Dark matter, dark energy and dark communications

If you are into cosmology, you will know that dark matter and dark energy account for the majority of the Universe’s mass (recall that energy=mass). But we simply don’t know where this mass is. If you are in business, you may not know that the majority of a company’s communication is hidden too. Yet we do know where it is. We have simply got used to hiding it and forgotten how important it is.

Most of a company’s email is locked in employees private email accounts. Even if you have a modern VoIP local or hosted phone system, then your phone calls are probably hidden from even you, and maybe you can only access them if you are going to court!

This would be all understandable if these communications were confidential. But mostly they are not. Because we have moved from an open culture of filing cabinets to a closedculture of email accounts, we now accept the idea that we should hide things by default. This has massive drawbacks. Why?

Well, let’s take email. If I send an email to an outside third party, I must copy in all the other staff I think need to know. That won’t necessarily be all the staff that actually need to know. And all those staff will be cc’ing me on stuff they think I need to know too. The end-result is that our in-boxes contain at the very least, twice as much email as you will actually read. Add to that unsolicited emails (which may or may not be junk), what you get is information overload. Even emails we know are there somewhere can be impossible to find.

What about phone calls? We all know how often we write an email when we could get an answer in a fraction of the time with a quick phone call. Why do we do it? Because mostly the phone call evaporates, or if it doesn’t, it’s next to impossible to hear it again. If we can’t hear to it again, we must rely on our recollection, and let’s face it, nobody’s recollection is that great. The less phone calls we make, the more emails we send, adding to the problem of information overload.

Bizarrely, the solution is to share communications, not hide them.  I can already imagine readers recoiling at the idea of sharing their email, phone calls, and Skype conversations, but hear me out because, just like open-source software, sharing communications returns big benefits.

The first step is to decide if the communication is private or confidential. If it is neither, then it can be shared. But not by cc’ing it to everyone, rather by declaring it shareable – or more intelligently, storing it somewhere it can be shared – which for sure is not your inbox.  If you don’t want to share it, you don’t have to but by collecting together everyone’s sharable communications in one place, some amazingly beneficial things happen.

  1. The amount of stuff going into your inbox drops; you no longer get stuff you might need. Because the stuff in your inbox drops, you can find stuff there easier
  2. Once all your and your colleagues shareable communications are together, you suddenly see events unfolding that you had no idea of from your own inbox.
  3. If your telephone calls are shared, even without listening to the calls, you see a vital part of the interaction with third-parties. Often the missing link.

So now, instead of being a form of absolution, an email becomes what it was always intended to be – a written communication. If you are about to take some action with a third-party, rather than search all your emails looking for a reason you cannot be fired, you simply look at the “thread” of shared messages – telling you what is going on with that third-party, not what you happen to have in your email inbox. It takes time to get into the habit, but once you do, you never look back.

And there are other real benefits too. What you find when you share your communications, is that they become much more considered, you stop needing to have unnecessary meetings, and everyone gets a much better sense of the bigger picture. I occassionally send an email to the wrong person, but it never causes embarrassment because I have written it assuming it will be shared. Also, you no longer need to make the distinction about what is spam. By including “spam” in your shareable communications – instead of losing it to the spam filter –  you can still keep your inbox clutter free without fear of losing important emails incorrectly classified. Anyway, who can say what is spam?

Needless to say, I think we have found a solution, and we call it Threads. You can imagine how exciting it gets when you can search your shared phone calls? But this is not a sales-pitch for Threads – it’s about changing our culture of dark communications.