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Time wasting at work

How much time is wasted at work being non-productive – and what can be done to improve the situation?

In Sweden, several employees of the Social Insurance Agency have been discovered browsing on the job.  The Agency found that employees had been visiting non-work related websites while being ‘inactive on the work system’.  One employee spent 50 hours of work time visiting 350 websites while another spent 47 hours on non-work related browsing – mostly on Facebook.  One of the employees was fined half a month’s pay.

Meanwhile, self-employed entrepreneur Maneesh Sethi, has been measuring his own non-productive time at work.  Using an app called RescueTime, he discovered he was spending up to 30 hours a week on non-work related sites such as Facebook and Reddit.  Looking for help to keep him focused, he advertised on Craigslist for a ‘faceslapper’ to hit him every time he attempted to visit his social media sites.  He reported a massive improvement in his productivity.

Since that experiment, he has gone on to develop a wearable device that will monitor the wearer’s ‘bad habits’ and give them an electric shock if they slip into their old ways!

Research published by CareerBuilder looked at the obstacles to maximising productivity in the workplace. Mobile phones, gossip, social media, noisy colleagues, meetings, speaker phones and email are all cited.  73% of the participating organisations had attempted to implement measures to mitigate time-wasting at work, including blocking some websites, monitoring internet usage and limiting meetings.

But what if you want to be distracted at work?  Helpfully, econsultancy has provided a list of 11 websites and Twitter accounts that can help you fill your days unproductively, including the useless and ironic time-saving tips of @TwopTips – example:

Make yourself feel more important by referring to your tweets as “content”.

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A simpler life – the secret to happiness?

Survey of 16,000 people around the world explores contentment.  Is a simpler life the key to happiness?  Or is it being Danish?

On average, 77% of respondents from 20 developed countries* declared themselves to be ‘happy’ and the rate rose in the world’s three happiest countries, Sweden (88%), Canada (86%) and Australia (85%).

Happiness levels were lower overall in Europe and the Spanish were the unhappiest of all – only 59% reported themselves to be happy.

In contrast to their current levels of happiness and their feelings of optimism for family and community, only 22% of people said they were optimistic about prospects for the world as a whole, a proportion that fell to 20% in the US, 15% in the UK and 6% in France.

A simpler life

Many respondents reported they felt the world was changing too fast and over half of them wanted to slow down the pace of their lives.  64% said that people ‘led happier lives in the old days’.   Many complained about the intensity of their digital lives – 78% of Chinese and 71% of UK respondents agreed “I am constantly looking at screens these days”.

However, 61% of the respondents felt that technology was part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Another route to happiness – be Danish?

Does Danish DNA hold the secret to happiness?  Researchers have been exploring the link between gene mutation and happiness – and are calling for further research.

* Ipsos Mori questioned people in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, US

 

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The future of bookshops

I like writing about bookshops.  In fact I wrote about ‘the perfect bookshop’ for the Sunday Observer when I was a teenager.  It was my first time ‘in print’.  I’ve not seen a copy of the article for years and can’t remember what I wrote.  I like to think that I described a bookshop with sofas and cups of tea and that I was years ahead of my time and that I invented Waterstones.

Can bookshops survive?

But how are these ‘bookshops of the future’ faring now?  In the US, according to the latest statistics, publisher revenues from digital products have outstripped those from traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ shops for the first time.  Revenues from downloaded audiobooks, for example, were up almost 20% in 2013.

Other changes in digital reading

The US is also experiencing a decline in the dedicated e-reader market.  People are increasingly reading on their tablets or smartphones and are not using dedicated e-reader devices.   Multi-feature devices are killing off the specialised ones – and this is a problem for publishers.  Writing in New York Magazine, Kevin Roose says that those using e-reader devices benefit from a more immersive reading experience – and are reading more.  When they are reading on their iPhones or tablets a range of other information is competing for the reader’s attention.

