John’s Recon

May 28, 2008

The Art of Crossing Cultures (Leadership Lecture Series)

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 5:14 pm

Our diversity manager is excited about this class coming June 17th: The Art of Crossing Cultures. So he is pushing the word out (including to me). Since I have been talking about big conversations that can/will cross cultures, guess I better go.

I did note a little something that stood out in the course description that always bothers me … this one isn’t bad but there are many whose description have more emphasis on managers … even the course comes from the “leadership series” … why?. I know people who automatically screen courses with manager and leadership in the description. I’m under the impression that all of us worker-bees have to get along even better and surely managers haven’t perfected the art of stepping on toes better than we have. I have taken a lot of good courses in the leadership series and with the “manager” word in the description and wasn’t brainwashed a bit.

Besides, to collaborate, I would think we have to truly understand where people are coming from and the baggage they are carrying. Try the course … you weren’t doing that much on the 17th anyway.

... the ability to communicate across cultures has just moved to
the forefront of essential skills for managers and employees as we
strive to grow our company.

Whether you go to the world or the world has come to you, whether you
work across cultures on virtual teams or on "real" ones - if you serve,
manage, sell to, work alongside, or work under people from other
cultures, the better you understand cultural differences, the more
effective you will be!

Starting Community within Our Company

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 3:05 pm

If you just deployed a “community-labeled” tool into our company and announced its availability it is likely many early adopters will go take a look, try it out and leave. Why would I say that? Because we already have some community tools … small teams use mailing lists and small projects use SharePoint and there are a few groups that use chat. So why learn something new? We already understand community on the small scale. There are the new hires and a few others who find us a mysterious place … who might like a community bigger than a couple of hundred (our biggest mailing lists) … but most of us get by with what we already have. << Can a Mailing List be a Community?>>

You could say we don’t know what we don’t know. We never missed “search” until we experienced a great working search on the outside. Now, we see how great it could be to have this capability inside too. We don’t know how great our company might be if we have a large conversant population that crossed department boundaries. There are only a few of us who regularly use communities on the outside that realize the potential for this inside. If other big companies build inside groups who are bonded by ideas and passions and not by geography or organizational taxonomy and we don’t … it will be as if we continued to use paper, typewriters and the postal service while everyone else uses email, word processing and the internet. <<Why Social Networking? Aren’t we doing just fine?>>

While many tools carry the “collaborative” or “community” label, I mean conversation where people share ideas, feelings, and passions over both technical work and social activity … that leads to community. I don’t mean a Wiki where many people can simultaneously collaborate on a single set of documents or web sites. I do mean the conversation they have in collaboration where they come to appreciate each others skills. So Wikipedia, the biggest wiki example, is not a community in total. It is a collection of a million small communities or teams surrounding each definition where they had discussion to get consensus. I don’t mean SharePoint (but it could be) where we park our documentation and park our meeting results for others to read. Meeting room documentation typically carries the results or action items. I do mean the collaborative conversation people typically have in a conference room. I don’t mean blogs which other companies have been deploying internally. Blogs are quite useful and can unite people around specific purpose but don’t really have equal discussion. Many people do not even read the comments that people do leave. Blogs do fit the corporate mold of leader/followers. True collaboration requires a certain amount of equality. I don’t mean FaceBook, MySpace or Flickr where I post my wares and things that I’m into for others to come to see. This is almost like blogs in that it centers around people, accomplishments and bragging rights but does not champion thoughts and the selfless pushing of good ideas forward to accomplish more than an individual. <<Are Blogs Collaborative? >>

I do mean discussion groups or forums. I mean large discussion groups that embody the sense of community, whose people form connections to others who share similar ideas and passions, whose people adjust their opinions upon hearing different solid opinions from others and whose people come to consensus on passionately discussed topics. I mean discussion groups that are not mailing lists … not locked in by invite, not limited in conversation or size to keep message traffic down, can be joined by anyone, and exposed to more diversity of thought than our product/work taxonomy. All of the previous paragraphs are essential backup for a community but the creation of community is in the interaction … in the discussion. If you have ever been to a “good” conference where everyone seems to be drinking the same “KoolAid” … this is community … the “life” is in the interaction of meeting others, learning what they know, helping to supply what they don’t, and generally enjoying sharing a common passion with others. We have them in our company but most are small and lack the diversity a company of our size can give. A discussion forum with a good dashboard to the “hot” topics can lead to building big community.

