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Understanding Human Organizational & Social Behavior in an Unusual Way– A Chat with Ben Waber of the MIT Media Lab

Ben Waber, Courtesy of http://web.media.mit.edu/~bwaber/  A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in on one of the free EMC Research Cambridge Lectures with guest lecturer Ben Waber of the MIT Media Lab Human Dynamics Group regarding the group’s research on human behavior and human dynamics using wearable sensing technology called “sociometric badges” (see image).

Sociometric Badge, Courtesy of http://hd.media.mit.edu/badges/ The sociometric badges are equipped with infrared sensors to determine if interactions are face-to-face, a wireless radio to determine proximity, an accelerometer that can track movement including walking, running, sitting, body gestures, body mimicry, boredom, and even bluffing, and a microphone that doesn’t record actual words, but from vibrations can pick up on tone, speaking speed, intonation, persuasiveness, influence, and interest level.

The goal of their research is to truly understand how social signals, both conscious and unconscious, affect people, particularly within their work lives and social spheres at work, and how understanding these signals might lead to better or different communications, increased work performance and productivity, and even greater job satisfaction among employees.

Honest Signals CoverBen’s group, led by Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland (who has out a fascinating new book on the group's work - "Honest Signals") has conducted several studies at large organizations, and based on my observations during the lecture, a few things continually come forward:

  • Social support networks are a major factor in job satisfaction
  • Social collaboration and network cohesion generates greater productivity
  • Little changes, such as taking a break together, can have large positive effects
  • Face-to-face interaction is a core component of developing the strongest of social networks
  • Information shared via face-to-face social interactions is often different than information shared via email
  • In at least one study, one-standard-deviation increase in network cohesion equaled a 10% increase in productivity; in other words, collaboration equals productivity

The group’s research is of particular interest to me, given my focus on social media and social networking as tools that can aide in business process change, information exchange, complex problem-solving, networking and collaboration, and an increased sense of belonging for an organization’s employees that use social business tools as a way to do their jobs.

I do believe that their work can translate nicely to social media and social networking tools, in at least some form or fashion. I think it’s particularly relevant in the network’s contributions to your overall job satisfaction. The elements of social media and social networking that I believe have the strongest potential to increase job satisfaction include:

  • a greater sense of feeling connected to the organization and its strategy
  • opportunities to help solve complex problems
  • greater ease in solving your own problems
  • increasing  your knowledge in areas of interest
  • sharing your own knowledge and expertise and having it recognized by your network
  • intrinsic rewards and self-satisfaction that come from helping others
  • the opportunity to network with a group of like-minded individuals one can relate to

I could go on and on...the research being done at the MIT Media Lab is fascinating to me, and I see it applying on so many levels – both in-person as well as online – when it comes to the things that help people to feel a sense of belonging and satisfaction. I love the notion of enabling people to have real-time feedback in order to even further their understanding of themselves and their network and its full potential! Looking forward to hearing more from this group on their work!

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Jamie 

Blog: http://www.jamiepappas.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/jamiepappas

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