working professionals. The advantages might be many for Microsoft but then the importance of the benefits of social media in the workplace cannot be anymore understated.


Defining social media in the workplace

From a consumer point of view, there are many terms which are used interchangeably with social media, namely web 2.0, social technology, social media collaboration and so on. From a workplace perspective, it is all about ‘social collaboration’ and ‘enterprise social networking’ with specialist tools for chat sessions, community forums, collaboration platforms and tools for employee advocacy.

But at heart,

Social media is an attitude and an evolving culture. At a very basic level, it consists of a set of digital tools to connect, interact and collaborate.

Having said that, there are various tools used for realizing the benefits of social media in the workplace. Let’s have a cursory glance at some of them.

The common Social media tools used

Some of the commonly used social media tools  are :-

  1. Blog: It is a recorded journal of an individual. This journal can be made public for others to see and make comments.
  2. Social Networking Site: It is a website that allows people to interact with each other. Information can be shared and received. The site exists for forming beneficial relationships with others.
  3. Forums: It is a site where people can ask questions and get answers. People can in-turn reply on those answers in a threaded comments fashion.
  4. Wikipedia: It is a website which serves as a good repository of information on any topic. The information is filled in collaboratively by the general public. There are options to add, delete and edit content on the wiki site.
  5. Micro blog:  It is a form of blogging where the content consists of far less words and transmitted quickly. There is usually a notification which goes to all the participants. “Twitter” is a good example of this.
  6. Virtual worlds: A simulated artificial online environment where users take up avatars to participate independently or as groups to communicate and interact with others. There are many Massive multiplayer games of this genre and they usually depict huge ranging worlds of super heroes and science fiction. “Second life” is a good example of this.
  7. Podcasts: Consists of audio sessions that be heard online or shared among the participants.
  8. Web conferencing: Runs on many internet technologies. It allows people in remote locations to meet, interact and collaborate. Webcasts and webinars are some of the examples.

The prime benefits of social media in the workplace

Benefits of social media in the workplace
Employee bonding- One of the prime benefits

The benefits of social media in the workplace are many. Please find the prime visible benefits of social media in the workplace. These benefits have the maximum positive business impact. They are listed below.

  1. Knowledge creation and dissemination.
  2. Successive iteration of ideas for innovation.
  3. Creation of collaborative social capital.
  4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom.
  5. Providing most valuable “Context” to information.

Let’s look at  them one by one.

1.Knowledge creation and dissemination

The organization creates knowledge all the time. On one hand there is the highly subjective insights, which are valuable and are called the ‘Tacit’ knowledge. Tacit knowledge rests in the minds of the people. On the other hand, there is explicit knowledge, which is available in the organizational procedures and structured processes. Usage of social media captures these valuable tacit knowledge and helps in converting them into explicit knowledge. The context surrounding that information helps in this conversion.

Other forms of social media in the workplace also capture tacit knowledge. For example, formal collaboration platforms within workplaces encourage employees from different business units to share structured information with other employees as well.

Social media in the workplace encourages knowledge sharing

The presence of social media in the workplace, encourages employees to share knowledge. Social media facilitates the quick spreading of information where it is needed. Employees are generally not comfortable with the jargons of market share, ROI and productivity nor with the mission and values of the organization. They are not interested in hard numbers. They are more interested in getting the work done and to be in the good books of their managers.

Employees would like to have a collective sense of identity and a sense of belonging with a community. Such innate needs are fulfilled by employee engagement of social media. Knowledge creation and dissemination occurs naturally through the use of social media in workplaces.

From an employee perspective, through knowledge creation, sharing and dissemination, there is generation of new ideas.  And when we collaborate with our ideas with each other, there is insight and there by innovation.

For example: – Technical support centers across many organizations rely on collaborative wikis, to share knowledge on support resolutions and technical updates. This revised knowledge is frequently updated by the representatives who work on those service lines. The benefits of social media in the workplace is more visible,as there are efficiencies built in  turnaround time and the operations involved.

For further insights, please read our article:Expertise sharing in social networks”.

2.Successive iteration of ideas

For ideas to mature and there by lead to innovation, it has to go through many iterations. We may have a hunch. For the hunch to be developed into a workable idea, it needs others perspective on it as well. Social media as a tool within workplaces has provisions to encourage this desired behavior. Employee collaboration, being one of the prime benefits of social media in the workplace, facilitates successive iteration of ideas and thereby innovation.

There are many definitions of innovation.  The one that I feel right is:

When we reflect on our own experiences and knowledge with others, and their perspectives and existing knowledge, a new insight is born. And then after a series of such successive ideas and insight, innovation takes form by running through the process of design, development and results.

A manager might possess a path breaking idea about a new technology which can be developed in-house. A shop floor worker with years of expertise, might come up with a process innovation. Knowledge from employees will remain only as “Personal knowledge” as long as they are not shared with each other. Once they are shared, they become organization’s knowledge. This knowledge is valuable to the company as a whole.

By using social media in the work places, the employees are interconnected and grow together as one giant organism called the ‘organizational workplace’.

For further insights, please read our article:knowledge brokering

3.Creation of collaborative social capital

Social media is very adept at forming collaborative social capital. This tremendously enhances the positive business impact and the benefits of social media in the workplace.

I was quite bewildered to read the sentence “Social capital investment is not for control freaks” highlighted in an article at the Harvard business review working knowledge website. The article reviews a book “In good company: How social capital makes organizations work”. You can view the article here.

Communities grow out of freedom of practice. Employees cannot be pushed by managers, to collaborate in a project because they have to. Employees will still do it, because they have to get the job done but it does not encourage social capital.

Strengthening social capital is good for social media in the workplace

Social capital is formed when employees would want to come together and work out of common activities, mutual intention and like mindedness. Employees do not want to work together just because they are friends.

