Lessons learnt from Douglas Adams

I’ve just arrived back from my first trip to Australia. Of the many aspects of my job that I enjoy, the one that always intrigues me is the cultural differences between the people that I meet in the different countries that I travel to. When you think of different countries or cities then rightly or wrongly there are probably certain traits that I’m sure you’ll associate with the people that live there. I met with about 30 different customers and delivered a talk at our Elevate event in 4 cities during my trip. I visited Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. At just at a high level I got a small sense of how different the people seemed.

After finishing my talk in Perth I had a few people come up to me afterwards to say that they felt inspired by some of the things I had to say. It is always incredibly flattering to get this feedback. In Sydney a few people wanted to follow up on a couple of the points I’d made. In Melbourne people seemed a little more reserved mostly thanking me for coming and for my talk. Then in Brisbane as I left the stage to sit down, one of my local colleagues that I’d only very recently met and didn’t really know leant over and said…well you weren’t sh*t! I know it’s a sweeping generalisation and ignorant to somehow think that this tiny experience of people in different cities is indicative of a fundamental difference in personality types, but the more time I spent with people there the more this came through.

When it comes to technology and technology adoption there were however some distinct similarities. In every talk I asked how many people in the room used Twitter and the level of response was consistent across all of the events. I always ask this question because it reminds me of a wonderful quote from the late, great Douglas Adams, something that I believe as IT professionals we should all be very mindful of. All the details are in the video…


  1. Matt,

    Excellent post and excellent video. I often tell executives that their inability to use 21st century communication tools calls into question their ability to lead a 21st century organization.

    You have hit it the nail on the head and loved the video.

  2. As usual, right on the money. It’s time for us “old” timers to embrace the next generation. Not trying to explaining them how bread is baked and than sliced, but why it’s great to have sliced bread and what to make with it 🙂

  3. Nice reminder: us dinosaurs must move with the times or become Clarksoned (you didn’t punch any NetApp colleagues out there, I trust?!)

    Yes, for young people today this is normal, but it doesn’t stop them posting the banal…..we also need to be mentors and guide them to using these tools effectively. Just because I can tell you I am going to make a cup of tea now (or worse!) doesn’t mean I *have* to!

    I sometimes worry we may be heading to a world described by Ben Elton in his book “Blind Faith” !

  4. This is the first time that I find myself disagreeing with Matt.

    Matt says that when he asks for a show of hands by Twitter users amongst the audiences he presented to, that the adoption rate seemed to be maybe 10%. Matt then blames the people who are not using Twitter FOR their lack of use of Twitter.

    This makes no sense to me. I don’t use Twitter because I can’t find a way to make it useful to MY job. I have email, cell phone, texting, instant messaging, con calls, webexes, etc.. available to me to do my job. If there was something that Twitter could do for ME I would use it.

    The problem is with Twitter itself as a business tool. It is a great marketing thing because, as Matt points out, it generates all kinds of data that can then be analyzed as Big Data. But that is not useful to the Twitter user. It is useful to others. It’s simply not fair to blame the people who don’t find it useful for the fact that it’s not useful to them.

    700M tweets a day! Wow. There MUST be something valuable in a deep data analysis of all those tweets. Right? I mean there MUST be! Right? Maybe not.

    The sheer volume of data created by Twitter does not, by itself, impart some innate value to the data. It’s quite possible that a deep analysis would simply show that it is a blob of data with no discernible form. Think about it – there are several billions of people in the world and each one takes, probably, one good crap per day. What do we do with all that shit? We simply dispose of it as best we can and try to move on with the business of our lives. Those of us who do not use Twitter are avoiding that waste dump entirely.

    Big Data analysis is cool and interesting. But I question the position that says more people should be using Twitter simply to create piles of data to be analyzed.

    If you want to increase the adoption of Twitter as a business tool for Business professionals then please show us how to make it a useful tool for our jobs.

    But if you want to increase the adoption rate of Twitter as a way of validating Twitter’s existence in the first place, I would label that circular thinking.

    I don’t Tweet. My three professional sons aged 27, 28, and 30 do not tweet. NO one ever asks me at my job if I’m on Twitter. I never find myself saying, “Gee, Twitter would have been useful for that”.

    On the other hand, I’m a big Douglas Adams Fan and I already downloaded Blind Faith to read this weekend. So, as usual, I always get something useful from Matt’s blogs.


    1. Paul

      Thanks for your colourful reply, but I have to disagree and say that I think your rationale demonstrates that you are part of the problem. You seem to view Twitter as some banal tool for posting useless commentary and therefore it has no place in your life when you already have a number of other tools to use to communicate with people.

      This is NOT where the value lies! Every major event that has happened in the last 10 or so years has hit Twitter before any other form of communication, trading companies make decisions about a companies health that they are invested in based on Twitter (and other) analysis, shipments of products can be diverted based on events happening in a country that are being reported on Twitter, food aid can be sent to the right places after a disaster based on information that can be gathered from the millions of Twitter users.

