Apps & Humans People Skills

Apps & Humans #1: Personality traits of our software

“Apps & Humans” is a series of posts that explore the “symbiosis” between humans and apps, with the purpose of identifying patterns that we can apply in our workplace interactions.

Note: I use the term “apps” in a broad sense: mobile apps, desktop apps, websites and other software.

If apps were humans, what personality traits would they have?

My psychologist said that I have ADHDD and recommended more defrag sessions.

For this experiment, I will be using the Big Five personality traits (a.k.a. the “OCEAN” model) to reframe several behaviors of our apps in the context of human personality. This may provide insights into how our own personalities can promote frictionless interactions, just like well-designed apps do.

Openness to experience: inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious

The “O” in “OCEAN” stands for openness to experience and it is about the willingness to explore new ideas and seeking out new experiences. It is correlated with intelligence, knowledge, creativity and artistic interest.

Apps that “score high” in openness:

  • Can produce content by themselves: AI-powered apps, music creation apps and plugins, games that generate levels automatically.
  • Can be trained to recognize patterns with AI or by mathematical / statistical means: medical software, data mining tools.
  • Support a wide range of file formats: word processors, movie players.
  • Are a hub for user-generated content: social media apps, blogging and vlogging platforms.
  • Allow the user to be creative within the context of the app: games where player’s choices influence the gameplay for them and other users.
  • Can be customized with themes, plugins (addons) or some even allow source code modification: web browsers extensions, plugins for blogging platforms, games which allow mods.

Conscientiousness: efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless

Conscientiousness is the trait of hard work, reliability, of respecting rules and commitments.

I dare say that apps surpass humans in their ability to persevere and follow rules.

Carefully designed apps can:

  • Have user interfaces that are intuitively organized: streaming apps, modern tools.
  • Remind us of tasks we need to take care of: calendars.
  • Run automated tests to prove the quality of hardware and software: benchmark apps, QA automation tools.
  • Process large amounts of data without making mistakes: database tools.
  • Make us more productive by handling repetitive tasks: tools that allow executing scripting languages.
  • Produce predictable outputs: virtually any application.

Extraversion: outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved

The extraversion trait deals with enthusiasm and assertiveness.

Extraverts tend to be energized by human interactions, while introverts are perceived as being more reserved and reflective.

Apps provide desirable traits from both introverts and extraverts:

  • On the extraverted side, they can be entertaining, assertive and can usually do multiple things at once: games, streaming apps.
  • The introverted qualities of apps include the ability to work in solitude for long periods of time, lack of impulsivity and accurate reflective access to resources: data migration tools, benchmark software.

Agreeableness: friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/callous

People with high degrees of agreeableness are perceived as kind, warm, cooperative and conciliatory.

Unless intentionally designed otherwise, most apps tend to:

  • Display polite or friendly messages.
  • Cooperate with users and other applications.
  • Be compliant with rules.
  • Have no competitive, nor conflict-generating behavior towards the user.

Neuroticism: sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident

Neuroticism is a measure of sensitivity to negative emotions like anger, fear and anxiety. People with low levels of neuroticism have the ability to remain calm under pressure and have fewer mood swings.

The apps world is rather calm, as they:

  • Are immune to psychological stress.
  • Don’t get angry, sad or depressed.
  • Can “delay gratification” indefinitely.
  • Are programmed to display healthy amounts of “worry”: e.g. asking users prior to deleting files or alerting when available storage space is running out.
Testing the sound card in Warcraft II, a popular game in 1995

Conclusions and recommendations

From sending emails to making hotel reservations, there is an app for virtually anything.

Their “personality” makes them customizable, efficient, engaging, cooperative and resilient.

We can choose to bring some of these qualities into our workplace and enjoy the benefits of smooth collaborations.

Additional Materials – Wikipedia article about Big Five Personality traits. – (Free/Paid) Personality assessment website. My understanding is that they combine an adapted version of the Big Five Personality Traits with the acronym format introduced by Myers-Briggs. – (Paid) Personality assessment website created by a team of psychologists including Dr. Jordan Peterson.

Note: I am not affiliated with these businesses. I have personally tried both tests and found the results to be reasonably accurate for me.

People Skills Time Awareness

Tick Talk. Preparing for meetings

The “Groundhog Day” experience

The online meeting starts with a blank screen, as usual. The presenter is late. Hopefully we’ll end this meeting fast, so that we can all go back to the actual work.

Excitement rises as we see the shared screen. The presenter is here, but why don’t we hear any sound?

“I cannot hear you, can you please check your microphone?”, says one of the attendees, as others rush over to the chat window to write the same thing.

“Hello? Does it work now?”, says the presenter’s voice.

“Yes, loud and… well, I can hear myself with an echo while I speak”, responds the attendee.

Variations to this scenario may include switching devices, replacing batteries, changing cables, rebooting, installing updates, sharing an older version of the document etc. All during the meeting.

Is this familiar?

I’m writing this because it matters. Whether we are the presenter or the audience, not optimizing the time we spend in meetings is damaging for all participants.

  • It is frustrating for the audience, which can interpret this as lack of preparation, lack of interest or even disrespect from the presenter.
  • As presenters, we can lose the participants’ engagement over work-related tasks that require their attention or their mobile phones. Note that attention span is in decline.
  • Switching back and forth between meetings and other activities requires even more time for all of us, let’s make better use of it.


GOOM - The Gods Of Online Meetings
Never angry the GOOM!

For presenters

As presenters, we can:

  • Send the meeting agenda and other instructions to all participants as soon as the documents are available.
  • Identify who are the people that actually need to join the meeting.
  • Make sure that the participants know who is essential and who is optional to the meeting.
  • Try to set a realistic duration for the meeting.
  • Reserve the meeting room in advance (if reservation is needed).
  • Arrive in the meeting room well before the meeting is scheduled and check for common hardware issues:
    • Battery status for all devices (computer, mouse, headset, remote for projector etc.)
    • Cables and connections
    • Internet access
    • Microphone
    • Camera
    • Projector (if needed)
  • Prior to the meeting, preload any documents that will be presented, to minimize staring at loading screens in large groups.
  • Be concise.

For attendees

As attendees, we can:

  • Go through the agenda as soon as it is available.
  • Research the subjects, if needed.
  • Prepare questions, if any.
  • Check who the participants are and suggest inviting others, if they are directly impacted or would have a better understanding of the topics.
  • Check if our own hardware and software are suitable for the meetings: eg. don’t install software updates or required browser plugins right when the meeting starts, do this in advance.
  • Make sure we join the meeting on time.
  • Ask our questions and be concise.

Conclusions and recommendations

Staring at loading screens during meetings
Staring at loading screens during meetings

Optimizing the time needed for meetings seems like another task on our list. If we want our meetings to be faster and less painful for everyone, it’s worth remembering that the time we invest in preparing is time saved for everyone else.