Slack as RAM

Slack’s Logo I think it’s necessary for a company to have a shared understanding of how they use Slack (and similar tools). If such an understanding exists, it’s incredibly powerful, but without shared understanding then the rules can change from moment to moment based on HIPPO and momentary frustrations. In this environment, collaboration and brainstorming can end up being treated as bad things because they’re not compliant with someone important’s vision.

Now, if you’re going all in on slack, this is pretty easy. There’s not much question of what to take to email or the like – the tool you’ll use is slack, and you make it work. This is great, if you can pull it off, but for a lot of people that is a bridge too far. So how do you get everyone on the same page when every communication requires the decision (and friction of) “Is this the right context?”

This is a bad situation, so the best we can do is try to make this decision simple. If you could boil it down to a few rules (“Finance discussions must be in email”) that works, but it scales poorly. What it really calls for is a shared metaphor.

The one I’ve been using lately is this: Treat your Slack as your company’s RAM.

For non-nerds, RAM is the memory on your computer or device where things happen. When a program runs, all the information necessary is kept in RAM. When I say it’s memory, I mean it’s memory the same way your hard drive is, but the components used to make RAM are faster than the ones in your drive because it’s constantly changing it’s contents as needed.

So RAM is essential to your computer functioning, but there are things it’s not for. Specifically, it is not a reliable place to keep any information, since its current contents could be swept away at any moment. For this, your computer has storage (like your hard drive) to keep things without losing them

Slack can serve the same role in your organization. It should be the place where things happen. What kind of things? Well, what do you do? Whatever it is, I bet it requires people needing to talk, think, plan and be creative. Slack is a great place for that stuff to happen, and your organization should encourage it.

But, like RAM, it is not necessarily where you want to keep things. Yes, Slack has pretty robust search functionality, so you might be able to recover things, but for a Slack of any size or age, search leaves too many possibilities for things to be lost. So it’s necessary you also identify your company’s memory. It’s probably Confluence, or a Wiki, or Sharepoint or something else. It might be more than one thing, in which case you have a different problem. Whatever the case, you should have a place where important things end up.

Now, you could just copy and paste into memory (‘dumping the RAM’) but with a little bit of mindfulness it’s reasonably easy to capture the outputs of discussions rather than the discussions themselves. This requires a little bit of extra work, but it’s a fantastic habit for an organization to develop for two reasons. First, by making it everyone’s responsibility, it gives a bit more ownership to decisions. Second, if the discussions as important enough to save, it’s important enough to take the time to get everyone on the same page, and communicate that agreement in a useful way.

It may take a little bit of time to get people used to this, but once they see that their outputs are treated as important (and that no outputs means it didn’t happen) then they can see how it benefits them, at which point you’ll be surprised how invested people are in the final result.

And, heck, if this practice starts spilling over into your meetings? WHAT A SHAME.

Moment of Parental Pride

My son, an elementary schooler, participated in his school’s public speaking contest.  Initial participation is mandatory for all students, but then a top 10 is selected for another round, and from that there’s a top 3 (and 3 alternates) who compete to win. Normal enough.

Now, the thing is that my son is a super bright, amazing dude with a palette so high that he could probably store acorns in there. We’re addressing it over time, but it’s meant all manner of speech issues, which were exacerbated because he picked up the habit of speaking fast from both his parents. So, last year, we tried to get him out of the contest on the grounds that it would just be embarrassing for him, but the principal (who is amazing) gave us a look and said that the kids who are going to have the roughest time are the ones who benefit from it most. So he did it, and that was the end of it.

Sort of.

This year, he actually put some work into it, and came back from the first round with the proud announcement that he had made the top ten.  We were blown away.  We did all the right parenting things, emphasizing that this was the result of his hard work and so on, and treated this as an absolute victory lap.

Then he made the top 3.

Now, I say this like it was an accident, but in reality he was busting hump practicing and improving.  We were delighted and supportive, but this was coming from him.

So today was the finals, and he won for his grade.

We were floored and delighted.  This has been very nearly a made-for-tv-movie kind of thing, and it has so fantastically driven home the lesson that HE can do these things. I really hope it sticks.

And in the realm of lessons, there’s an amusing sidebar.  There’s another kid in the class who is very socially capable, able to do funny voices and so on. He also made the top 10, but ended up as an alternate because – frankly – he goofed around rather than work.  My son was surprised and remarked to my wife at how good and funny this kid was, and she looked back at him and said “You’re right. Imagine how he could have done if he’d worked at it.” You could see the understanding hit the kid like a hammer.

So, given that one of our biggest goals is to not produce the kind of bright slacker that both of his parents are, this felt like a big win for everyone today.  I have no idea if he wants to follow it up, but if the kid wants to make a podcast, I am all over it.