6ix Deadly E-Mail Diseases

A couple of years back I had written this as a note on Facebook. As is the nature with diseases, they have mutated into more virulent forms and have struck havoc with many personalities (like Lalit Modi & N Srinivasan for example). What I mean is this list might be old but most certainly not outdated


The malaise that makes the sender of an e-mail add on more people to the CC list as a chain grows. Very soon recipients are unsure why they are receiving the mails (especially the new entrants who behave like someone who got the men’s and women’s rooms mixed up). Most people read the thread top-down, resulting in what is popularly called the “Memento Effect” – following a sequence of events in reverse chronological direction.


The patient suffers from a virulent version of identity crisis. This is a typical psycho malaise in which the patient is reticent to disclose his friends to other friends. Is very prevalent in forwarding jokes and other irrelevant stuff. The disease spreads by multiplication where a BCC recipient might further fwd the same message using BCC and often to the people who were in the first BCC list. Added Complexity: Some patients – in more advanced stages of the disease – alter the content of a mail while forwarding to blind lists. The original perpetrator of the chain often gets back the same mail – in BCC, of course – and spends a lot of time in creating “diff-reports”


People who are getting closer to embracing Alzheimer’s display this property. The sender usually writes a long verbose e-mail body describing the contents of an alleged attachment. Excellent stuff, until it is found that the mail sent out did not contain the attachment. Typically followed by every recipient replying to all that the attachment was missing. They very soon form a very happy – but not necessarily small – family. Medical advancement: A few software developers have published utilities that detect missing attachments. The software essentially snoops your e-mail and fails miserably when you write “Ms. Jayalalitha did a poetic dance presentation when she was attached with the Karunanidhi foundation of Family Charity”. The software expects you to attach one Ms. Jayalalitha.

Send Anxiety

A mainly psycho-somatic affliction where the composer of an email hovers endlessly over the send button. Generally caused by the freezing of the right index finger over the left mouse button when the mouse pointer is poised over the Send button of any email application. Mathematically, the intensity of anxiety (A) is equal to the square of the sum of absolute cumulative difference of levels of all recipients (reference point = sender) about to receive the mail.

Delivery Anxiety

The patient suffers from extreme discomfort after sending email; this discomfort can only be relieved by actually talking to the recipient of the email and asking “did you get my email?” If the answer is in the negative, the patient feels compelled to spell out the contents of the email in detail thus combining the disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous communication

H0B2S Flu (a/k/a Have Zero Brains To Show)

The e-mail is about a specific person or persons and the sender (patient hereafter) wants to know more about them. Instead of consulting the corporate intranet, the patient includes them in the “To” or “CC” list and double clicks to check properties (MS Outlook workflow). Glowing in an aura of self congratulation, the patient forgets to remove these people from the recipient list when hitting the “send” button. Many people, about to be terminated, have actually benefited from this disease and with this as weapon have often got the patients terminated instead (close contender for Corporate Darwin Award for Gene Pool Consciousness – having cleaned up a gene pool by taking oneself out of it)

Post Script

A friend on Facebook had suggested two diseases I must consider for inclusion – Delivery Receiptitis Syndrome (DRS) and Message Recallus Anxiety (MRA). Please put comment if you have encountered others that we should be writing about

Let’s first get them all

And then do what with them?

The first fallacy of creating a community is just this. The mindset of a hoarder. Gathering anything without a purpose places the cart in front of the horse – or, the business model in front of the raw material. People are the raw material in a Community. Just as a steel manufacturing business does not hoard up strawberries, a Community must eschew the lure of mindless “customer” acquisition at the cost of defining upfront who are being served and with what purpose

Hoarding impacts your community in two equally destructive ways. One, once the purpose of the community is established (post membership acquisition) members discover they do not have intersecting interests or expectations with the rest of the gang. There is no tribe to speak of. They quit. Secondly, a few acquired members are perhaps of the correct profile who would quickly discover there are a sprinkling of non-conforming audience engaged in community activity and will quickly disappear

What about multi-interest communities then? Yes, they do exist. If that is what you have in mind then it is better to think in terms of platforms. A Platform with different communities as tenants. It is perfectly possible – and correct – to design a handful of services as horizontals that each tenant feeds off. Then get onto community (tenant) specific services.

