Saturday, April 26, 2008

interacting with experts: lee hopkins speaks

I recently met Lee at an Adelaide Bloggers meet. This lively, energetic man presented himself before me with a massive smile and I thought, yep, that’s what I expected. I loved that. The fact that I had read numerous of his blog articles, followed him on Twitter and generally felt great to personally meet him was exceptional. And it was great to have that same experience in person.

NOTE: Personal branding & how you present online is dear to me (what you see is what you get is important) and in backing this statement I have even personally supported the likes of Dan’s Personal Branding Magazine which is a good read on the subject. Lee's personality comes through well online - and matches his offline. I like that.

So, I asked Lee to write a guest article for me. The theme for this article had to be “interacting with business, groups and friends online". It follows.

For some background about Lee, “he consults to large and small companies as a management psychologist with a passion for employee communication. At the forefront of new communication technologies, and a leading thinker on communication strategy in an online environment, Lee is a widely-read commentator on communication issues.”

Check out

When I first met Lee, his passion was Second Life. And, it’s no wonder. He is currently conducting doctoral research into Second Life and more details can be found on his Second Life blog ( and on his staff page at UniSA (

I’d like to now share Lee’s article and let him do the talking:

Using new technology to do old-fashioned things like communicate with people

"Some companies are turning to new technology to support their globally-dispersed teams. Although email hasn’t yet been replaced as the ‘killer’ application yet, I know from both personal experience and through discussions with others that email no longer has ‘pride of place’ as the most-valued communication tool.

For many, the rss feed reader (like FeedDemon or Google Reader) is now the ‘first port of call’ in one’s day. Spending 15-20 minutes updating oneself with the news headlines, industry movements and the views of one’s peers is, for some, more valuable than many anything else for ‘setting oneself up’ for the day.

I know of several companies who are re-designing their intranets to include social media tools such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, widgets and rss.

However, of course, not everyone has access to a computer, internet access and a feed reader. Which is where savvy companies are using mobile phone technology to communicate to their employees and key stakeholders. And, for the moment at least, it is a great way to breach attention-barriers. That is, until we start receiving ‘garbage messages’ from the corporate communications team on our mobiles. Just as we learnt to ignore banner adverts on web pages, so we can learn to ignore mobile phone communications if the relevance of the messages pumped at us drop below a certain threshold.

Of course, to baby boomer managers and business owners, these new communication tools can appear ‘irrelevant, time-wasting and stupid’. In my experience it is the baby boomer manager that is the biggest stumbling block to the workplace use of web2.0 technology. Because they can’t immediately ‘see’ a use for these tools, or see themselves using them, they automatically dismiss them.

But even baby boomers can be wrong.

Like many boomers, I myself first thought of the virtual friendships formed online through community sites and tools as ‘imaginary’ friends. But once I actually spent some time in these communities and developed some friendships, I realised how wrong my prejudices were.

Of course, ask any teenager or twenty-something if their friends on MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Meebo, Facebook, inter alia are ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’… you’ll be laughed at. To Generation Y, and a growing number of Generation X, they very much are ‘real’, even more real in some cases than their face-to-face friends. There is a powerful opportunity to ‘open up’ online that some find difficult in face-to-face situations.

Of course, whilst some of these web2.0 tools can be ‘challenging’ to the baby boomer manager, in my experience NOTHING is wierder than the 3D collaborative virtual environment. Or as we know it, Second Life.

For many boomer managers, virtual worlds like Second Life are so ‘out there’ that they are perceived to have absolutely no value in the business world. But companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems have joined dozens of universities in setting up islands and meeting rooms, where customers, clients and suppliers can meet, share documents, present to each other and discuss business issues.

Universities are reporting results in cross-student collaboration far better than they originally expected. Denise Wood, senior academic and leader of a Second Life research project at the University of South Australia, told me that she was amazed by how the various students interacted online in ways they never would offline. For example, students across all undergraduate years interacted in Second Life; third years were swapping ideas, hints, tips and experience with first years, and so on. This would never happen offline, Denise feels.

Even though 3D collaborative virtual environments like Second Life can be ‘clunky’ and hard to navigate through, the ability to engage with fellow team members one-to-one via private chat sessions, and at the same time still engage with the main one-to-all presentation, whilst watching and listening to a PowerPoint presentation, allows time zone or geographically dispersed teams to build up socially cohesive relationships.

I am not alone in predicting that the 3D online environment will be mainstream within five to seven years. I have discussed the issue with senior futurists at Adobe, Microsoft and IBM and all see the 3D web as the way of the future, all of them building tools for use now (including their own virtual worlds) behind the firewall.

Hopefully, the smart business communicator will realise the 3D virtual environment, currently shown in its most advanced form by Second Life, is too important an environment not to learn about.

Although businesses in Australia have been surprisingly slow to adopt these new communication technologies, now that conservative companies like AMP and Westpac have acknowledged that they are ‘experimenting’ in the 3D web, the communications future for the 3D collaborative company is so bright I gotta wear shades!"



Bio: Lee Hopkins consults to large and small companies as a management psychologist with a passion for employee communication. At the forefront of new communication technologies, and a leading thinker on communication strategy in an online environment, Lee is a widely-read commentator on communication issues.

He runs a blog at and has over 170 articles on business communication available for reading at

He is currently conducting doctoral research into Second Life and more details can be found on his Second Life blog ( and his staff page at UniSA (

Denise Wood details:


Steve Davis said...

Lee, interesting article. If boomers are road blocks on the fast track to more engaging and disruptive communication tools and immersive environments, have you seen any scenarios that helped boomer managers warm to the web2.0 world?

Rita said...

As a person who just started blogging, I miss the contact I had when I worked in a group. Isn't that a danger of so much time spend before the "screen?"

I write a boomer consumer blog called The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at


Lee Hopkins said...

Steve: the short, flippant answer is to bring me in :-), but the longer answer is about sewing enough seeds into the head of that manager, by as many means as possible, through as many of that manager's influencers as possible (like their kids, their peers, their favourite management authors or magazines, etc.,) and just gently tapping away at them.

Rita: the 'time in front of the screen' Vs 'the time spent in face-to-face conversation' used to be a hot discussion topic, but alas is no longer so; partly, I guess because the business world is now so dependent upon information- and computer-based technology that there just isn't the luxury of time to nip out and have a coffee with someone anymore. Plus when your 'team' is located across the city, or the globe, such coffee chats are next to impossible.

I know of one senior exec who spends the majority of his life flying to various far-flung reaches of his empire (and has clocked up nearly 4million air miles), so that he can spend time face-to-face with his teams, but he is a rarity.