Social capital is the influence a person has over his or her social network. The social network could be even within a workplace.

“Social capital is always strengthened and nurtured in the context of real work” say the authors.

The authors emphasize that, social capital is formed over long periods of working together and where there is mind share. It cannot be formed by “One shot bonding” for sure.

Social media in the workplace, encourages employees towards such orientation. Frequently, it is advised to have managerial intervention to steer employee engagement and social interaction towards stewardship and nurturing rather than management control. Employees should be free enough to talk about their stories of accomplishments and failures.

Such social capital formed, is indispensable and works well for the morale of the employees. Who wouldn’t want such motivated set of employees for their workplace. Social media in the workplace exactly enhances this kind of social capital and clearly is a strong case for visible benefits of social media in the workplace.

We have seen many examples, like in the usage of Wiki. People collaboratively create knowledge. Such collaborative wikis exist at workplaces as well.

For further insights on this subject, please read our article “Designing social media platforms for knowledge sharing

Social media in the workplace: Cisco

At Cisco, social media is part of their company culture. Cisco uses social media within the learning and development function. Employees continuously refresh their knowledge and skills using social media. They collaborate with each other exchanging thoughts and ideas as well as connect with their partners, vendors and communities.

The learning and development function partners with the business to understand learning needs of hardware and design engineers and effectively tailors courses for them. Even geographical distances do not hamper them.  Self-paced and web-based learning courses are being used where instructors cannot reach. Owing to this, they have reduced their travel expenses and very cost effective in meeting their needs.

4. Integrating collective decisions and wisdom

Coming back to our study from Dynamic markets, mentioned quite earlier in our article, the study found that use of social media in the workplace has increased the efficiency in the organization. The study was conducted across 2500 professionals across 5 countries in Europe in 2008. Nearly 46% of the respondents said that the use of social media in workplaces has led to the spark of new ideas and creativity. Collective decision making through the usage of social media solves workplace problems as well.

There is a fine example to illustrate from the TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire” if the main contestant feels uncertain of the response to a question, he or she would choose an audience poll as a lifeline. The audience was always right and nearly as accurate.

This phenomenon is what James Surowiecki has written in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds”. He states that “Large number of individual people with “independent thoughts” will certainly achieve better results than the individual single person alone

The diversity of perspectives, specialized expertise, knowledge and isolated independent inputs makes it unique to tap into this collective wisdom which all pervades in our work environment, our surroundings and the place we live and thrive.

Social media gives us a platform to integrate these collective decisions, encourages and further accelerates the integration and the power of connection among employees. The cumulative effect is obvious as new ideas and wisdom start pouring in, new powerful results start showing up in the form of improved services and products.

Social media in the workplace: Dow chemical

Dow Chemical is a Multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Michigan, USA. A wonderful example of social media at work at Dow. who have truly reaped the benefits of social media at work.

Dow created a website called the “My Dow Network” in 2007. Now it happens to be in the name of “Dow Friends” for retirees. The earlier site was created with the intention to cultivate four communities of its retirees, current employees, alumni and women.

The site gave an opportunity and a window for retirees at Dow to look into what is happening within the company, connect with other retirees and explore job opportunities, if they chose to return. Retirees can lend their experiences, expertise and contribute in newer ways. It gave them a sense of new life and a chance to connect with their peers. It received tremendous response from all quarters.

The business world hailed their efforts. Since then the community kept on growing and added newer and newer connections day by day. Dow had described this experience in a wonderful video in their site. We don’t know if it is still available at their site.

It talks about the missing human element which makes all the difference.  Interaction through social media, connects people and is the element of change.  The sayings in the video,“It gives us the footing to stand fearlessly and face the future” reinforces positive social effects of among the community of employees.

Dow has truly found a way to reach and connect its people.

5.Providing the most valuable “context” to information

We have all been using knowledge management systems in some way or the other. For example, If you want some information, you “Google it”.  Context is important and offers help, when there is a need to apply the information immediately. Also in situations where ‘Know how’ and ‘ Previous experience’ is required, context comes to the rescue.
Social media networks naturally has an advantage here. It can provide the context, the human element to the information.

In age old knowledge management systems, knowledge elicitation, capture and collection was good but it lacked the “Context”. When people are introduced to a context, it is easy to find appropriate information.

With this, the Social media networks are indispensable in work environments. We can tap into the experience and wisdom of others and at the same time satisfy and quench our thirst to share, belong and be social.

An interesting offline example for “context” is the Leadership drive called the OST (Open space Technology). An open philosophy of collaboration and self-organization, usually done at offsite meetings at major corporations across the world on complex issues facing the organization. People are free to air their views and thoughts.

Everybody is welcome. All inputs are valid and taken into account. It heavily rests on the philosophy, that no person alone can solve all the problems at work.The collaborative groups usually self –organize and a context is added appropriately to the situation.

Social media in the workplace: IBM

As a large company, IBM experiments and always launches a number of social media tools internally for its employees. Few of the IBM’s tools include Micro blogger called ‘Blue twit’ and ‘Many eyes’ which allows employees to upload all kinds of data visualize it and launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks.

A more notable one is the ‘bee hive’ which happens to be more from a bottoms up approach where employees can upload their personal and official information. Employees can upload their “top 5” favorite things and share it with others. It builds employee branding and a sense of ownership within the company.

Lastly, the final word

Many global companies are actually asking employees to reach out and create new external networks to tap into valuable ideas. With this, I would like to bring this part of the discussion to an end. I would like to add more corporate real life examples of the benefits of social media in the workplace as well as the positive effects of the business impact.

