I fell victim to the technological black hole again. A funny video of a dog snoring reminded me of a relative who has notoriously bad sleep apnea, which eventually led me to videos filled with pranks and acapella groups. I then began reading posts by random people, collecting memes, and googling information about the creator of "Teletubbies." By the end of my binge, I began to ask myself the same question when I eat a whole tub of peanut butter in one sitting, "why?!"
I know I'm not the only one. We've all wasted hours on our devices. Yet, technology has provided the ability to increase efficiency as well as opportunities to sustain long-distance relationships. I can contact my family from (almost) anywhere in the world and send a message at any time. My phone can tell me how to get to my desired destinations (albeit, not always reliably) and even augment reality when playing Pokémon GO. Needless to say, technology is continuously revolutionizing the way we live. However, the black hole I fell into is just an example of the downside to our society's relationship with technology. When we should be driving, we are too busy finishing a text or scrolling memes. When we're at dinner, we forget the beauty of face-to-face communication and become distracted by things that can wait an hour. We lose sleep, we lose time to be productive, and we sometimes lose sanity. Everything is right at our fingertips to the point that we forget to think about why we are doing those particular actions and lose sight of intention.
Intention is used to explain human goal directed behavior. We all hear that intention without action gets you nowhere, but rarely do we look at the detrimental effects of action without intention. These detrimental effects are particularly prevalent when using technology, creating an unhealthy relationship with our devices. For example, we get side-tracked when talking to a long-distance friend by a video of a snoring dog. We wake up in the morning or sit in our cars for an embarrassingly long time while scrolling on our phones without any reason (guilty), wasting time and reducing efficiency.
Individuals in everyday life are not the only perpetrators of mismatched or nonexistent intentions with technology. This is also occurring in the simulation and training realm. Although training technology advancements are occurring every day and pushing our capabilities further than ever before, these technologies are not developed with a specific intention. We're so worried about being on the cutting-edge that it is common for people to look at a piece of technology and ask how it could be implemented instead of asking why it is useful. As a result, technology becomes implemented into a program that doesn't necessarily benefit, reducing cost effectiveness and potentially hindering training effectiveness.
Our efforts at Quantum Improvements Consulting involve conducting research and applying human factors principles in effort to answer "why," reducing the gap between intention and action. We acknowledge that our actions, whether it be in our personal or work lives, have the potential to be a waste of time and effort without intention. Therefore, it is critical to use and develop technology for a specific purpose. At that point will we use technology to advance ourselves rather than fall victim to the black holes.
Happy New Year from all of us at QIC! We're all back and ready to make 2018 our best year yet. 2017 was a great year for us. Our crew went from 5 to 10, we graduated from the UCF Business Incubator, and moved into our first real office. We completed our second Phase I SBIR for NAWC-TSD, started our first project for CTTSO, and continued our work for the Army Research Laboratory and ADL Initiative. Our researchers presented papers and posters at conferences like SIOP, ATD, HFES, HCII, and I/ITSEC. I had the opportunity to serve as chair of the I/ITSEC Emerging Concepts and Innovative Technologies subcommittee, which was a great experience. We discovered - and mastered - the greatest VR music game ever developed, Audioshield. And, of course, I got to spend some quality time in Uranus, MO. I'm honored to have such an inspiring team working for me, to collaborate with great technology partners, and to do meaningful work in support of our Service members.
Toward the end of the year, I like to do some self-reflection and take stock of everything I've learned...
A few months ago I had an incredible opportunity to join the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute (BASI) and an interdisciplinary team of social scientists to discuss the future of human-centered research in regards to deep space exploration. Human space travel has become a hot topic once again, but this time it’s beyond orbits around the earth, trips to the International Space Station (ISS), or even lunar surface landings. This time our eyes are set on the fourth rock from the sun…Mars.
You are starting to feel that pang of anxiety again. Situations- a presentation, test, date, or deadline- flood you with unwanted feelings of worry and panic. You are left with a racing mind, sweaty hands, and a pit in your stomach. You are not alone. Nearly everyone has experienced anxiety. For some individuals, these feelings are frequent and linger in every corner. We can blame behavioral learning and genetics for that (thanks, Mom).
As we deal with our anxiousness, we are also reminded about how terrible stress and anxiety are for our health. According to WebMD, it causes a slew of health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Despite occasional anxiety being considered part of normal life, approximately 40 million people in the US are diagnosed with actual anxiety disorders (NIMH), leading stress and worry to be considered an epidemic.
Stress and worry however, can be used to your advantage. I deemed my anxiety as an expression of passion and a form of motivation rather than a debilitating disorder. Of course, people have debilitating anxiety that can wreak havoc, but mine only seemed to make me work harder, think deeper, and push myself as far as possible.
I thought I was the only one feeling this sense of positivity with my spurts of anxiousness until I stumbled upon research by Strack, Lopes, Esteves, and Fernandez-Berrocal (2017). They conducted a three-part study that found a positive correlation between the use of anxiety for self-motivation and performance. An article from Psychology Today also reported research to show that anxiety may be a motivator for those that continuously expose themselves to anxiety-provoking situations. Rather than avoiding the situation, those that confront the discomfort develop and ability to use anxiety to their benefit. Their perception is heightened, focus is narrowed, and emotional agility is increased.
