Booking Norms:: Who Schedules Whom These Days?


by Howell J. Malham Jr.


It’s one of the unwritten maxims of our era: New technologies create new vulnerabilities.

Some of those vulnerabilities are the result of new norms that emerge with every new automated feature, every new app, every new “time saving” gizmo.

These norms are nothing but new expectations about what we should and shouldn’t do, which can create all sorts of conflicts when they collide head on with existing expectations held by other groups of actors in the same settings.

Those expectations, not the technology itself, change behavior.

Or confound it.

When one group of actors has altered its expectations about the shoulds and shouldn'ts of daily living now that they have adopted a new app, for example, and another group has not, social conflicts will most assuredly arise when members of those groups attempt to interact and collaborate — harmoniously, productively.

What’s more, companies blithely release new forms of disruptive technology under the assumption that consumers expect the disruptions — primarily disruptions in how we engage with one another socially — and are prepared for those disruptions as well.

And if they’re not, well, tough luck.

In our eagerness to develop disruptive models, we have overlooked the fact that those disruptions undermine existing social models, too, which can spell trouble: socially, then financially.

We’ve seen the problems these kind of conflicts create in legacy companies. It’s not only the introduction of a new system all at once that causes so many difficulties — in a company that still needs parts of the old system to keep up and running for example; it’s the failure to address the misalignment of expectations connected to systems, old and new.

The new ownership of a company and its way of thinking can be considered new “technologies,” too. If expectations about behavior and beliefs haven’t changed across the board, there will be trouble sooner than later when those technologies are introduced; rather imposed unless one designs for the misalignment to avoid the conflicts before they happen.

The rise of “convenience” apps illustrates how a small, seemingly inconsequential collision of social norms on social media can, at minimum, prevent us from doing what, ideally, we’re supposed to do on social: be social… as people creating opportunities to interact with other people in real time or, even better, in real life.

But being social or more accurately sociable means different things to different people, particularly when new technology is involved. That’s why it’s so important to properly contextualize predictive business insights before executing a strategy.

Data can tell you that consumers want convenience; but without a comprehensive understanding of the existing norms behind the numbers, data won’t tell you about the social conflicts that can and will emerge if users care only about their needs, but not necessarily the needs of others with whom they interact.

Take this scenario:

Someone puts you in touch with someone else on LinkedIn for example. You exchange introductory messages; you say polite things to one another, as is the norm; then you mutually agree to schedule a meeting.

You ask for a few possible dates and times, and promise to find one that will work — again, another norm.

And then you get slapped with a Calendly link, or something like it, right across the face.

These booking and scheduling tools are smart. They make a lot of sense, and can save time, in certain situations and with certain actors.

The challenge is with users who think others have the time, bandwidth and inclination to manage two calendars: ours and theirs — users who have assumed incorrectly that their expectations are aligned with the expectations of others when it comes to the norms related to how professionals schedule meetings in this century.

And who should do the scheduling.

One scheduling tool says it allows clients to book meetings “with you”:: what they really mean is, it allows clients to book meetings for you.

We have time to email and message back and forth to get to the scheduling part of these kinds of interactions; surely we have a few more seconds to check our respective calendars, which are rarely more than a thumb tap away.

And then we arrive at a date, a time, and place — together.

Really, the best part about scheduling tools is this: They are another invitation to all of us to be a little more thoughtful about how and when we use them, and with whom.

Further, they’re telling us to be sensitive to the fact that our norms are not The Norm until we know for certain that they are. ::

Howell Malham