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Apples, Music And Email

May 25, 2016

Do you like apples?


Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?
– Good Will Hunting

Actually, I do like apples. I have one of those mini-fridges under my desk at work. I keep it stocked with milk, apples and baby carrots. (Don’t judge. It’s my fridge, not yours!) Fortunately, for me, I really like Red Delicious apples. I say fortunately, because they happen to be the cheapest apples. But, truth be told, I like most kinds of apples. 

Do you know who doesn’t like apples? Apparently grade school kids. But, what if you could make one small change and suddenly the kids would start eating them? This study found that just slicing the apples increased consumption by 70%. We could say that the kids are too lazy to cut their own apples, but that’s not the reason. Apparently the kids were put off by the aspect of taking the first bite. 

Researchers found if you could just get the kids to start eating them, then they would continue. This study made me think of my days as a corporate trainer. No, I didn’t share apples with the class. We handed out peanut M&Ms. But, during the labs, when people were supposed to be putting their skills into practice, it would get very, very quite. Like a tomb or the awkward time in church when the organ has quit playing, but before the bishop starts speaking. 

Simon and Garfunkle explained,

Fools said I you do not know, silence like a cancer grows.

(Okay, Distrubed did a version that is even cooler. But, the point is that silence breeds silence. But, I found if I disrupted that silence, even just a little bit, it would shatter like a light bulb on a tile floor. 

I found that I could put music on in the background and it would be enough to shatter the silence. Students didn’t even know that they were keeping quiet so as not to disturb the silence. But, the difference between doing a lab exercise with music vs one without was profound.

At one point I was the manager of a team of engineers who maintained our email system. The email system was brand new and really expensive. (Yes, it was Microsoft Exchange, as many of my techy friends would have guessed based on the cost comment.) I started sending out status updates on the system as it came online. At first these reports were sent twice per day. We wanted to make sure our 30,000 system didn’t unexpectedly topple over because we missed a step. Later, I cut the reports back to once per day. And eventually back to once a week.

As the reporting period got spread out, I added content. I started reporting on all aspects of our team’s work. I highlighted engineers. I included historical graphs of our system performance. Before long, the report was many pages long.

Rodney, why don’t you just throw that report up on a SharePoint site and send out a link?”

It wouldn’t work.

What do you mean?

I mean that everyone reads this report. If I put it behind a link. Even asking people to click a single time means I would lose much of my audience.

And that’s what the kids and the apples teach us. We aren’t lazy, but we do tend to follow Newton’s laws of motion.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion

A body at rest tends to stay at rest.

It’s that first step that causes us the most effort. If we can get people moving, either by cutting apples, or playing music, or NOT hiding behind a link, they will keep going. It’s getting them started that is the key.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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