Below is a summary of my presentation at Interaction Camp on June 2.
- What is Polychronicity? Coined by Hall in 1956 in his book The Silent Language
Polychronicity is defined as the extent to which individuals do more than one task at once. “Polychrons” tend to overlap tasks, dovetail their activities to “hit more than one bird with a stone” and are overall more comfortable with a variability in time sequencing. Monochrons, by contrast, prefer strict planning, a knowable a predictable sequence of events, and a general uniformity in the understanding of time
They find that in studies where “time is money” is the implicit metaphor used by workers, there is actually a multiplicity of time experiences. The subjective experience of “polychrons” defies the uniform, centralized experience of “monochrons.”
- Temporal Impact of Technology on Business Processes
Lee has found that information technology affects business process in 6 key ways:
1. Duration: how long it’s expected to complete tasks
2. Temporal location: when tasks should be completed “in time”
3. Sequence: the order in which tasks should be completed
4. Deadline: when tasks should be completed
5. Cycle: the periodicity between tasks
6. Rhythm: the intensity of work
- Temporal Impact On Creativity
Madjar and Oldham found that time orientation, time pressue and task rotation is related to creativity. People who were polychronic and rotated through creative tasks (creating marketing plans) tended to be produce more creative results. Monochronic people tended to produce more creative results when they proceeded sequentially through tasks. Both groups had less creative results when they perceived intense time pressure.
Significance for interaction design:
- Temporal disruption for Users: Recognize you are disrupting users’ temporal process, which is often taken-for-granted and invisible. This disruption can be significant in that is will increase stress, anxiety and may elicit negative responses
- Inter-organization Temporal Disconnect: For those of you in agencies working with clients, recognize your own working process may differ from your clients’. This may result in miscommunications about expectations of temporal consistency.
- Intra-organizational Temporal Disconnect: Workers who are in charge tend to have more control over their work flow. They also tend to order themselves monochronically. But those further down the totem pole tend to have little control and are often polycrhonic as a result (often unwillingly). New interactions tend to disrupt the existing balance and creates conflict. Workers without control may resist changes because of this, however ineffectually, and conflict will result.
- Your Own Creativity: Are you monochronic or polychronic? Your team likely has a mixture of both. Find out which one you are and try to engineer situations that match your orientation.
• Match workers’ orientations to the organization’s: Polychronic workers need polychromic work places. Consider using established chronicity questionnaires to gauge your organization’s orientation, and to interview potential workers
• Match clients to your organization: Monochronic clients may make demands that are simply untenable for your polychromic organization. In new business development, match the client’s notions of time to your organization’s.
• Match technology to your organization: Some technology is more monochromic than others. Ensure that when you choose a new piece of hardware, software, or a system of production, that what you choose matches your organization’s work style. Also ensure that users who are of the opposite orientation can “turn off” the chronicity impacts of the technology (e.g., don’t make IM on all the time for monochromic people).