Interruptive vs Disruptive Technologies

After reading Chris Brogan’s post on interruptive communication today, and responding in the video below on Utterli, I started percolating on the concept. I love when something simple gets my brain cranking, don’t you? Here is the link to Chris’s post, the video is embedded below, and after that are my thoughts as they strayed farther and farther from the topic and onto their own path.

Chris’s post got me thinking about two things. One was my own dual style of working: management vs creative. The best encapsulation of the dichotomy there as relates to running a creative business I have yet read is by Paul Graham, found here. Go, read it. I’ll wait. The second is the concept of interruptive technology versus the concept of disruptive technology. I see those two terms interchanged often, yet I don’t actually find the concepts interchangeable.

Interruptive Technology

These are technologies most often used to complete a task or communicate. I rank mine in order of “interruption level” in the video. What makes a technology interruptive is how it alters the work flow or life flow of another person or company. That means email will remain the least interruptive (in my opinion) and the most useful, for now, at tracking the minute and changeable details of a project. The phone and in person meetings or conference calls remain the highest level of interruptive technology with the lowest return. Yes, you get to see the body language (meeting/web cam) or hear the vocal inflection (phone/conference call) with these technologies, but they leave room for excessive blocks of time not spent working on a project, and for project details to slip through the cracks with no written record.

Disruptive Technology

Though this term is often used interchangeably with the above (as you can see in the replies to Chris’s post), to me it is not at all the same thing. A disruptive technology may involve communication (like Twitter) and it may become interruptive (like Twitter or Instant Message services), but it has a wider impact, disrupting an entire system, not just an individual work flow (like Twitter DMs and their effect on Email, or like Google Wave is hoping to disrupt multiple systems, including chat, message service, email and more). It is that system wide disruption as opposed to an individual, more myopic effect, that sets the two apart for me.

And Then There Is Ego

Once you realize how interruptive technology diffuses your efficiency and can put speed bumps and road blocks in your work flow, you may turn to disruptive technologies to manage your systems (Away Find is a great example of this, as is Evernote, and also using a mobile phone and voice mail to control what reaches you to interrupt your flow without missing the important items). So where does ego come into play?

Ego becomes its own problem when people begin to take your time management personally. There are a number of people and companies I work with that are awesome, and that have time management systems of their own. They see that I try to work within their parameters, and they do their best to respect mine – it s a win-win (It helps that I started adding an “effective work flow for this project” section in contracts). Then you get people who aren’t able to see your system (or the systems of others) as time management – these folks take it as a personal slight if an email isn’t replied to immediately, and then, they begin to bombard your system structure like a Kamikaze pilot from WWII – hitting your DM box, your email repeatedly, your phone, text, instant message windows and more in a look at me blitzkrieg. What kills me is the message is often then “Hey, call me ASAP.” and not “These xx items are urgent because of xx. I know you are writing per your away message, but could you please contact me.” (Guess which one would actually get a response from most people, by the way.)

Truly, there is not much you can do about how someone else’s feelings work. Personally, aside from doing my best to be tactful and understanding, I haven’t found a “magic formula” for the times when ego enters the equation. Have you?  How are you using disruptive technology to handle interruptive technology?

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