Digital in-store and re-inventing bookshops

Meanwhile in London Foyles the Bookshop has relocated to a new site on Charing Cross Road and undergone quite a transformation. You can see a nice time-lapse video of half a million books being moved on YouTube.   In this article, Ben Davis visits the new store to test the digital in-store experience as he set out to find a specific book.

A feature in [The Economist's] Intelligent Life asks architects and designers to design a bookshop.  Their responses include: download and vending walls; literary sommeliers; social reading experiences – the bookstore becoming (like the library) a social experience rather than a place purely for commercial transactions.

Finally

If anyone can help me locate a copy of my Sunday Observer magazine article, I would love to hear from you!

Sources: The Bookseller; Publishing Perspectives; econsultancy; Mashable.

 

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Spammers, spam – and Monty Python

Research explores how key spam players interact.  Canada’s new anti-spam legislation came into effect in July 2014. 

It is estimated that over 14 billion spam messages are sent around the world every day.  Researchers at Aachen University in Germany and the University of California, Santa Barbara explored the three key elements required in a spam campaign – the list of victim emails, the content, and a botnet.

Experts specialising in each of these three elements have emerged, selling their expertise in a ‘prosperous underground economy’ and building their own versions of customer loyalty. By seeking to better understand the relationships between the key players, it’s hoped that researchers can develop more effective anti-spam measures.  (You can download their findings here.)

Meanwhile, Canada has rolled out new legislation that aims to tackle the issue of spam.   The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is outlined in summary here.  Although the potential fines are high, the fact is that any organisation following good practice will not fall foul of the new legislation.  You should have clear unsubscribe processes, and have the permission of the recipients to send them commercial messages.

And of course, the legislation is only relevant for email addresses in Canada (.ca)

And now for something completely different

Spam of the edible kind features in a famous Monty Python sketch (described in this humourless Wikipedia entry).   In July 2014 the surviving Monty Python cast is taking to the stage for the first time in decades.   The 20,000 tickets for their opening night at London’s O2 Arena sold out in a record breaking 43 seconds.

The ‘Tour’ is embracing social media. Fans can follow the Tour on Twitter and appear on the fan wall by using the Tour Hashtags.  They can also treat themselves to a Ministry of Silly Walks app and  join the Python Spam Club.  Which begs the question, what if your spam is about the spam club?

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The economic value of public libraries

Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries

The Arts Council has just published an evidence review which looks at the economic contribution of public libraries. The report aims to be an ‘important first step’ in understanding the direct economic contribution that public libraries can make, as well as the indirect contribution generated by social and educational benefits for individuals and communities.

The report summarises the available evidence from a variety of international sources, and examines the methodologies which might be applied to what is clearly a complex issue. It does not try to establish a single monetary value for libraries, but instead looks at different ways of assessing economic contribution, for example ‘place-based’ economic development:

Libraries can be anchor tenants in mixed-use physical developments and regeneration initiatives, potentially boosting the footfall, buzz, image and profile of a neighbourhood or area … where specialist services are provided, they can also support local economic development through business advice and support for individuals, micro businesses and SMEs.

The report also looks at the wider educational and social impact of libraries across five key areas: Children and young people’s education and personal development; Adult education, skills and employability; Health and wellbeing; Community support and cohesion; and Digital inclusion.

The report notes that there are limitations and weaknesses in the existing literature on this topic, including a lack of longitudinal studies and surveys and studies with large sample sizes, and the difficulty of establishing causality between library usage and outcomes. At the same time, the report points out that

Evidence is already sufficient to conclude that public libraries provide positive outcomes for people and communities in many areas – far exceeding the traditional perception of libraries as just places from which to borrow books. What the available evidence shows is that public libraries, first and foremost, contribute to long term processes of human capital formation, the maintenance of mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusivity and the cohesion of communities. This is the real economic contribution that public libraries make to the UK. The fact that these processes are long term, that the financial benefits arise downstream from libraries’ activities, that libraries make only a contribution to what are multi-dimensional, complex processes of human and social development, suggests that attempting to derive a realistic and accurate overall monetary valuation for this is akin to the search for the holy grail. What it does show is that measuring libraries’ short term economic impact provides only a very thin, diminished account of their true value.