In the meanwhile, you can always refer further reading resources below:-

  1. Social media is everyone’s business – Forbes
  2. Social media is too important to be left to the marketing department – HBR
  3. Defining Social media: Mass collaboration is its unique value – Anthony, Gartner Blog Network
  4. A brand new game – People spend more time on social media – The Economist

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Social listening: Go beyond data and look for meaning

Social listening for social media conversations

We listen to social conversations all the time. Listening to these conversations helps us to understand other people and also understand the world. Active listening also helps us to learn and build relationship with others. That way, listening is a very important skill. A new kind of listening has surfaced in the recent years ­­– listening to social media and it is called as “social listening” by some media experts.

Social listening happens when you listen to conversations that happen around your brand or company on social media. A simple act of listening to understand others has gained prominence in the commercial world. Now social listening (Commercially at least!) is all about gaining insight about your brand and company by paying attention to the conversations that happen on social media.

Companies have begun to realize the importance of gaining insight and market intelligence about their products and services.  An interesting article in the HBR: “How to get more out of social media-think like an anthropologist” talks about how data scientists and managers should read into these online social media conversations and not straight away reject or pass them.

There is an emphasis on meaning management. Managers glean data, not just on consumption patterns of top brands and general perception of the products but also the culture, the geographical and political landscape of the place and the people. When you want to find meaning in a conversation, you need to understand the context.

Data managers and data scientists need to move away from looking at data as merely points on a graph, when they glean from social media sources for information processing. Even though Big Data analytics is essential, understanding social media conversations requires, delving deep into the culture and social perceptions of the people involved to gain insight.

Social listening requires cultural sensitivity and understanding context

Interestingly, the authors in the article point out that, modern day Data scientists lack the skill and effort required to understand and glean the meaning out of such conversations. Truly to their job and function, as data managers, they have the reductionist attitude.  They reduce complex data into lower level data as Ones and Zeros.  It is good for other data processing (for example: – Efficiency and profitability calculation), but may not add any value to the process of meaning management for online social media conversations.

Social listening efforts for gaining insight and understanding customers requires marketing professionals and company personnel alike to straddle between information and meaning. As mentioned earlier, finding meaning requires sound understanding of the context.

It is time for cultural sensitive data analysts and info-culture builders within organizations to read the meaning out of such conversations.  Such culturally sensitive data analysts can take complex data and form higher order and meaningful information out of social media conversations.

Finding meaning in a conversation involves context. Context is naturally out of the question for information processing professionals and data scientists. Context involves, for example such information deriving questions such as: “Who said it?”, “Why they said it?” and “What are the challenges ?”. Answering such questions gives meaning and valuable context to social media conversations.

Insight and intelligence can be derived from the context.

It is touted that gaining insight through social media conversations should be a regular feature for company personnel. This should not be relegated to the marketing department alone. Infact, the ‘C’ positions of the organization should also get into this art of social listening as an everyday affair.  Understanding “Customer thought and intent” is after all the Holy Grail in business.

Social listening has the potential to drive innovation and corporate strategy. A recent example was the social media conversation, about a major food chain brand which went viral on Whatsapp, a popular social media tool. The conversation and spread on the social media was about the poor quality of uncooked chicken which was served to customers. Even live photographs of the food condition went viral.  The food outlet was shut down eventually after the event. This event alerted the company officials to rectify their grave mistakes.

There are many such examples around the world. Data scientists need to be sensitive to such information on social media. There are all kinds of signals sent about a brand. Some are true, some may not be and still some are amplified by culture as well. Thorough research may be required for the company to make a response but then the representative samples may not include the actual consumers. Any information coming out of social media is relevant as long it talks about the situation or the mistake at hand.

Finally, what makes it worthwhile is that, it pays every effort to interpret online social media conversations and embrace the context involved in the conversations to gain insight and to understand customers thought and intention.

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Swarm social media systems: Intriguing insights from Nature

flamingos- Swarm social media

Swarm social media systems require understanding of Mother Nature. We human beings are super organisms living in a swarm, constantly evolving and co-creating. An individual neuron (the brain cell) in our brain, decides to trigger  based on its connection and interaction with its neighboring neuron. When one brain cell talks the other listens. The swarm social media systems should replicate this environment.

Swarm theory

If you happen to walk into a garden during any of the rainy wet days, do not miss the chance to see nature at work, in its intriguing best.  Try to uncover a dense vegetative growth from the muddy earth or the surface of a dead rotting wood. There are good chances, you will find a small orange or pink colored blob sticking on to it. It is nothing but the “Slime mold”.

Slime mold - Yellowish orange blob
Slime mold – Yellowish orange blob

Till recently, the Slime mold was categorized under the Fungi family. Now it is an independent species, an organism. There are about 900 species of Slime mold all over the world. The word ‘slime’ derives from the gelatinous structure of the organism.

The peculiar behavior of the Slime moth is what brings our attention to.  The Slime moth exists as a single-celled organism most of the time and not as a yellowish-orange blob. But then during specific conditions, the cells miraculously disperse and the yellowish-orange blob completely disappears. It so happens that during abundance of food, they exist as single cell organisms, not visible to the naked eye but during food scarcity, they all aggregate.

Intriguingly, the slime mold is a single cell organism and yet they all miraculously find their way back and unite again as a yellowish –orange blob.

Each and every Slime mold cell,  acts like a simple mini-brain.They do simple tasks. No one single cell is in charge.

Yet with great intelligence, they all congregate and aggregate as a mass under natural circumstances. They come together as a swarm and act like one organism.

This behavior of the Slime moth has been studied by researchers all over the world from the last 60 years and are still not able to understand the logic in its entirety. This is  Swarm theory and the fundamentals for understanding the Swarm intelligence.  It is important to understand the Swarm theory in designing the Swarm Social media systems. Infact, such Swarm intelligence has been found in other species, as diverse as Bees, Ants, Birds and Fish to name a few.