      I personally find people in startups, those behind the scenes experts, the next generation of entrepreneurs and I listen to what they have to say on Twitter.

      So forgive me but I will say it, shame on you for pigeonholing a stream of information that has immense value, when you know where to look for it, into what you describe as a stream of crap, and for not looking at the bigger picture of the patterns that it can present. As IT professionals isn’t it incumbent on us to look at all these new streams of information with an open mind and a vivid imagination of what we might be able to find?

      If we as IT professionals don’t use these tools then how can we begin to comprehend what we might be able to use them for?

      I guess you probably don’t use Snapchat either then 😉

      Thanks for sending me on a rant, it doesn’t happen that often and I’m glad that I’ve reminded you of how good Douglas Adams was


  5. Matt is right and Paul (this time) is wrong. That is all :p

    Another anecdote – All of the young people we hire come into NetApp with a wealth of experience on new collaboration tools like Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc…

    One of the most common questions their managers get is “Am I on probation?”, “Did I do something wrong?”, or “Did I offend anyone?”

    Often puzzled, their managers usually respond “No” and then ask why the new hires felt that way. The response usually starts with “Well, I have this thing called Outlook on my laptop …”


  6. I don’t think it’s that cut and dry. It’s not a “Matt is right; Paul is wrong” or vice versa discussion. Paul brings up an important point: from a personal perspective he knows what Twitter is, he simply doesn’t find it personally valuable. I don’t think that makes him a pariah. I think it was carefully considered. We make those decisions every day – what I find personally valuable you may not. That doesn’t make me right and you wrong (although if you do pay attention to social media that is one of the “patterns” you pick up on – polarization if you don’t see things “my” way.)

    Now, it is true that a stream of information such as Twitter does have value from a Big Data perspective. Much of what is posted on Twitter is crap. I really don’t care what Beyonce had for lunch or that Our Lady of Perpetual Motion is having a bake sale. You actually do need heavy IT machinery to derive value out of the trillions of unfiltered thoughts out there. So, from a macro look at things, I agree with Matt. From a personal view, I think Paul has a strong, defensible point. As Paul points out, there are a variety of ways to keep pace with technology. I wouldn’t cast shame on Paul for not adding Twitter to his list of tools. What makes you so secure that his tools are somehow deficient without Twitter? At a personal level, that’s a horrible assumption. With the multiple streams of information you can monitor, Twitter may NOT be valuable to you. That doesn’t make you a dinosaur. That ALSO doesn’t mean you have failed to understand Twitter. I understand and DON’T use a lot of technology (Instagram, Snapchat, Facetime). Gasp! But, I’m more than happy to go toe-to-toe with someone on how they work and their value broadly speaking. I bet I can ask my kids and find a piece of social media that they’re using that you are not. Should I stand up and cry “for shame” on Matt Watts for not using Twinstabook?

    So, for those of us who opt out of some tools and opt in on others, please don’t make this one of those infamous internet polarizing discussions. You’re creating personal accusations based on your personal definition of what makes one technically astute sparked by a unscientific sampling of brekkie participants of those who may not have been paying attention to the question. Maybe they were looking at their Google Alerts!

    1. Mike

      If Paul had just stated that he see’s no use for Twitter in his life, then fine I’d have left it right there, as you say, we all choose which tools to opt in to and out of. But he didn’t, he provided a follow up which was indicative of what I heard from many of the non Twitter users during my trip, they dismiss it completely stating that the sheer volume of data in Twitter does not mean there is any value in it. This is where my issue lies, if you choose not to use something because it doesn’t work for you then fine, but to choose not to use it and then go on to state that it’s probably just a ‘waste dump’ anyway is where I take issue.

      Of course you should always look for the tools that work for you, but we must not create the association that just because something like Twitter doesn’t, then everything inside it must be garbage.

      1. Only Paul actually knows what he meant but I didn’t read it that way at all. He merely said that if you wanted to make Twitter *personally* valuable then show him the personal value. He then lists examples of why he (and his kids) do not find it personally valuable as a business tool. I agree.

        The vast majority of twitter postings do not provide personal business value. They simply don’t and the big data statistics back this up. Of the 700 million tweets per day, how many are personally valuable to a storage sales person living in the U.S. calling on the same 3 customers? Statistically speaking what? Less than 0.000000001% of the tweets? Empirically, the stronger point can be made that an individual may not see Twitter as a valuable business tool. It’s just how the math works out.