The Arts Council says that in the next 12 months it will be investigating further areas of impact and asking how libraries contribute to healthy lives and what that represents financially, working with partners such as the Society of Chief Librarians, the British Library and the Local Government Association.

You can download the full report here.

Access to the Internet

Google wants to use satellite technology to improve connectivity

At the beginning of 2014, there were estimated to be between 2.5 and 3 billion internet users around the world – that’s around 35% of the world’s population (data for some countries remains patchy, hence the range in the estimate).  Mobile connections account for the vast majority of new sign-ups.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google is planning to improve access to the internet by launching a series of satellites which can help broaden internet access. The plans would cost Google anything between $1-3 billion.

Both Google and Facebook have been exploring a range of technologies to improve connectivity – including drones, satellites and high altitude balloons.   The current Google project is exploring the use of small, lightweight satellites.

Meanwhile, residents of Löwenstedt , a village in Germany, didn’t wait for Google to launch its satellites.  The village has built its own super-fast internet service because their population was too small and scattered for national internet operators to bother with.  Businesses, individuals and villages collaborated to build the network.

Business schools and MBAs – what do employers want?

Are business schools losing their credibility?

Hult International Business School commissioned research to find out what senior level executives, managers and academics feel about the current state of business education – in particular of MBA programmes.  Interviews were conducted around the world, although the majority of those participating were based in organisations in North America.

Key findings

The ten skills and abilities the interviewees identified as critical are:

  • Ambiguity and uncertainty – graduates need to be comfortable when there are no clear answers – and to be able to cope with failure
  • Communication – excellent skills in all formats
  • Creativity – unique approaches to tackling challenges
  • Critical thinking skills – deep analysis and the formulation of solutions
  • Cross-cultural competence – graduates should be comfortable dealing with diversity
  • ‘Execution’ – getting things done and making an immediate impact
  • Integrity – ethical principles in public and private
  • Sales skills – including persuasion and influence
  • Self-awareness – including an understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Team skills – working in global and collaborative workplaces

The research also calls for business schools to concentrate on simulating ‘real world experiences’ and to move away from theoretical teaching.

The challenge of connecting the ‘real world’ to academic research is also discussed by Tse and Esposito on this London School of Economics blog.  In it they suggest that accreditation leads to too much standardisation across curricula and ensures that business subjects are ‘compartmentalised’.  They consider this compartmentalised approach to be one of the major factors in business schools losing credibility with the business community.

Obviously, it’s not just employers who may question the value of university courses.  With many economists failing to predict the global economic crash of 2008, the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics is calling for radical changes in the way economics is taught. They too highlight the lack of interdisciplinary approaches.

Learning from the world’s top brands

Google takes top spot away from Apple

This year’s BrandZ report has been released.  The researchers analyse corporate earnings and combine this data with large-scale consumer research in 30 countries.  The findings demonstrate what is important to consumers around the world and what trends are driving – and disrupting – brand growth.   There is much to be learned from how top brands build and maintain relationships with their customers.

  • Google, Apple and IBM take the top three slots in this year’s global top 100.
  • This year’s top European brands include SAP, Deutsche Telekom, Louis Vuitton, and BMW.
  • Brands based in Europe have increased by 19% in value in the last year, up from only a 5% rise last year.