Can humans display and act in such swarm intelligence?  The intriguing answer is – Yes, we already are. We do not know about it.

What is swarm intelligence?

You must have seen sometime or the other, a band of ants marching across your kitchen floor. Yes, they have found a food source and are foraging it.  A band of marching ants are smart, an individual ant is not.  A colony of ants are far smarter. An individual ant is relatively dumb and depends on its colony to make decisions.

The individual ant does not know what task to do next. But as a colony, the ants are smart they are able to effectively and efficiently respond to their environment. They are able to allocate tasks and defend their territory together.

As a colony, the ants are able to do, what becomes unthinkable for an individual ant. How are they able to this? They are able to do this through Swarm intelligence.  Swarm intelligence is also referred to as the “Wisdom of the crowds” or even “Collective intelligence” in different contexts. But according to this post and author, they are all the same. There are countless ways and manner in which Mother Nature displays wisdom. Ant colonies are just one.

School of Fish in a swarm
School of Fish in a swarm

Other such questions as, how are bees able to make decisions together for collecting honey for their hive?  How is a school of fish, able to make a coordinated decision together to swim in a particular direction?

The Wikipedia defines Swarm intelligence as a collective behavior of a decentralized and self-organizing system. Much of Swarm intelligence is applied right now in artificial intelligence and robotics.

Designing a swarm social media system from ground level is not easy.  In designing such a system, the local knowledge and micro level behavior of the individuals should determine the macro intelligence, the structure and adaptability of the system.

Read our blog post on Degrees of connection in social media systems: This talks about the various levels of connection, we human beings have within a social media system.

Principles of Swarm social media systems: Learning from Ant colonies

There are five principles of Swarm social media systems that we can learn from the Swarm intelligence of the Ant colonies.

1.Need for critical mass:

Having a critical mass of people to make intelligent assessments of the overall state. Having a ten member group, scanning an environment is not enough perhaps a few thousand would do. Like ants, more number of people need to contribute. The more the better.

As an example: wandering ants leave a small amount of pheromone secretion at the food source. They do their part. They do this act, unknowing of the fact that this act actually leaves a trail for other foraging ants to follow through. A kind of self-less behavior. Their self-less behavior creates a mass distribution line for other ants to join.

This behavior would not have been understood, if we were to study only the individual ants. The entire system need to be understood. If more number of ants are involved in this behavior and if they do different activities then it is better for the entire system.

2.Ignorance is bliss:

A very popular saying ‘Ignorance is bliss’ works well here. Not everyone in the group, need to have all the expertise and knowledge in the world. It is enough, if we do simple things. We need simple elements and simple behavior. Big macro level behavior should rise from simple acts. Dense interconnecting Swarm social media systems need to be built with simple elements that allow smart and intelligent behavior to arise out of it.

This takes direct cue from the relative stupidity of an individual ant. Individual ants just do their job. This works well with the swarm logic. We do not want a single ant in the colony to know everything or the overall state of the system. This becomes a real liability for the swarm logic and the swarm social media system.

The same analogy can be applied to the human brain as well. We do not want each one of the billions of neurons in the human brain to be sentient.  The neurons need to be collectively acting together to produce a macro level thought pattern.  I will be talking more about this in my blog post on social brain.

3.Random interactions are better:

The interaction among the members need to be in random fashion without any pre-planned effort in a swarm social media system. A simple rule of thumb interactions are better. Just like ants need freedom to look freely for their food, as individuals we need to interact freely. Our interactions with others, allows the system to have macro level behavior in a desired direction. It is only through such interactions, the overall change in the system can be assessed and stated.

4.Self-organizing patterns and signs:

Once we have the free interactions with others, we need to identify and assess the bigger self-organizing patterns. Swarms need to understand the overarching behavior, so that everyone follows suit. In ants, the gradient of pheromone trails leads other ants to a macro behavior, which is normally towards the direction of the food source. But sometimes, depending on the amount of pheromones, it could be for foraging or nest building.

This self-organizing capacity is inherent in ant colonies. Usually, the same logic applies when members in a group follow, what the vast majority of people are already doing. In a typical swarm behavior, we need to look for patterns.

5.Pay attention to your neighbors:

In a swarm social media system, it is important that members see what their neighbors are doing and learn from them. It is only through such interactions we learn from each other. And when we learn from each other, we begin to solve problems by ourselves. An intelligent collective behavior emerges. Ants do the same. They learn from neighboring ants.

It is important that we design a swarm social media system which is free for everyone to interact. Without interaction it would just be a meaningless grouping. It is only through relationships and interactions that things start moving. This is swarm logic.

Leaving behind: What I like to say

Ant hill colony
Ant hill colony

We are just not individual organisms but super organisms living collectively in a swarm. The key to designing a Swarm social media system lies understanding human nature.  But then, a more visible organization that Mother Nature displays is through the ant colonies. There is no management. There is no boss or a manager ant and yet the individual ants display and act in remarkable sincerity and commitment to do their part.

Each individual ant does its duty and does its part. This is important.

The ants talk to each other through myriad ways.  There are countless interactions between them. These interactions result in super intelligence to accomplish insurmountable tasks. They are self-organizing and that is Swarm social media system for you

Further resources on this subject

  1. Swarm theory, National Geographic
  2. Emergence, Steven Johnson.
  3. World computing.
  4. Wiki on Slime mold.
  5. Wiki on Swarm intelligence

Other useful sources

James F.Kennedy, Swarm Intelligence (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Evolutionary Computation)

Andries P. Engelbrecht, Fundamentals of Computational Swarm Intelligence

Marco Dorigo, Ant Colony Optimization (Bradford Books)

Image source : Pixabay

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Degrees of Connection: Spread the goodness and kindness

Degrees of connection on the slopes

Degrees of connection- Is it really possible to maintain, manage and sustain all the connections we have on Facebook and LinkedIn?….No it’s not.

