“Is Slack really solving the problem you have?” and other questions as you Peel the Onion to Truth

We are so keen to think in binary terms and to rush to conclusions we often misunderstand the root cause of an issue and pat ourselves on the back when we instead solve a secondary condition.

I do this time and time again. I normally fall into the same pattern:

  • Trick myself into thinking I have solved something
  • Realize that I didn’t actually solve the problem
  • Reflect to understand that this isn’t the root cause

It is hard when I find myself lying… to myself! I get it, sometimes “I” just want to move on and check that task off of the list. Whenever I catch myself and get to an honest place I try hard to honor that (how many times am I missing it?) and spend the time looking to peel the onion a layer deeper.

This happens to me constantly in the small. As I rush through my study system to check that “habit” off the daily list I sigh. The goal isn’t to be done quickly, or to check it off the list, it is to actually learn something!

It can be doubly hard when root causes are cross functional. Many solutions in the work place require thought across: org structure, people issues, and then… the technical solution itself (in the engineering sense). You also add in the user and data into the mix and things explode. The good news is that if you actually solve one of these problems at root, it will have a lasting effect.

Why do you like Slack? What problems does it solve?

I enjoy asking questions like this to people (including myself). A short reflection always shows me that some of my thinking is very much flawed.

Many people talk to me about Slack and talk more about how much they hate email, and how glad they are to leave it, or minimize it.

At large companies especially email is a real problem. Why? Here are some reasons:

It is a time suck

  • You feel like you have to answer all of it (especially if you have a “sunset” rule!)
  • Anyone can send you an email
  • You don’t own your own schedule at all as the amount of email that you get isn’t just up to you! (see: your calendar)
  • The faster you reply, the faster it can be hit right back at you!
    – Much of it is rote and doesn’t deliver value
    – So much “corporate email” to wade through
    – Each thread often doesn’t have an “end”
    – The asynchronous nature can keep it going and going and going.

Let’s say that you go rogue and setup a small Slack instance with your group and parties who actually get work done. All of a sudden a lot of the communication goes from email to here, and it feels very productive. When you have an actual issue to problem solve you create a @solve-the-issue group and everyone dives in until the problem is solved. Short answers back and forth, and the thread doesn’t diverge when people reply at the same time. No need for wasted boilerplate and .signatures and email client threading issues. In public areas there is a history so new hires can jump around some channels and spend time really getting an understanding of things (imagine how much you could glean, and how much is lost in email archives). Phew, so much better!

The features of this medium are true improvements. The social side effects are just as important. You have limited the scope here to a dedicated group, and you are all in it for problem solving. You can set the tone as you all join this and iterate on the culture together.

I have enjoyed playing around on various Slack instances. On one I create a public channel for every book I read, hoping that people who read the same book could use this to house shared highlights and discussion. There are a ton of experiments to run, all differening based on the context of said instance.

In the move from email to Slack it is easy to go through the phases of “man this is so much better than email” and ending up at “huh, it is better in many ways, but it hasn’t actually solved all of my problems”.

This occurs once the scope increases on Slack and the same quantity of input ends up in that channel. Now all of a sudden it can feel even crazier in some ways. Have you ever logged into Slack to see 25 people with bold names all waiting on you for something? “Hey, this is kinda synchronous so I can just direct message this person and surely I can hear back from them toute suite!”

The social conventions and expectations are what really matter here. The problems that you really want to solve are as old as time:

  • What are my priorities?
  • How do I want to spend my time?

If you are one of the rare few that has really worked this out in the large (what is your purpose in life?) down to the small (what do I need to get done today to move the ball forward?) then you have solved the root issue.

You will take ownership of all of the mediums at your disposal and you will decide how to best spend your time, and it won’t be reactive based on what last came in.

I love Slack (which is why I talk about it often), but it would be smart to really spend time thinking about your main concerns and be aware of how you want to use it, as well as all the other tools in life.

As a friend said this morning: “Is this really helping with your cognitive load?”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *