Developing the 7 digital habits: Habit 1 – Seek first to understand

woman-using-binoculars

This is part 2 of a series of posts that were prompted by an article written by the Leading Edge Forum entitled The 7 Digital Habits of Highly Effective People.

I started my Digital Habits journey in my previous post by assessing where I stood as a 21st Century Human, and it turned out that I was in pretty good standing. However, there’s always more to learn and part of learning is sharing, and that’s what these posts are about.

In this post I’m moving on to the first of the seven digital habits –  Seek first to understand:

The Digital habit is seek first to understand what is going on in the world, your markets, your customers, your employees because this will affect how you plan, share and interact

The world around us is changing all the time. If we are going to respond to those changes in a timely manner, we need to know what changes are happening and build an understanding of them.

Once upon a time, we could sit back and wait for someone to tells us how we needed to change, but that’s no longer a recipe for success. If we want to be proactive in the ways that we respond to change, we need to be more active in our knowledge management. There isn’t a universal tool for this, we do this by developing skills and using multiple tools that enable us to sense what is going on in our market, in our chosen area of expertise and with our customers.

Here’s the problem: there is so much going on that it’s impossible to keep up with everything. I’m not talking metaphorically — it is an impossibility for us to watch all 300 hours of video that are uploaded to YouTube every minute, nor would we want to. Layer on top of that the nearly 50,000 Instagram posts and the 450,000 Tweets posted every minute, and also the millions of blog posts, thousands of academic papers and hundreds of thousands of GitHub pull requests made each year. Thankfully there are several ways that we can see through this barrage of information to find the things that are important to us.

The LEF encourages people to adopt Find 15, an informal development programme by Julie Wedgwood. It’s all about taking 15 minutes each day to improve yourself, and that requires a certain amount of “listening” by consuming useful content. This kind of listening, done without filters, would only give you noise. This is what I do to filter and focus my listening time, so that I hear something useful:

My Find Technique

Listening isn’t primarily about tools, it’s mostly about technique. I run my listening activities as a process each day, which I do by working through a set of tools, in order, screening each of them for information of interest and tagging it for later reading or processing. I’ve selected these tools because each allows me to categorise and filter, and most are focused on a particular type of information.

Processing through my information sources can be done in a few minutes, depending on what is happening. At certain times of the year there are particular industry or vendor conferences which increase the amount of information that needs to be assessed, but even then it doesn’t take hours. Going through the process takes focus and attention — this isn’t something that can be done efficiently whilst doing other things.

On a regular basis I also spend some time tuning each of the tools so that they are giving me useful information. There are times that my interests shift, but also news sources shift in the value of what they are communicating.

Although I can do most of this FIND technique on a mobile device, I tend to do it on something with a larger screen and keyboard because that’s where I’m more productive.

My Find Tools

I use several tools for listening and filtering. Other tools are also available — these are just the ones I use:

  • News Curator – Flipboard: I use Flipboard for a general overview of news. It curates a set of stories based on my profile which is extended as I use it. Tuning your profile in Flipboard is the key to good filtering. Flipboard has written a number of articles on how to do this, so I’ll simply say that it’s important to follow things that you want to follow and to like things that are helpful to you. This will result in an experience tuned to your interests. I use a set of Flipboard magazines to highlight the news that I want to read later.
  • Blog Curator – Feedly: Much of what I find interesting is still presented as blog posts and available as RSS/Atom feeds; this includes YouTube channels. Feedly drags in all the content that I subscribe to and presents it to me in a way that enables me to skip through it at speed. The key to filtering in Feedly is subscriptions and collections. I only subscribe to things that are providing value and place them into meaningful collections so that I can focus my filtering into a subject area if I want. Interesting blog posts get marked to Read later and sent to Evernote via IFTTT.
  • Twitter Curator – TweetDeck: There’s enough going on in Twitter to spend all your life there. TweetDeck allows me to display differentiated columns based on lists. I have a list called “interesting” which is where I look for most of the interesting content. At certain idle times I may look through my larger Twitter feed, but for the most part I look down the interesting list and that gives me enough. Interesting tweets get a like and are sent to Evernote via IFTTT.
  • Stock Curator – (It’s Complicated): Stocks are another way of sensing what is going on in a market. I used to use a portfolio in Google Finance to see what was happening. Unfortunately, Google have recently retired the portfolio feature and what they’ve replaced it with doesn’t help me to scan through 50 different stocks to see what is changing. Yahoo Finance has a similar feature to the now defunct Google Portfolio but that has other drawbacks, so I’m still on the hunt for an alternative.

These are my tools and my techniques, and they fit me and my needs. You may have different needs or want to adopt a different technique and, the great thing is, there’s probably a tool to support the way that you want to work. Picking a tool is just the beginning though. You will need to tune the tool so that it gives you information that’s important to you, and then you will need to keep tuning. Failure to tune will result in a deluge of information that just devalues the exercise.

I’d be really interested to hear: How do you filter and focus?

Footnote: I’ve not found a great way to filter Facebook or LinkedIn. The best I can do on Facebook is to unfollow the noisy people. I don’t spend much time in the LinkedIn feed, as information that I’m interested in tends to get posted to a number of sources anyway and I don’t think I’m missing anything.


Graham Chastney

Graham Chastney is a senior principal technologist in DXC. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with DXC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

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