A discussion forum is not a content portal where we share content with others across the company (we have that in SharePoint). This is not a messaging or communication tool. We have email, instant messaging, phones, satellite broadcasts and the like for that. This is a place where we collaborate informally to share thoughts, participate in discussions, add experiences, and contribute to activities. This is a place of content created by the people for the people. We should not be dragging our content from our SharePoint sites to this place. This should be a new separate way of knowing and learning things … by conversation-centric collaboration. At first there will be an introductory phase where people get to know each other, how each other thinks, and what each other cares about and what are the passionate subjects. This is the social phase. This is the phase where people wonder “did we just make a new distraction from the job?” … the same thing we wondered about when we introduced the internet into our company. The answer is no for most mature professionals but yes for some (they will have to be dealt with the same way we do for internet). After the newness wears off, people will realize that they have “friends of similar passion/interest” all over the company. Some of these people can readily be converted to “business friends” and even if they can’t be directly converted they may introduce you to people who can. This is similar to other networks of trust. So starting as a social community, we slowly transform (8 – 10 months) to a business community … we don’t drop the social because it is the glue that binds us but business matters become more prevalent as the community matures to become your extensive work contacts.

Although there will be a rush to lay out communities along business lines, organizational taxonomy, these communities unintentionally or intentionally have some amount of exclusion, so we should have several communities that are wide open and fun to attend … water cooler types. There we should be allowed to talk about most anything … discuss the latest comments about our company in the newspaper, discuss why it is not feasible to have covered parking. Why? Because this is where you see where the pulse of a community really lies … what it really cares about … where its passions lie. In the our old internal newspaper, we used to have a letter to the editors column which just seemed a place to air grievances. That was a one-way information stream. This will be different. In a multi-way, well-inhabited conversation you will find many people in defense and in offense … in the end it tends to draw consensus towards a middle view, a more corporate view. This shared view is the essence of community. A wide open community is where you get to meet interesting people in the company regardless of where they are … it is a place where you can meet people who do a similar job to you but in a different discipline … it is a place where you truly get to see the diversity of people a company of this size holds … a company that you want to belong to. I left after 5 years because I didn’t think this company had anything for me … I worked for two other companies before I came back (1987) … now I know there was plenty of things I could do in diverse areas. If I had an insight on the whole company, I probably would never have left … I would have just changed departments or divisions.

It will take work and different skillsets to make each community successful and keep them going … it will take a plan for content, steady regular contributors, a community manager and a good community name … and it will take fun, social, and passion to start it, fuel it and keep it going. A quote from Chuck Hollis’ blog, A Journey in Social Media – a record of building community within EMC (a worldwide 55,000 company):

  • Conversations lead to passionate topics of mutual interest.
  • Passionate topics of interest lead to ad-hoc community formation.
  • Community formation leads to collaboration around shared activities, including document collaboration.
  • Community collaboration is the quintessential magic of all things E2.0.

