Aaron Dignan: Breaking Out Of Your Old Offices Through Games

PSFK talks with with Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent, about how digital and social innovations are changing how we work together.

PSFK Labs is excited to share an exclusive preview of our Future of Work report at Social Media Week NYC on Wednesday February 20th at 12pm. Piers Fawkes and the PSFK Labs team will be presenting cutting edge innovations as we discuss how Making Social Work in Collaborative Workplaces is the future of work. For more information click here.

PSFK is happy to announce that Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent, will be on a panel about the Future of Work at our Social Media Week presentation on February 20th. We recently chatted with Aaron about how digital and social innovations are changing how we work together.

How has social changed the workplace?

I feel like it’s been a slow and steady progression up to this point. What we’re seeing is just the promise of having a social layer integrated across platforms and applications is now starting to just be a natural and simple thing. I feel like it’s still not terribly context‑dependent and helpful in that way. You can authenticate and integrate your social grid from Twitter or from LinkedIn or from Facebook with almost any application. You can get some social recommendations and you can light up Sparrow in your Gmail account and see the data pulled from someone in real time next to their email and see their face and provide more context. What it doesn’t do a terribly good job of yet is connecting and recommending people based on specific context; like, this person did this, or recently looked at that or has switched jobs in this way and now they’re relevant to you. It’s not so much based on behavior as it is based on just straight‑line data and more permanent information that lives in the social layer. I’m waiting for more of a trigger‑based system that feels a little bit more like what you get in the content space right now, where if you sign up for a Percolate newsletter, or you use the Zite application on your phone, you get the relevant context fed up to you based on your social layer.

With all of these social places, is there a structure to provide a rubric that will focus people on relevant insights?

Usually what happens when people try to generalize is they end up getting mediocre experience or results. What’s happening in gamification is everyone’s trying to turn everything into a plug and play, set a functionality around leader boards. It doesn’t work. The subtlety of the situation between two things. Look at the difference between Twitter and Facebook. Ostensibly the same basic idea in terms of status updates, but dramatically different experiences and uses of the social grid. I feel like it’s tough to generalize.

It seems like there’s a lot of people trying, but not everyone’s getting it right.

I think you can build platforms. That’s the job of the start‑ups in the space, but it’s hard for a brand or an organization to do similar standardization. If you want to build a platform like Square and offer it to a bunch of people, they can all use that in a standardized way. I don’t think that you can do the same thing from Ralph Lauren’s seat in the same area. I think it’s really difficult to build standards by yourself, and it’s really difficult to make one rule for how a brand is going to interact with a system like when there’s such differences between those communities and what their needs are. That does make change over time.

Do you have long‑term approaches?

I think it’s just a question of methods for discovery in terms of what’s right. It’s very difficult to innovate at scale. The kinds of moves you have to make tend to require some level of isolation. That can take a lot of different forms. The perceptions of how separate it is from the main entity vary. Even when you talk about someone like Apple that does big, broad strokes innovation, they still do it by breaking down teams and putting them in fairly isolated situations to solve problems. You look at Xbox or Hulu, or any of those other examples of innovation that flourished a little bit away from the mothership. There’s something about the necessity of limited scale and limited resources that result in thinking differently. When you have an incumbent that results in thinking differently. When you have an incumbent business that is based on a certain revenue, a certain customer base, it’s very difficult to break the muscle memory of trying to serve that customer base in the way that they like to be served. I think it’s very hard to break that mold. That’s why it’s a long‑term and a short‑term strategy to break out and do skunk works because you’re going to get short‑term innovation and ideas that you can’t really get internally or that certainly die quickly internally, and you get long‑term capability of growth. You have people that are learning and building new muscles in those environments that they can bring back to the mother ship.

What exciting areas do you see developing and changing the workplace?

I think what’s going on with different shared spaces has yet to really be fully evolved. You look at even the lack of ability to collaborate on a PowerPoint or a keynote document today. Even with Google Docs and Google Drive, those things are still pretty rudimentary. There’s nothing terribly elegant or sexy about them. Then you look at Mural.ly, Grid or some of the other things that are happening on the iPad where you can really have a shared space that is elegant, simple to use, completely multimedia and unlimited in its space and size, and what’s going on with Dropbox. I just feel like there’s a little bit of a triangulation there around having a shared workspace or a shared whiteboard that is more functional and more capable of evolving to reflect the work we’re trying to get done. Whether that be a project plan, a mind map or whatever the case may be, that seems like still a really stagnant area that’s just now starting to see experimentation.

What do you see driving that? Is there a need to collaborate and share more and be creative?

I think it’s just the fact that we’re definitely increasingly visual. We’re trying to replicate the offline world, the benefit of a corkboard or a whiteboard, and how fluid that is and how collaborative that can be compared to a document. Just the fact that there’s no reason that an image, a slideshow, an audio file, a video file, a conversation, an IM and an email,  all have to happen in different places at different times if they’re related to the same thing? Project management applications tend to suck at bringing multimedia together in an elegant way. I feel like there’s a real need to replicate in a digital form what goes on in a work session. Nobody knows what that’s going to look like, but we certainly haven’t done it yet.

Do the physical characteristics affect how your office works?

 Oh, definitely. Yeah. We’re all hot desking, so nobody is in a permanent seat. There’s a lot of fluidity. Then we set it up like a sausage factory, so each stage of the process has its own space. There’s heads‑down space, there’s space for decorating and email. There’s open space for collaborating and discussing. There’s places to have phone calls, meetings, work sessions. They’re all isolated from each other so that ideally we would know what someone’s doing based on where they are. But truth be told, we’re still feeling that out and it’s really difficult to change the patterns and habits that are ingrained in us from traditional workplaces.

Thanks Aaron!

PSFK’s presentation will feature a crowd co-opted discussion with expert panelist. The event is free to attend, however you must register by Tuesday afternoon, seats are filling up quickly so we recommend that you show up early and be prepared to show ID to attend. 

For more information click here 

If you are unable to attend, you can follow the Livestream here and get in on the conversation on Twitter with #SMWFutureOfWork.

Hope to see you there!
Image via: AdAge

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