In IT, a “forcing mechanism” is just a design feature that channels people in responding with particular information in a technical system. These mechanisms are created to increase—ultimately—the functionality of socio-technical spaces. Another use of a “forcing mechanism” in real life, real space, is to structure a work situation in order to acquire a new skill or new knowledge. If one doesn’t focus on our self-interest in self-development and professional growth, one can’t expect anyone else to do that for us. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily work and not to take the time to learn a new technology thoroughly. One of the most convincing and effective forcing mechanisms for such endeavors is to go public.
Going public means taking on the risk of widespread public embarrassment. If one is too premature about a topic, then one will only skim the surface of a topic—and do what others can do by Googling the topic, and then there are residual negatives—like people giving up on attending future presentations. The threat of over-reach is real. This means that if one takes on a public commitment, one has to actually prepare. It is also critical to be thorough and then from that thorough body of knowledge back off and select out what is most relevant.
It’s generally a little boring to go into a presentation with most of the information already known. Without the opportunity of some discovery, boredom sets in, and then one has to make the mode of presentation different or to add some other twist to make the work interesting.
Also, one wants to offer the audience something new. If everything is already known, the audience itself will be bored. As one of the facilitators of a recent webinar mentioned to me in the dry run, there are measures to see if people are e-mailing or IRC-chatting during a presentation. There are proxies to telling if people are being attentive.
The particular technology I was pursuing involves data visualizations and analytics. While I have no guarantee of any acceptance, and actually had been turned down for an on-campus presentation recently (too many proposals and probably a lesser fit between my proposed topic and the general IT-heavy line-up), I went ahead and put a couple days into exploring the technology, its tutorials, its templates, and its dashboards. I collected a range of data sets to experiment. I started documenting my learning.
Truth to tell, if the learning is not used in one presentation, it’ll come handy in another. And even if it never becomes part of a presentation, I’ll have the new knowledge and a new tool I can bring to bear on a future project.
If I were more disciplined, I would not need a “forcing mechanism.” I would be able to just focus and acquire these new skills and understandings without the actual pressure of an actual presentation (or in some cases, the pretense of a forthcoming presentation—if I can turned down).