<<Keeping the Balloon Afloat, Things an Online Community Needs to Thrive, Passion: The Secret Ingredient?>>

Who gets benefits from all this work … new hires at first, since knowing more people in the company helps them to build their network. They will be the first to adopt too since they have been working with communities outside. Next is the department of Human Resources. They have the New Employee initiatives and more importantly they have a stake in people interacting with people, people finding other skilled people, and just about every initiative having to deal with people. So HR should be a major partner in championing an internal community place. Just for the record, every “working more efficiently” thrust has a tool component and a people component. While, as a technology company, we tend to assign the responsibility of these thrusts (collaboration, unified office/workplace, etc) on IT, the tool component, there should be a major emphasis on their use for the betterment of the company as a whole which is a people thing, a business thing. The responsibility for “community” success lies in more places than just IT. Community isn’t in the tool, it is in the people who use the tool. <<Community: a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment>>

This is not an exact science … behavioral science … every company is different … we will have to be flexible … we will have to learn OJT style … planning out communities will help prepare but it is the people who decide where it ends up. Ten months after launch, take an overall assessment … do we have people in all walks of life talking with each other across the company about subjects that deal with business, subjects that enable business, subjects that make people feel our company is a good company to work for … does the company feel like a more vibrant place that bonds together in similar thought over our competition, our suppliers, our choices for product. Some communities will come and go but we will have a sense of overall company community … a place were you can go to find passionate people who might just solve your particular problem or even get behind your ideas … but we first have to have a location where everyone goes. The rest will follow.

May 16, 2008

Things an Online Community Needs to Thrive

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 5:37 pm

A Plan for Content: A Water Cooler community across all of our company won’t take too much because once you get it started/seeded and people see how to and what to discuss then the people themselves will keep it up. You will want a balance of diverse things in a Water Cooler community so that people will continue to come, feel invited to introduce any topic and not think the group is only about one or two things. So when somethings like “For Sale” does take off and tend to dominate then you would want to fracture them off to a sub-forum but you have to let the community mature to the point that they want this to splinter off. Even if you know that some things will dominate, you can’t rush through the maturity cycle. You want things to start in the big group first to get a lot of synergy, exposure and interaction first.

To have a more focused business community there needs to be some plans for content. Innovation and trust take a while to happen. I once read that it takes a minimum of twelve exposures before someone believes you have re-corrected a behavior. So say you always gave people credit when supplying some knowledge and then you slipped up once. You have to expose, to all the people who saw the mistake, twelve more times of giving credit before these people believe it was just a one-time glitch. That is a lot of exposures to gain trust. Trust is required for people to build on each other’s ideas. So in the interim before people start bringing their own ideas to be torn down/built up, you have to have content that others don’t have too much stake in but are passionate about. This way people can interact and build trust and understanding of each other.

So how do you intend to invite participation and drive communication in your community? What are the first 5 things you’ll publish? Please give us a list of the first 5 things you’ll publish in your community to drive collaboration – (from a journey in social media, April 22, 2008, Requests From The Community)

Steady Regular Contributors: People like coming back to a community that has the same core of people in it. They might not like all of them but it is reassuring to see the same contributors there. It helps to build trust because you get repeated exposure as to how they think and act. So when you are ready to propose new ideas you can guess as to how different people will react to them. You won’t be insulted when Bob/Betty doesn’t like it because they always don’t like things at first until you work on them a bit. This takes commitment from these individuals. You have to plan for that. Plus it is hard to find individuals who have the right knowledge and are willing to enjoy this kind of commitment over a long time. So be careful how thin you spread this valuable community resource.

Who will be your regular contributors? Who has agreed to commit time on a consistent basis to keep your content fresh? At least one, the more the merrier! Think “divide and conquer” – the more committed contributors, the more shared the load. Please name names. – (from a journey in social media, April 22, 2008, Requests From The Community)

The Community Manager: Basically this is the host of the party. This is the person that has to introduce people around or an online equivalent of supplying help documents. This is the person who steps in, opens a window and supplies some air conditioning to a conversation whose passion is near boiling point. This is the person who decides to let a conversation run its course even though it is going off topic if they think that the output will still be useful. They have to observe carefully looking for signs of malcontent or the over abundance of passion that is putting people off. A good one is almost never noticed until they are on vacation. A Mercedes community I belonged to and visited almost every day for over 5 years and whose simultaneous topics ran almost a hundred, had a good one and a less experienced one. When the good one went on vacation and the less experience one took over for awhile it was quite noticeable as to the temperature of the group. Most times it isn’t as extreme as this — this group had over 1000 members in all reaches of the globe and about 4oo steady members who were specialists in every field (doctors, lawyers, Nasa, plumbers, inventors, and even us engineers) — this is a lot of viewpoints and there were a lot more things covered than just Mercedes. The Community Manager spends a lot of time on this.