        However, if you want to make the statement that in general you can derive business patterns and information from Twitter, I agree with that also. But, in order to do that you would have to crunch the numbers on over 700 million tweets per day. If you do that and then provide a person with a summary of your findings, that can be personally valuable. If as an individual I can ask the question and then run the query over billions of data points, I can definitely find personal value. How I personally use Twitter has zero – zip, zero, nada – bearing on the question. The fallacy in thinking here is you attempt to link a personal use of Twitter as an indictment of one’s grasp of technology.

        If I were to ask an audience whether they use YouPorn.com and no one raised their hands, do you think that would be an indictment of their grasp of technology? But, at a macro level I could map the rich metadata around YouPorn to a number of interesting issues (e.g. domestic violence) to discern patterns and potentially actionable strategies. Where should we assign shame? To those that visit YouPorn or to those that don’t? Whether one uses YouPorn does not disqualify the research.

        The logic breaks down quickly. Correlation does not imply causation. I have a blog on the fact that you can correlate tooth decay with people who own a VMAX. I also give you a site on spurious correlations: http://www.tylervigen.com/. I think this is a fascinating article on the Big Errors of Big Data: http://www.wired.com/2013/02/big-data-means-big-errors-people/.

        While I agree that we should stay abreast of technology, you’ve built a false premise for the rest of the blog. In fact, if you used Big Data to analyze Twitter your conclusion should have been 180 degrees: no one should personally use Twitter. Statistically speaking, Twitter is a waste dump when broken down to the individual level. If one dismisses Twitter on a personal level, he/she is actually empirically correct. The numbers justify the dismissal. Now, let the individual ask the Big Data Oz a question and both the question and result would be mutually exclusive – not dependent on – their use of Twitter. You’re building a false correlation.

        1. I can see we’ll end up going round and round in circles on this one. Of the people that I asked the question of, those who don’t use Twitter frequently also denied that it had any value personal or otherwise and this is where I will continue to take issue. To dismiss something because you feel it has no personal value to you is one thing, but to then dismiss its value altogether is extremely short sighted. I’m also not sure that you taking something like Twitter which is used by about a quarter of a billion people and organisations for everything from news updates, availability updates, announcements and of course many other random musings and comparing this to some fictitious YouPorn site bears any relevance to the discussion. YouPorn has no definition, no content, no scope of content and therefore is irrelevant in trying to make a point.

          Thanks for the debate though

  7. MikeW suggested “Blind Faith” by Ben Elton. So I read most of it over the weekend. It’s brilliant and funny. One of the recurring themes in the book is the way people are shamed for not being current on their social media, of which there is a really long laundry list of ways they are supposed to be staying in touch with their “community”. And that’s how the powers-that-be keep track of everything instantly as it happens.

    Twitter is not, IMO, a good way to stay up on industry trends. Trends, by their very nature, require time to accrue enough interest to become trending and so are untrackable on an instantaneous basis. Certainly one could collect tweets over time and discern from them what has become trendy, but that is a post-facto analysis. And that information has likely already been analyzed by someone and is now available to me via less-instant media outlets

    I program Google to do news searches for me related to various technologies and especially for information on the GSIs I support. MWF and get a summary of the news items I’m interested in. Google may be getting info from Twitter.

    Wanna watch some good TV? Try “Black MIrror” it’s on NetFlix. It’s pretty much about the same subject we are discussing here. The effects of technology on society. It’s funny, it’s scary, and it very British.

  8. Great Blog, I agree with Matt there, is tremendous value in Twitter. When I joined Twitter 6 years ago (yes,I am well past 30) and told my husband I just didn’t see the value, his comment was “give it 6 months” He was right, as he often is, it took that long before I had it tweaked to follow the right people (un-follow the ones that tweet what they had for breakfast). Also picking a tool like Tweetdeck that helps manage it all, figure out that you don’t have to read all the tweets that come across, this isn’t email. I hope more of you will join us and learn what the benefits are, even if it takes a while to see it.

  9. One perspective would be to consider Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, SnapChat, etc as tools. Like any tool they are useful to some people and not to others.
    The important point is to have sufficient tools of the appropriate type for the task you are performing. If a new tool comes along which out-performs or replaces an earlier one then you ignore it at your peril.
    As long as we’re still receptive to new technology and the tools it creates then we’re still one step ahead of the dinosaurs. Go forth and keep learning.


    1. Thanks for the comment Nick

      Added to our personal challenge of technology adoption is the wider challenge of how we embrace this inside our organisations. At NetApp we’re fairly progressive, we’re now actively using Chatter, Jabber, Yammer and personally many of use use WhatsApp and other IM tools, but we struggle to let anything go, we still rely on email but now use all of these tools as well. I wonder how quickly we’ll evolve to be able to move away from systems such as email, many of us may question whether we need to, or whether we should, but if you look to our children, how many of them use it? I would guess it’s a relatively small percentage.

      If you were a new company starting out today, you’d probably have to use email to talk externally because it’s the standard, but would you use it internally?


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