“In nature, we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else before it, beside it, under it, over it.”

The above quote was from the famous German poet, lyricist, playwright, writer and diplomat, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: popularly known as just “Goethe”. And nature has produced a remarkable species: us – with full of kindness, goodness, compassion, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice.

These tendencies were so important for our survival, procreation and for smooth functioning of groups. Infact, so vital for human evolution itself, says, Dacher Keltner, from the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory.

It was very interesting to know, when he revealed that the notion “Survival of the fittest” no longer applies and the world has not known the other side of Charles Darwin.  The world has not known Darwin’s works and wisdom on human goodness and emotion. Darwin’s writings that humans are profoundly social and caring species, has not seen much light and so has the world.

Through his new book, “Born to be good: The science of a meaningful life”, Dacher investigates these aspects and brings them to light through his various scientific findings.

The tendencies of goodness and kindness are innate to us as humans.

They are found in our emotions. And through the power of such emotions we will connect to others. And when we connect, our goodness and kindness spreads and it reaches others making a positive impact.

The positive impact we have on others, depends on the degrees of connection we have with our friends. This in other words is the extent of the influence. The more the degrees of connection, the more the influence there is. So in this aspect,

Can we take the help of our influential social networks to spread this goodness and kindness?

Yes, and Social networks does matter in this situation. There are various studies that were conducted around the development of the human brain and on our happiness. When you are associated with more happy and stable people in a social network, the happier you are.

Having said this, the spread of goodness and kindness tends to follow a certain rule. We will talk about it in a little while from now after looking at how our degrees of connection are primordial and what we have learnt from the apes.

We are no different from the apes

Research experiments conducted on the Chimpanzees and Bonobos, prove that we are no different from them. These apes are the old world primates, the only species closely related to humans.

Chimpanzee- Our closest cousin
Chimpanzee- Our closest cousin

Take a walk to any of the nearby Zoo or wild life sanctuary in your area or city.  On any lazy afternoon, you will observe, monkeys grooming each other. They will lie casually on the laps of each other and pick dried leaves and twigs from each other’s hair.  The oxytocin levels in the brains of the giving and receiving monkeys usually shoot up. Oxytocin, are the happy chemicals. They are neuro transmitters. They make us happy and play a huge role in bonding. The same happiness is what is triggered, when you have friendships online and offline.

Incidentally, in a scientific study it shows that, we humans are preoccupied not with the daily activities at work, but with the juicy details of other’s personal lives, during most part of the day. We relish it so much, that even after getting home, we log on to popular social networks, to get connected with each and other and discuss or switch on the TV to know more about it.

Please read our blog post: Social media collaboration- A synergy in the making

We are no different than the apes. The apes do the same. They always keep noticing and minding what other members of their group are doing or not doing all the time.

Robin Dunbar, the British evolutionary anthropologist and psychologist, came up with the idea of social brain hypothesis. He found that the Neo-cortex to the brain ratio is largest in mammals, who are part of large social groups. The neo-cortex is part of the cerebral cortex which connects both the hemispheres and in humans, it is responsible for sensory perception, spatial reasoning, language and motor commands.

According to him, the larger the social group or a social network, a person interacts, the greater the size of the neo-cortex allowing him or her to manage and interact with increasing social members.

The same was tested on a group of monkeys. Some of them were housed together among large numbers of their species and others were kept isolated. After a period of time (about a year), the monkeys were tested. MRI scans of the brain, revealed that there was a growth in the size of the neo-cortex for monkeys who were among other social members.

This region of the brain involved social cognition, group behavior, “theory of the mind”, and predicting other’s behavior. Remarkably, there was 20 % increase in the neo-cortex grey matter of the monkeys, which were housed together than the monkeys which were kept individually.

What we can understand from this is that, the more we are connected in a social network, the more our neo-cortex brain size increases. This is good for us.

But then, the degrees of connection follow a certain rule. There are some factors which limit the size of the individual influence in a social network, there by affecting the extent of the degrees of connection.

The rule is best explained by the concept of “Degrees of influence” coined by two scientists.

The degrees of connection and the spread of influence

The spread of influence in a social network tends to follow a rule called the ‘the three degrees of influence’.  The concept was first proposed by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler in 2007.

So everything we do or interact has an impact on our friends, our friend’s friends (two degrees) and even our friend’s friend’s friends (Third degree). The idea is that, our influence ceases to have an effect beyond this influence of 3 degrees.

It is interesting to note that the three degrees of connection applies to a variety of attitudes and behavior. The diffusion of innovation is one classic example. If someone has new ideas at work. His ideas would influence his manager, his manager’s manager and one more level above them. The ideas would diffuse to three degrees.

Similarly, the same situation can be applied to word of mouth examples as well. There are three different reasons which can be attributed to why the influence is limited.

Factors which limit the size of degrees of influence or connection

The following three factors explain, why there is a limit to the three degrees of connection or influence.

Intrinsic decay explanation:

The first is called intrinsic-decay explanation. This is very much like throwing a stone in a pond. It creates ripples and the ripples wave dissipates as it spreads out. Similarly, our influence also fizzles out, eventually.

It is just like the natural decay that happens to all living creatures with ageing.

Socially, there is fidelity in the information that we transmit like the game of Chinese whispers. The information gets corrupted.

Chinese whispers is a popular game played world over, where members in a group, whisper a small message into the ear of the person next to them and it goes on till the person in the last of the group utters out the message loudly to the rest of the group.

Errors usually occur because of the retelling of the message, as it passes on from one person to another. It is fun and at the same time a good ice breaker for members of a group.

We can understand how information gets corrupted as it gets passed on and there is a decay with time.