Who will be your community manager, and can this person budget enough time for this? Has this person regularly contributed on EMC ONE to-date? Hint: if you’re filling out this form, it’s probably you! Remember: It takes time to keep your community active! You should be prepared to actively engage and participate on a daily basis! – (from a journey in social media, April 22, 2008, Requests From The Community)

The Community Name: It seems rather simpleton — what’s in a name. If your name is too general and yet you want things to be more focused then you will always have newbees making mistaken posts. And Vice Versa. The clearer the name the better it will be remembered and the more meaningful it will be when it turns up in a search. Department names restrict voluntary access even though they didn’t plan on it — I probably wouldn’t join Product 2537 Marketing — but I might try participating in Wireless Widgets or a more focused Selling Wireless Widgets.

What will your community be called? Clever names are OK, but it ought to be clear from the name what the community is all about. – (from a journey in social media, April 22, 2008, Requests From The Community)

May 15, 2008

Can a Mailing List be a Community?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 2:44 pm

Absolutely. We have lots of small communities formed around mailing lists. I even know of some big ones like our Parent Network. But to really be a community there should be no penalty associated with either how big the audience is or how ofter someone says something. With email coming to your inbox the proper protocol is the bigger the mailing list the less someone should say or reply. This squelches conversation. Plus with a mailing list how do you discover what is being discussed (the hot topics) without being already a member? How do you jump into a conversation, listen for a spell, contribute maybe, and leave maybe? You need an easy way to hear the conversation, move over and linger for a bit, join in if you want, and leave … just like at a party … mailing lists are not that flexible. We also have tens of thousands of mailing lists where you didn’t voluntarily subscribe or mostly for notification … these are not community … these do not have people with passionate discussions or people having passion for the subject matter.

So we need a tool that has some kind of dashboard to all the discussions and then lists the most vibrant ones somehow … a tool that hides the complexity of thousands talking instead of the linear inbox … a tool that allows you to glimpse the most recent goings on in that discussion … a tool that allows you to jump in and participate and leave … a tool that captures, categorize, and search indexes conversations for others to join in later … a tool that brings to the forefront conversations that have new contributions from new people.

This tool is called the discussion forum. There are many out there … each has strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t have to be strong in all facets … it just has to not truly hinder any. Because community isn’t in the tool, it is in the people who use the tool. We just need a tool that helps them find each other and gets out of their way.

Keeping the Balloon Afloat

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 12:06 pm

Sometimes I like to think of a discussion thread, topic, email thread, whatever, as a balloon. You have to keep punching the balloon periodically to keep it afloat. Obviously we are talking about room temperature air, not hot, not helium.

It really doesn’t matter who hits it to stay afloat. Also some people hit it harder than others (a good contribution). If you have a lot of people in the discussion then you yourself don’t have to hit it very often but you do have to watch to make sure you are ready if it comes to your corner especially if there is no one else in your corner to hit it except for you. If you think of a balloon as the pulse of a particular conversation then you can think of all kinds of things that work into this analogy.

So now that we have our indicator/pulse, lets see what hurts it. I always thought that too many discussions/balloons in a forum was bad because many would fall to the ground. I now realize that this is the natural order of things and the community is healthy as long as a few are always in the air.

