Hands up if you were a Walkman user (for any Gen Z readers, this was the Rosetta Stone of portable music). At the time, they were totally revolutionary. And would end up being the catalyst for a decades-long case study on how true innovation is often inspired by human behaviour.
It’s a journey you may have personally joined. Once Sony democratized on-the-go listening, it was ripe for optimization and a market that—both consciously and unconsciously—demanded progress. Portable cassette players became portable CD players. Music downloading software and CD burning introduced customizable playlists (and a few lawsuits). MP3 players offered greater and more convenient song storage. Then Apple busted through the wall Kool-Aid style and said, “Oh yeah, we’ll take it from here.”
In the most reductive terms, Apple’s focus on the whole user experience—and the consolidation and integration of technology with human psychology—is what’s made one of the most successful lines of products in modern history. And ultimately opened the door to a level of interconnectivity that’s shaped modern life as we know it.
The iPod, with its sleek design, unrivaled storage, and relatively seamless merging of hardware and software via iTunes went beyond a “better MP3 player.” It created an elevated experience that solved the practical problems of previous technology while catering to intangible human desires. Intuitive user flows, less cognitive load, and a need to have something naturally align with and augment existing behaviour—instead of injecting more process into it—was a holistic solution that sparked a cult-like following and steamrolled the asphalt for our eventual ability to access everything, music included, in the palm of our hand.
From iPod to iPhone—and a suite of products working in tandem—Apple famously revolutionized how we listen to music before extrapolating that into a fully-integrated network that’s become something of a shared lifestyle. While the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone on the market, it was the most influential, for the same reasons the iPod became the go-to portable listening device and because of the runway it created. Apple’s ingrained position as the “nervous system” of many people’s technological lives shows just how powerful that experiential understanding is.
All that to say—while product evolution solves product problems, product innovation solves human problems. And business communication is in desperate need of innovation.
While Email Solved One Problem, How We Use It Has Created Others
Email was just as revolutionary as the nascence of digital communication. Built in 1965 as “MAILBOX,” it was created for MIT students to leave messages on campus computers. The ability to send messages from one computer to another, and what would become the foundation of the Internet, came just a few years later. Fast-forward to current day, when over 3.9 billion users and 5.9 billion email accounts are active across the world. It’s email’s ubiquity and easy access that’s made it the default system for digital correspondence for so many years.
But as the phrase “my work email” quickly implanted in our general lexicon, the experience of email has remained largely personal. Email is individualized at its core, with siloed inboxes, self-maintained organization, and contextual opacity that has unintentionally created real problems for organizational and team-based communication. Tons of B2B software companies have emerged over the years to try and solve these problems—chat services, collaboration tools, video conferencing—but are often supplementary to email’s communicational linchpin.
These problems don’t need additional tools or a “better” version of the same one. They need a holistic solution that tackles the root cause and organically improves their working experience—an intelligent communication system that’s designed for business workflows.
Email Problem 1: Unnecessary Duplication of Effort
The “cc effect” and Sisyphean nature of email is so universally understood, it’s reached #relatablecontent status.
Forwarding, cc-ing, and reply-alls not only bloat email volume—creating an insidious psychological burden as well as a measurable tax on server capacity—they’re a direct result of private, individual inboxes that create conversational partitions. The complexity of information being shared via email, and the decision-making process and actions associated with it, often have to be reiterated and over-explained to make up for information being unintentionally hoarded in Stuart’s one-on-one thread with JoAnne. This context deficit and manual rerouting causes an unnecessary duplication of effort that eats up valuable time and energy.
Email Problem 2: Hindrance to Collaboration
In the same vein, a lack of transparency makes it difficult to effectively collaborate within and across teams. When information isn’t readily available and teams are denied a single, accessible source of truth for a project, transaction, conversation—whatever they need to be fully informed to do their best work—its effects reverberate throughout the organization and waste time searching for answers that could be spent acting on them. The sheer amount of communication, data, and average workload modern-day businesses and employees manage is more than traditional email was ever designed to handle, let alone facilitate. Increased transparency, comprehensive context, and on-demand access to important information is what’s really important to working smarter.
Email Problem 3: Inefficient Workflow Compensation
We’re not talking about that type of compensation, though employees could be entitled to some extra cash considering the amount of extra work individualized email triggers. Problems one and two typically lead to custom workflows, bespoke processes, manual organization, and a growing technology stack of piecemeal third-party solutions that treat symptoms of the core issue. Approaching these problems from a high level—integrating scalable remedies with workflows guided by human behaviour instead of struggling to change it—means less confusion, more action, increased efficiency, and ultimately, more time and room in your budget for the work that matters.
The Solution: Intelligent Communication Systems Designed for Businesses
Just as Apple took the entire user experience into account, business communication systems must do the same for the organization and employee experience. Innovative solutions to the problems listed above won’t come from fancy-sounding features or improved versions of the same fixes—they’ll come from an innate, deliberate effort to redefine and optimize how teams communicate and work together. For right now, and for the future ahead.
We need a way of communicating that breaks free of existing organizational structures and the limitations of legacy systems. “Intelligent” isn’t (just) a buzzword—the next generation of communication systems will listen and adapt to human behaviour, offering and providing access to the most relevant information and learning to anticipate their needs. They’ll be reliable, secure, and fast—no matter the circumstances. They’ll provide necessary context and historical reasoning for things that have happened, decisions that have been made, and how things are connected, working smarter as time goes on.
Intelligent communication systems will help employees be more efficient and more effective, aligning teams around behavioural action, and unifying all conversations, data, and documentation to help teams focus on what matters most to their goals, their jobs, and the future of their business.