Network instability explanation:

This can be attributed to the unavoidable circumstances.

For example: A prime member within a group leaves and ties can be broken. The person, who is two or three degrees away from you may lose a path to reach you.

We have seen this happen all the time within our social networks. If you are using the Linkedin social network, you would notice the first, second and third degree connections.  The degrees of connections are aptly represented in this social network.  Network ties do get hampered, when your contact or a friend who is in the first degree loses connection with you.

A similar feature, but not directly related to Network instability explanation can be seen on Facebook and Whatsapp social networks.

A new feature was implemented by Facebook within the recent years. Even if the leader of the group leaves, the group still remains and a person within the group who was assigned first, takes on the ropes.  This way, the group never dies out. The same feature exists in Whatsapp groups as well.

But then, in these social networks (Facebook and Whatsapp), the structure of the network is quite different unlike LinkedIn.  LinkedIn has three degree of connections for your professional contacts.

So much for people beyond the fourth degree connection, we may not be in a position to influence people who are “3 degrees and beyond”.

Evolutionary purpose explanation:

Humans have always evolved in groups. We have seen these examples in the beginning of our post.  Our history is replete with facts and figures, right from the pre-historic days that we have not lived in large groups. Evolution does not favor us to have connections beyond the ‘fourth degree’. Quite stark!

In our hominid past, there was no one or a group who were four degrees removed from us.  We lived in small clusters, evolved from hunter and gatherer societies.

Robin Dunbar as stated earlier in the post, through his social brain hypothesis, gave us the Dunbar’s number. The Dunbar’s number is the maximum number of individuals in a society or group that someone can have social relationships with. The number is at 150.

There is a cognitive limit on the number of people in a group that we can have connections with. This leaves us to say, that there is a limit on the Neo-cortex grey matter growth. This again proves that even in the past, the friendship influence was within 150 and which does not go beyond the 3 degrees of influence.

Goodness and Kindness: Is what makes us human

Practically speaking, let us be true, how many of us are really able to manage and sustain contacts and interactions beyond a 100 people on your Facebook profile ?.  Some even might have 500+ connections on their Facebook and Linkedin profiles. I have personally seen it. All that will remain mere connections on face value. But the real deal of maintaining and sustaining friendly and fruitful interactions with all of them is simply quite impossible. Just leave alone, the Neo-cortex grey matter growth, to be honest, I have been struggling all along to maintain, just a handful of friends on my Facebook network.

So, even if your degrees of connection are limited to 3 degrees or 3 lengths, it makes good common sense. It makes good common sense, to spread the goodness and kindness to people in your network or your social group. An altruistic behavior of one person has a ripple effect on other people and the rest of the entire social network. It simply spreads!  It is what makes us happy, when we share and bond with others and it is what makes us human. Humans and the apes share a common ancestor 8 million years ago. We have evolved and have come a long way.

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For further resources, please find below

  1.  The brain on Facebook – Scientific American

The serendipitous links of the Hypertext – A precursor to the social network

Hand pointing to link Hypertext

The emergence of the “Internet” has been pretty interesting and amazing. The serendipitous links within the text in the web pages, sets it apart in way that one thing leads to another and finally ends up into a totally different context and everything looks seemingly interconnected. Amazing isn’t it.  That’s the beauty of the web. The hypertext has been instrumental to the development of WWW and its ubiquitous presence on the planet. The hypertext has been the base foundation for the development of the HTML (Hypertext markup language) and web 2.0 social networks of the next generation.

Useful note: Serendipity means a very fortunate and a pleasant discovery. An unexpected pleasant happenstance. According to the Wiki,  It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 in reference to Persian fairy tale,” The Three Princes Of Serendip”.

There were many precursors in the form of schools of thought for the emergence of the modern Internet and there were some important people who had worked hard and smart for the design, growth and development of the internet.

The Internet was present since 1969. It was known as the ‘ARPANET’ (Advances research projects agency network) and was created by the US Department of Defense to allow flow of information between two computers. It was largely used between military bases and Universities.

The term ‘Internet’ was coined in 1974 when the scientists  at the labs were so busy using it for sending electronic messages. Later in 1989, Tim Berners Lee, a researcher at CERN (Organisation Europeanne Pour la Recherche Nucleaire) in Geneva proposed the idea of WWW (World Wide Web) which is essentially an international system of protocols. The protocols were the grammar and syntax of HTML. This allowed computers to talk to each other universally and share, create text and graphic images, audio and video files.

To slightly elaborate this, the simplification of the web can be framed in two simple ways 1. It provided a way to store information in the form of webpages so that these webpages could be easily available for everyone. 2. It provided a way for others to access this information by connecting to the internet from other public spaces.

The underlying design is that the webpages are organized using a network metaphor. The network metaphor turns the pages into a web of webpages. This network metaphor to organize the webpages could have been other organizing systems like the index of the page or books in a classification system or a library, but the usage of the network structure created a massive surge in globalization of the web which became so ubiquitous today.

The network metaphor uses a special computer language called the “Hypertext” which was continuously refined since 1950’s. The hypertext replaced the traditional linear structure with a network structure. By the use of explicit links within the text on the webpages, logical relationships started to form.

The hypertext was continuously refined by a small group of passionate technologists to get it to today’s level and scale that no one could have imagined.

Precursors to Hypertext

Hypertext is the branching and responses of the text through links found in text documents and software applications. It is synonymous with ‘hypermedia’ which is the same branching and responses for graphics, sounds and media. The term ‘hypertext’ was coined by Ted Nelson in 1963 and he later went to develop the ‘hypertext editing system’ in 1967.

The web can be seen as an information network. The progress and development of the web can be attributed to various kinds of information network which existed even before computers were invented.

The information network can be seen as nodes containing the information. The nodes are in turn linked to together with explicit links, establishing the links between the nodes.