If you don’t have enough people or the balloon is so heavy that a normal hit isn’t going to move it much then it falls or maybe doesn’t even get off the ground. Some technical forums are this way. If the topics are so weighty that a normal participant doesn’t move it with a reasonable punch then the participation dies. The topic needs to be split up into reasonable pieces that a participant can make a difference in a single visit. In some of the more successful technical forums a skilled host will do this by asking questions that help split the topic up or re-formulating how questions and topics are posted.

If the re-visit rate isn’t high enough or there are not enough passionate people that will punch it then you have the same problems.

It takes a real commitment to keep a few balloons in the air at all times … just like it takes real commitment from passionate folks to keep conversation flowing and a community alive. So we should not split the few balloon punchers we have in our company with the limited time they have over too many communities/forums.

May 14, 2008

Are Blogs Collaborative?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 4:45 pm

Yes. Kind of. About the same way a brainstorming session is collaborative when the person at the whiteboard never sits down. That is why I implied some amount of equality in my collaboration definition. The person at the whiteboard and the blog writer have the upper hand … they have most of the cards. In the world of Web 2.0, this is why you see other blog writers put a reference to their own blog rather than put their comments in the comment section of another. They put their comments and responses in their own blog where they can maintain a sense of equal footing in the discussion. There are people who don’t have a blog and put their arguments in the comments but the rest of us readers just assume they are arguing with an authority and are not an equal.

In a good collaborative discussion people must be relatively equal and only their ideas and works subject to scrutiny. A bad idea is a bad idea. A good idea is a good idea. It shouldn’t matter who it came from. Since no one really knew each other, the internet grew a culture of people whose works/contributions govern and not their titles. This is why the Wikipedia is so successful … it doesn’t have to wait for credentialed people. No one questions a person’s credentials to write a definition … they only question as to whether they are right or not. Thus a Roman Historian can put in something about the Roman Empire and a college student can correct it with more informative data. Yes, the historian can be insulted that his lifetime of knowledge and reputation doesn’t give him a “buy”, but in the end if the student has been sufficiently checked out he/she wins out. A nice bit of equality this. How very counter-corporate this is. It will take awhile before a culture can change inside a company where the peons can put more accurate information on top of information by someone of higher rank. It is really true that the “workers” will have more accurate working information than their higher-ups but it will hurt some to have their work overwritten. In some cultures this may never happen … one of the reasons that they are slow to adopt Web 2.0 outside of western based cultures … but that is changing fast.

Blogs are typically assigned first to high level people in the reporting structure. Why not? All the decisions rest with them. They are in charge. They should be the people saying what is right/wrong. They should be the people who know where we should head next. Blogs don’t have equal discussion. Blogs don’t readily surface who the real discussion leaders should be for a particular subject like “the parking situation” or “trash accumulating at the outside door”. Blogs are not discussion forums. In discussion forums, the participants can readily identify who the real leader should be by listening to the discussion because they are not tainted by a pre-ordained leader the way a blog is. Thus my statement … Blogs are not that collaborative.

Recently an outside company gave us a brief as to where they were in their social networking progress. They had made masterful use of blogs internally. They had also set up an employee idea discussion forum that was a wild success. They seemed rather surprised that all kinds of water cooler topics were brought into a forum to discuss ideas. Well people are going to discuss what they are going to discuss … better in a forum for all to see and correct than in a hallway somewhere. The company just discovered the need for an equal participant forum where each could contribute on knowledge and not on credentials … now they get great collaboration. The speakers seemed sad that the topic of parking kept coming up. I say why be sad when you have a forum where you can level set everyone by consensus that the parking might not get much better but at least you know it isn’t some conspiracy.

I am looking forward to internal discussion forums where I can get off my high horse and into the mix.

Another definition for Collaboration

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 11:38 am

Chuck Hollis writes a blog about his thoughts, beliefs, and actual experience in bringing Social Media/Social Networking to his big company, EMC. His blog is A Journey in Social Media. I find his experiences very useful and relevant to our own internal and external situations.

Although I like my own definition of collaboration better (of course) because it takes a higher view on collaboration as an human “act” with a purpose, you may like his lower level results-based definition better … What is Collaboration?