Consumer trends

  • Authenticity – “sometimes the most compelling aspect of a brand is the product itself”
  • Convenience – consumers want to seamlessly combine online with physical – e.g. the growth in click and collect
  • Customisation  and personalisation – self-expression and a focus on ‘the unique’
  • Localisation – ‘local’ implies quality, reliability and attention to detail
  • Seamlessness – brands need to make the transition between physical and virtual invisible
  • Technology – new technologies are both enhancing and disrupting brands. Wearables are converging technology with clothing
  • Trust – consumers expect brands to keep their promises whether implied or explicit.  Banks are continuing to experience the long-term effects of lost trust even as they try to change because of continued revelations of past mis-deeds

How to grow your brand value

The researchers draw lessons from the best performing brands:

  • Forget ‘the customer comes first’ but focus on ‘each customer comes first’.   Forget old archetypes and use data to help you be truly consumer-centric
  • Stand for more than profit – but make sure your brand purpose is relevant to what you do
  • Be ‘meaningfully different’ so that customers can understand your brand and what differentiates you
  •  Be ‘mindfully present’ – use discretion on social media!
  • Stay relevant – respect your heritage but stay up-to-date
  • Be agile – planning is important but so is flexibility

The full report is packed with essays, infographics and data and may be downloaded here.

Chatham House rules! A historical digital archive for the 21st Century

Leading international affairs think-tank has released its digital archive.

Chatham House in London is the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs which, by bringing together academics, researchers and decision makers, has helped shape and inform policy for almost 100 years. The famous ‘Chatham House Rule’ helps facilitate open and honest communication.

Chatham House Online Archive (1920-2008), published by Gale (part of Cengage Learning) is making over half a million pages available to researchers and students interested in politics, international law, economics and international relations.  The archive features fully searchable documents, transcripts of speeches and audio recordings of world figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Henry Kissinger. The Archive offers “unique insights” into political developments in the 20th century.

The publishers and Chatham House celebrated the launch with a high profile debate on how a deep understanding of the past can inform our understanding of the present and influence decision making.  The speakers (including David Stevenson, Professor of International History at LSE; Anne Deighton, Professor of European International Politics at the University of Oxford); debated whether lessons can be learned from the Cold War (particularly the end of the Cold War) to inform our understanding of the current political upheaval in Ukraine.

The final speaker, Times journalist David Aaronovitch, celebrated the arrival of the digital archive – and digitisation in general.  For him the resources and expertise of Chatham House help journalists get to the heart of the dilemma and are an essential part of the journalist’s toolkit to facilitate understanding of current affairs.

For more information on the Chatham House archive, visit the Gale/Cengage Learning website.

Baby-boomers and Millennials online

Growth in the numbers of people online is being driven by the over-65s.  But the way they use the web is different.

In the UK the number of over 65s (‘baby-boomers’) accessing the internet increased by over 25% in 2013.  The percentage of those over 65 who are going online reached 42% in 2013.  According to Ofcom’s ‘Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report 2014’ the use of tablets by this age group is a key reason for the growth.

The figures show that over 65 year-olds:

  • Spend much less time on average online  (just over nine hours) than16-25 year olds (just over 24 hours)
  • Are less likely to use a range of online services with the majority of them carrying out just two activities (browsing and emailing)
  • Spend less time accessing social media  with only 30% regularly doing so (compared to 68% of other adults)

Meanwhile 16-24 year-olds:

  • Are much more informed about protecting personal information
  • Are more likely to have blocked people
  • Are (according to research by Merchant Warehouse) ‘pulling ahead’ and having higher expectations as consumers

Similar patterns are being reported in the Netherlands.  The over-65s in particular have made great advances in their understanding of the online environment and 86% of the Dutch population can now send emails.

However, this understanding of the tools does not necessarily mean that people are equipped to evaluate what they are finding online.  Younger users are less likely than the over 65s to question online sources.

Digital support for the elderly

A report from Nesta describes how social entrepreneurs and digital technologies are being used to provide help and support for the elderly.  Examples include a service linking keen cooks with elderly people who need a hot meal, to an app that helps members of an individual’s ‘care community’ to organise their time and allocate tasks.

Sources: econsultancy; DutchNews; Nesta.org; ITProPortal.