Highlighting citation
Highlighting citation

The first thing that existed as an information network was the ‘Citation’ system. The hypertext borrowed its concept from it. Citation were used in books and articles. The authors used the citation system to give credit to other authors for borrowing their ideas and expanding it. The idea is that one work builds on another work and there is a clear dependence which is cited. The same principle as we know it, builds on patents as well which provides citation to earlier work and inventions.

Another important factor is the practice of cross references.  Printed articles in those days often include cross references or printers to other similar articles or related work.

This organizing principle offered a clear precursor to the hypertext which establishes relationships among articles explicitly. It is in the same way that wiki works today. Through cross references the entire wiki leads us from one topic to another in a  serendipitous fashion even before we knew that we have reached our topic of interest. The interconnections between the topics and subjects are established through seamless links.

Useful note: You can read more about the Internet and Search engines and how they operate through our other blog post “The global brain and graph theory”.

One clear difference between the practice of citation and the modern web is that traditional citation are “one way”. It goes in one direction like a bullet from present to the past and are frozen there. On the other hand, the modern web is editable and the links can flow back and forth in time, present to the past and past to the present.

Talking about the history of the hypertext, an important person who contributed to the present day web is Vannavar Bush. Vannavar Bush and Memex had a strong influence on the present day avatar of the modern web.

Vannavar Bush and Memex

As stated earlier, information networks always existed and date back to several centuries in our history.

Vannavar Bush, at the end of the World War II in 1945, wrote a seminal article entitled “As we may think”. Nobody at that time thought that this article would revolutionize and change the modern computing of the web.

Bush in his article, observed the linearity in the traditional methods of storing information and retrieving it.  The books and articles in the traditional method are arranged in a linear fashion. His argument is that the human brain does not think that way. We have what we call the associative memory. This memory happens through our own conscious experience of thinking.

When you think about one thing, it reminds you of another and thereby a new connection and a new insight is born.

Bush recommended this type information network or a system to be built where it mimicked the style of information processing as in the way a human thinks. He called this system the ‘memex’ which somewhat resembled the modern web.

Bush envisioned that the system would one day be used all over the world for knowledge sharing and many computer applications would be built on this memex. All the existing human knowledge would be digitized versions and will be connected by associative links.

Bush had considerable influence in the US government’s future direction on scientific funding and scientific endeavors which helped fuel his memex system and his vision to full public awareness.

His early ideas and memex was indeed used as a stepping stone to develop the modern web. Tim Berners Lee had also used Bush’s ideas and the Memex in the development of the hypertext and the web.

Text and context in a social network

Text and Context of conveying the same point

I have taken the liberty to directly delve directly into the subject this time. Other factors notwithstanding, there are two things which we need to understand when we are introducing knowledge exchange in a community or social network.

They are “Text and Context”. By “text” in a social network, I refer to the general content that is filled in all the time. Now let us look at text and context in slightly more detail.

Content or Text

It is all about the factual information about a topic or subject. It can also be ad-hoc notes. Content information can be accessed from libraries, magazines, briefing notes, paper documents, notices etc from both online as well as offline means.
The usefulness of content information is not directly proportional to age. The opposite is true. The more fresh, the more useful it is.


Context is the most important and critical to the success of knowledge or information exchange in a new community or social network. Context is the interpretation of the content. Context is always attached to a conversation when people talk about “knowing the business” and having “the feel of the intricate challenges surrounding it”.
Depending on the situation this could mean current and historical information.

There are a certain set of questions that can be asked within the realm of context. They are:-

1. What sort of information is currently needed right now ?
2. When can I get this information ?
3. Who is available right now to get this information ?
4. What are the challenges and pitfalls ?
5. What is the impact and how does it benefit everybody ?
6. In what all circumstances can I use it ?
7. Who are the people who have worked on this before?

Generally, context information is not recorded anywhere or written down. The reasons are many. Some of which relate to ethnography (The study of cultures). Some of the other common reasons relate to people who think that context information has to be known already. Which is not true. Some of them don’t know that their information might be relevant to somebody else. They might even think that it would be politically unwise to record it or perhaps there is no place to record it.

An An example of text and context
An example of text and context happening on a social network

It is generally, inferred from other sources of information, like in a discussion. The value is only realized when it is interconnected with other sources of information.

As you see in the above example, context happens  in the ‘comments’ section of the post. Little information given by the user but nevertheless that is a bit of a ‘context’.

Another related area to context is “who they are talking to” – a very valuable source of information. Having a network of contacts is very critical to know about the context information. Members in a social network would like to know about the person “who they are talking to” for consultation and for ongoing help.

When you know the other person, it creates a sense of obligation in helping each other out.

It is important that we have a clear distinction between text and context in social network.

Empathic design innovation and social networks – The roads meet

Empathic design

Empathic design has got the potential to redirect a company’s activities and technological prowess to diversify into totally new unseen areas.

I stumbled upon an old article published in Harvard Business review in 1997 titled “ Spark Innovation through Empathic design”. by Leonard D and Rayport J.F. Quite an interesting read. The authors as usual from the classic publishing standards of HBR have given good examples how leadership from global corporations have used and adopted Empathic design in their innovation practices.

The concept is still relevant today even after 20 years and what we have been seeing is that not many global corporations have adopted it ever since.I was particularly curious on how a social network can help and facilitate with ease a classic design concept like Empathic design.

We know that companies compete every day with each other in having the best new idea for their products and services. To launch the best and succeed. And as such, initiatives like the “voice of the customer”, “Listen to the customer” were launched. But then, such initiatives lacked the ability to guide the product development or the service improvement teams, as the customers themselves were limited in their imagination for new innovation.