Chuck defines two types of collaboration: document-centric and conversation-centric.

  • Document-centric: I send you something, you make edits, you send it along. The goal of this collaboration is a document. This approach ignores the “social” part of “corporate social media”.
  • Conversation-centric: People talking to people. Finding each other. Sharing ideas, experiences and perspectives. Arguing about stuff. Agreeing about stuff. Whereas the end document captures only the end result of the collaboration, the conversation captures the actual thought processes … the actual act of collaboration itself … the roads of ideas not selected for documentation.

How many times have you put together a slide or document with a few others with big differences of opinion. There were many ways to go but you finally settled on one given a presumed set of assumptions. There might have been someone late to the table that had great ideas and you would have gone with them but time ran out to create the document so it isn’t captured. So I’m partial to the Conversation-Centric collaboration … the hallway conversation … since to me this is the act of collaboration … where some of the real engineering gets done … the other document-centric is just a compiled time slice. This is the stuff we need to expose, catalog, and search index. This is where we can have a big conversation across all of our company.

May 13, 2008

Why Social Networking? Aren’t we doing just fine?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 4:32 pm

If we, as a company, get good at social networking internally we, as a company, will work as a much closer unit.

I’ve taken a couple of teams through the “ropes” courses taught in our own Rec Center a while ago. Every one of the teaching exercises required massive amounts of communications through many avenues between all of the team members to do well. If fact, some of the teaching requires crippling some avenues of communication to see if the team re-forms the communication bridges through other means.

One of my favorite exercises was for 5 members of a team to pick up a bucket of tennis balls and move them to the end of a gymnasium without spilling them. They were blindfolded and used 10-feet of bungee cord wrapped around the bucket of balls. They pulled in a 5 point star to lift the bucket, then moved in unison to the other end and then eased up in unison to set the bucket down without spilling. A little hard but doable if they weren’t blindfolded. Each of them had another team member as their eyes. Their “eyes” talked constantly adapting to the quickness of the blindfolded’s reactions to have them oh so gently pull in unison in 5 different directions to lift the bucket without tipping. Then moving forward as one unit with one gait and then lowering the bucket oh so gently in unison. The communications on all levels to guide the blinded to success is indelibly inked in my brain. The team acted as one unit but the communications made it seem like a room of 50 people.

This is what I mean by a company working as a close unit … we walk in unison toward certain goals but the interaction among us to do so must be a cacophony of conversation about thousands of subjects. Social Networking will get us talking like that.

So we use (blogs/wikis/forums/etc.) to build informal communities driven by people with common interests. The value is in the community of well-oiled conversation … the respect, the understanding of other positions, the infectious drive of others, the rapid processing of alternatives … allows communities to munch down work ten times faster than our traditional command-and-control silo-ed counterparts.

Why wouldn’t we want our company teaming with conversation but focused toward goals? Not only does it make your job easier but it makes it a fun place to work. What if you are not a talker … and many aren’t? It is still reassuring to have those that are working through the details and sorting things out so that the rest can focus on the work to be done and not on the politics of uncertainty.

If other companies do this and we don’t … it will be as if we continued to use paper, typewriters and the postal service while everyone else uses email, word processing and the internet.

May 12, 2008

Community: a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 6:41 pm

How cold is that! Doesn’t really bring it to life. In Wikipedia under “Sense of Community“, they point to an example from McMillan & Chavis (1986) that says …

Someone puts an announcement on the dormitory bulletin board about the formation of an intramural dormitory basketball team. People attend the organizational meeting as strangers out of their individual needs (integration and fulfillment of needs). The team is bound by place of residence (membership boundaries are set) and spends time together in practice (the contact hypothesis). They play a game and win (successful shared valent event). While playing, members exert energy on behalf of the team (personal investment in the group). As the team continues to win, team members become recognized and congratulated (gaining honor and status for being members). Someone suggests that they all buy matching shirts and shoes (common symbols) and they do so (influence).