Irrespective of tenancy plurality, member acquisition should not broadbrush to pixalate the specific community picture. The rule of member acquisition remains unchanged

Photo courtesy Broadmoor Community Church

Positive Reinforcement

“What is good about life is as genuine as what is bad and therefore deserves equal attention” – C. Peterson, 2006

The days I play my favorite songs driving back home are the days I had a truly enjoyable work-day. And invariably those are days when someone recognized something good I did at work – and said so. Positive reinforcement – the official organizational psychology term – as an instrument of motivation has been long understood but sadly less implemented. Let me rephrase that – improperly implemented I should say.

Over the course of our employment we end up doing a gigantic stream of good work (and some stupid stuff as well but since societies have made evolutionary progress, I am assuming the algebraic sum of smart and stupid work is positive). These bits of work all go on to make something substantial in both volume as well as the impact it has on our employers (and ourselves). Many of these accomplishments are recognized – and that is where the problem begins

The problem is not in the recognition per-se but in the manner in which recognition happens, gets recorded, accumulated, propagated and associated. A bulk of the recognition takes the form of a verbal – “great job” or a short e-mail of thanks. Some employers have systems of physical rewards & recognition, which gives an employee a physical object – a trophy sometimes – that reminds her of her good work each time she looks at it. In most cases however these micro-recognitions fail in getting associated by either the employer (manager) or the employee to their performance goals, reducing the evaluative impact of the bits and pieces of work that go to stitch up an year’s work. Does it then surprise you that year end performance evaluations are usually an evaluation of the last assignment or worse, a totally subjective discussion of perceptions?

Happy employees make great workplaces. And great workplaces make great businesses. Happiness is a steady stream but has its ebbs and flows. Organizations rely more on point-in-time appreciation of positive employee efforts but have failed to put their employees bang in the middle of this river of happiness. The failure is perhaps not due to lack of intent but more attributable to absence of a solution that addresses this issue

Image courtesy: baobabinc.com


Simply Steve

Aha, Mr. Steven Jobs. Welcome Sir. I daresay the world has gone into a mourning with your untimely death. And we are trying to understand why”. St. Peter’s at the Pearly Gates was both anxious and curious as he welcomed the technology magician
“Quite Simple”, said Jobs. “Let me show you” – and he unslung his backpack and took out a handful of Apple products and laid them out
“That’s it?”
“Yeh, that’s it. Sorry if you were expecting more but I guess you have to wait for some more while for that. Not until Bill shows up”, Jobs chuckled as he took a dig at his favorite punching bag

I woke up the news that Steve Jobs is no more. Pages of flowing eulogy has already gotten written by authors who are better and people who were lucky to have had personal run-ins with the great man. So I will, like Jobs’ product portfolio, keep this a short affair.

And Simple

If there is one lesson Jobs taught us businessmen it was simplicity. Simplicity in business models, simplicity in portfolios, simplicity in design and simplicity in commercial models. The world is already far too complex and evolution isn’t exactly an accelerated science – which means people in this world have far more deconstructions to handle than expect to have to do the same with technology. Technology whose calling card promised to make life simple in the first place. Jobs’ business played purely to that feeling. In world where everyone was designing with the SUV Syndrome, Steve Jobs discarded layer after layer of complexity to finally reach the core. And then he drew as few concentric circles as he could. Doing less is not a sin, doing more – and spectacularly complicating things, is.

With this knowledge, what would you do to your product? To your business? And to your life?

PS: This post is my tribute to Steve Jobs. I wrote in on Pages on my i-pad 1 and posted using the WordPress app. Thank you, Steve. I know it’s tough, but try to get some rest Sir.

Playing in a Sandbox

What if LinkedIn decided to play in Facebook’s sandbox? Afterall, both are about creating social connections and sharing networks & information within that social circle.

The answer to the choice lies in aspirations. A newbie firm wants to test the waters and looks at the path of least resistance. A social business, they might argue, has got to mostly do with people. So why not gravitate to where most people are? The trouble with this is that the answer is correct but the question is wrong. The fabric of a social business is not the people per-se but what those people do within the sandbox. A social sandbox is like a society – and people get enamoured by reciprocating behavior as much as they put off by actions that seem incongruent to that sandbox-society. Example, notice how many times your eyes roll-over when you notice someone posted that “my cat’s just rolled over” type update on LinkedIn?

The sandbox you choose has got to answer a very important question. If you were given the choice of asking the entire population of your intended audience live inside a gated community what would that community look like? If that looks like Planet Facebook, please go ahead and play in that sandbox. But please ask yourself this question before you make the choice

PS: LinkedIn was a poor example perhaps – it had critical mass – and a different sandbox already as Facebook started its own growth. But you get the drift. Branchout is a better example and they made a choice of playing in Facebook’s sandbox