Traditional market research solicits information from customers asking for their needs and wants. But what happens is that, customers seldom give their responses truthfully. There is also the assumption that their needs will not be met anyway. Companies cannot develop products based on customer feedback alone because, they (customers) have not recognized or seen the product themselves.

Now the question is, how do we design new products and services or innovate in these scenarios? The answer lies in Empathic design.

The foundation for Empathic design lies in the “observation of people”, the way they use their surroundings, products and services.

Empathic design is quite different from the traditional market research or focus group discussions. The observation is carried out in the customer’s own environment which is usually not done in traditional research methods or focus groups.

Empathic design follows the techniques of simple gathering of information, analyzing that information and applying that information back on the product or service. Such observation can be done or embedded even in a social network beneficially. We will talk about some possibilities bit later.

Empathic design as such is multidisciplinary. It requires high degree of collaboration skills while meaningfully moving from one subject to another. So is innovation. Ideas can come from anywhere.

Normally, we do not see Empathic design being taught in Universities as a course. It is an acquired skill and not many big companies practice this.It is interdisciplinary by nature. Data needs to be gathered from multiple sources. Anthropology is a good discipline to start with from an Empathic design perspective.

Useful note: – The Wiki states Anthropology is the study of the various aspects of humans in the present and past societies. It looks at the norms, behavior and culture of the people in the past and in the present.

Many researchers and practicing management consultants have said that acquiring Empathic design as a skill is a worthwhile investment for the company. Moreover, it is low cost and low risk. It serves to clearly focus and identify customer needs and leads to breakthrough thinking in launching new products and services.

Traditional market research vs Empathic design
Traditional market research vs Empathic design

Why traditional market research methods sometimes don’t work

When a product or service already exists in the market, traditional market research is very adept at gaining useful information from the public. When consumers already know a product or service and have seen similar products or services in a different context then they are able to provide better feedback and communicate their needs.

There are some psychological reasons on why we may not get the results we want by conducting market research surveys, questionnaires and conducting focus group discussions.

Consumers get accustomed to the way a product or service works after prolonged use. They might have even developed work around for minor inconveniences. They get used to these inconveniences over time and they become habits. So they do not recognize them as an indication for a different need or even change from it.

Another big reason is that, sometimes it is quite difficult to completely capture consumer’s response and reaction no matter how good the market research is. Consumers give sub-optimal answers to please the researchers to avoid embarrassment by revealing answers which they think are inappropriate. Sometimes there is the researcher’s bias in the investigation.

Custom reports are submitted by giving expected answers received from consumers and also biased statistical logic which needs to fit in into the norm. Product designers are faced with the situation to accept such custom reports. Now, can such custom reports be taken for a design approach?

Observation provides better and reliable data.

Participation in a highly focused niche social network with a diverse knowledgeable audience can provide the feedback. Observing their reactions, interacting with them and getting their instant feedback can provide reliable information for designers.

What we learn from Observation (A method for Empathic design)

By observing, we get to know many things and the information is highly valuable. To start with, by observing consumers we can get that sort of information that normal market research methods cannot give.

The emphasis is on observing consumers using the product or service in their own physical environment. This produces valuable insights. Insights on how the product is being used and what prompted the use. Needs which have not been talked about at all. Insights on the intangible areas for example, the feelings that are invoked when buying a particular product are some of the aspects that we learn through Observation as a method.

What drives people to use a certain product? What were the circumstances and situations that led people to use a certain product?  Sometimes when we study and observe consumers, they might use a product or service beyond its intended use. What motivates a consumer to buy a certain product over the other? It could be even the association with a better product.


An example for Empathic design
An example for Empathic design in Mobile phone design

For example, Samsung went with the Android operating system and became an instant hit. The same did not happen with Nokia and the Windows combination.

Another example would be in exploring market opportunities. The use of coconut oil for both cooking as well medicinal purposes.

I was reading through another article in one of Autodesk’s blogs on “how to design behavior based smart tools” good insight by Kursat Ozenc, the author.  Here Kursat talks about user motivation  and takes up three motivational factors of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to emphasize the need for design based on user behavior. This is very much similar to Empathic design based on observation methods. We will talk about this in our next blog post.

When we observe consumers in the way they use products, we can explore newer opportunities.

We can learn a great deal by observing how the product or service is fitting in into the customer’s own environment.  When we observe a customer working on a product in his or her own physical environment, we can learn what are the gadgets or devices that he is using with the main product. Designers can learn whether these secondary other products can also be incorporated with the main product.

Another important aspect is the intangible areas surrounding the product or service. Customers may not give direct feedback on certain things like the particular feeling it invokes when buying a particular product. These  are all the  opportunities waiting to be tapped.

Empathic design brings together, the consumers who have the need and the product designers and manufacturers who can get it done.

It fully leverages the capability of the company.

How Social networks influence Empathic design.

Empathic design may be about collecting data as usual to a good extent. But that data represents consumer behavior. Smart companies need to tap into the behavior of Consumers and information it generates to fuel innovation.

Companies and individuals participating in social networks can give the cues to the behavior. They can introduce a mockup of the product or previews of the yet to be released new products and services. They can observe how participants behave and use the product mockup. Their observations of user behavior becomes an important source of information for Empathic design for designers and manufacturers.

Having said this, Empathic design is no way, a standalone approach. Empathic design complements the traditional market research methods.

We need innovative ideas to meet and exceed customer needs and Empathic design does just that. It enables product designers and manufacturers to have a fresh perspective and gain knowledge. Empathic design through social networks offers that conduit.

Designing and gathering customer needs using the methods of Empathic design with focused social networks offers an asset and this combination can be used to create innovative products in never imagined ways.

Further reading resources:-

  1. User experience design -from Interaction design foundation.
  2. The article from HBR on Empathic design by Leonard D and Rayport J.F.

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