Unfortunately, most people tend to shy away from any level of discomfort. We are so quick to stop talking to someone, pass on giving a presentation, or give up an opportunity that seems to produce short-term negative emotions. This also extends to other "negative" aspects of our character such as sadness or attention deficits. Avoiding our negative states only inhibits us from resolving the causes or tapping into the benefits. As author of "The Upside to Your Dark Side" Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener eloquently states, "when we avoid the problem, we avoid the solution."
We also stunt the positive aspects of our negative emotions by numbing ourselves every time we have a burst of sadness, worry, or inability to concentrate. Rather, we should focus on our emotions that can contribute to performance: anxiety increasing focus, sadness allows us to notice more details, and attention disorders can enhance creativity. We must experience the discomfort in order to reap the benefits within our spectrum of emotions. We must embrace the negatives.
Have you been able to harness uncomfortable experiences to your advantage?
Leave a comment below!
QIC is thrilled to announce that Dr. Amanda van Lamsweerde has joined our growing team as a Research Psychologist! Dr. van Lamsweerde has 10 years of experience conducting research in human cognition and cognitive neuroscience. She has expertise in perception, attention, and memory and has conducted research in these topics using a variety of methodologies, including: measuring behavior, monitoring eye movements, monitoring brain activity through electroencephalogram (EEG), and non-invasive brain stimulation with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). She has a Ph.D. and M.A. in Cognitive Psychology from Louisiana State University and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine. She has worked on projects investigating visual attention with the Naval Research Laboratory, identified neural markers of knowledge transfer, and developed research to create more efficient materials to improve sleep behaviors. Her research interests include the interaction between perception, attention, working memory, and long-term memory, with the purpose of developing solutions to problems rooted in human cognitive demands and limitations, in order to improve task performance as well as overall health. Dr. van Lamsweerde and her expertise will be a tremendous asset to QIC as we continue to grow and seek out and win new work. Welcome!
Synesthesia. Syne-what? Synesthesia (sinəsˈTHēZHə)! From Dictionary.com, synesthesia is "a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color." Go on the synesthesia journey with one of QIC's Research Psychologists, Corinne Novell, as she discusses the visualizations produced by different flavors!
Sr. Human Factors Engineer, Tarah Daly takes on the 30-Day challenge and discusses habit formation in this video. Check it out!
I've recently had several ride-sharing experiences that really got me thinking about efficiency (or lack thereof) not only in my day to day personal life, but also in my professional life and how the desire for efficiency impacts our people, products, and services. In my current position, one of my goals is to ensure that QIC runs efficiently on a daily basis. Therefore, I typically approach my work, with a mindset geared toward efficiency - aiming to achieve desired results with as little wasted time and energy as possible. When thinking about efficiency in automated or machine-related environments, the goal is to reduce friction to the greatest extent possible. In collaborative work environments, the goal is much the same however, we're not dealing with machines, but with groups of people, and the friction we're removing are barriers to success.
Certainly being able to work efficiently in a professional capacity has its benefits, indicated by the countless articles on the "X Things Efficient People Do." Efficient workers tend to get promoted more frequently, tend to be better communicators, and often have less work stress while having more time to do the things they enjoy. Individuals who are efficient tend to not multitask (see my multitasking post from last year, here), are good at delegating, use clear and concise communication, schedule their activities, set aside time for rest, and plan their projects among other things. Sounds good, right?
From a business perspective, entire methodologies such as Lean / Six Sigma are dedicated to improving business processes to ensure efficiency. Recently UPS was in the headlines (for revealing that they use computer software to guide their driver's routes, which helps to eliminate unnecessary left-hand turns. The strategy and software helped the company save 20.4 million miles, which obviously translates to significant time, maintenance, and fuel savings across their fleet. Again, all good stuff.
There are however, countless articles on why working efficiently is bad for the individual and even how to go about shaping management's perception of your workload. Reasons individuals may actually suffer from being too efficient stem from having more work piled on because they finished their assigned work quickly, having fellow employees resent them for setting a higher standard, or being seen as a slacker by management because they may not always have work to do - again, because you finished it quickly. Outside of the workplace, the desire for too much efficiency could actually produce greater anxiety, frustration, and stress.
In terms of business management, while a focus on efficiency may be beneficial from a bottom-line or a work output perspective, there are critical aspects of a business that may actually suffer from too great of a focus on efficiency. In automated and machine-related environments it makes sense to always strive for greater efficiency. However, in our team-based environment too much efficiency could create a climate in which interactions between colleagues become unnecessarily limited and colleagues don’t get to know each other. Additionally, if processes are too efficient it may limit individual's ability actively think about situations, problems, and their context and stymie innovation.
While we strive for efficiency in the work we do - better, faster, less expensive - it's important to always remember who actually makes it possible for us to meet our customer's needs. When working in a collaborative setting, efficiency is one important part of the equation, but we can't forget the people who must interact with our processes to create our products and services. Have you experienced collaborative environments that are too efficient? Have you seen an over-emphasis on efficiency hinder innovation and suppress colleague bonding? Let me know!