Now thats better. Course I can’t identify with basketball ever since the high school coach cut me my junior year … I know … I need to get over it already.

Let me try. Ever been to a bad party? I don’t mean bad meaning good but bad meaning baaad. I would call this a stale community. A vibrant community can be compared to a good party. If you haven’t been to a good party … I’m sorry … everyone should be entitled to at least 3. Please refer to a movie where their appears to be a good party (cocktail, embassy, whatever Hollywood thinks since they think they are experts at throwing them) .

The elements of a good party are active listeners/guests, conversationalists, hosts, booze, foods and house/location. I listed these in the order I think they are important although I bet I know a few that would rank booze a lot higher. You got to have guests or its not a party. Good guests are usually a little more active listeners by asking questions and grunting (dis)approval at different things. On occasions they become the conversationalists when they tell their stories. The hosts make sure everyone is as actively engaged as they desire, answer the door to bring new guests and show them about, and basically oversee the entire community to make sure things are running smoothly. Note that some people who are not engaged just want to be observers of others (that IS their entertainment) and others just want to be seen by some (image control).

Now that the organisms have been described we are left with the mechanics of a good party/community. All of this can happen in an open field but the mechanics make it go a little easier. The booze is an accelerant. It is not needed if there is time for relationship building but at 4-hour parties the booze can accelerate the process. The foods can also help in this process but might be only needed to ease the nerves by giving the hands something to hold and help decelerate the booze. Finally there is the house/location. It really can’t do much to improve the party but can do a lot to inhibit it. So a house with some large rooms and maybe some small rooms in an easy to get location with OK parking can work.

What the heck am I talking about? Community is like a party. The way you keep it alive and vibrant are the same. What about community tools? These are the house. They don’t make a community … people do. So community and collaborative tools are just that … tools … it is the people that do the building.

May 9, 2008

Collaboration: my definition and the means to

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 3:14 pm

Collaboration: two or more individuals working together in a coordinated manner, more or less as equal partners, sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus to achieve more than what any one of them could accomplish on their own.

Someone asked me yesterday, “What does collaboration mean to you? Explain collaboration”. Well my head was flooded with so many thoughts that I didn’t even know where to start. I thought of so many contexts the word is used in that I was tongue-tied … amazing. But really, I should have a ready made answer for this … I use this word all the time. So I thought about it last night and this morning and above is what collaboration means to me. I tried … you can’t find this exact definition on the internet but you can find many pieces of it.

I would say that I have an “alliance” with many people … I’m paid to … but I collaborate with very few. You don’t have to be equal in the same spaces but you have to all put in equal effort otherwise its just “helping”. If two authors collaborate to co-author a paper and another person supplies them some information, it doesn’t mean that this third person collaborated with the other two. You also have to be willing to have your ideas transformed or evolved or even truncated. Consensus is one of my favorite words and here is my favorite definition that hangs on my wall. Also note that it doesn’t mean “hanging out” or “comparing notes” with people either in a community or in the hallway … you have to have some focus, some end to achieve.

The Means To: To enable collaboration you are going to need communication from face-to-face to around-the-world electronically. Some methods will facilitate with less friction but even the old horse-carried letters of times past provided enough facility to collaborate (just took at the American Revolution). If the collaboration is intellectual (not a painting, statue, or other construction), then you will probably need some place to write it down or record the results … from paper or whiteboard to electronic media. In fact, recording iterations so that you can go back are also handy. I believe that “community” across our company might lead to more possible collaboration with more diverse contributors. More diverse contributors collaborating might lead to more innovation.

Not to be confused with: Many times people confuse the meaning with the enablement tools. Collaboration can be done anywhere with most anything. A Wiki is not collaboration. People who use a Wiki are not necessarily collaborating. A Wiki might make it easier to collaborate over time and distance but unless there is an exchange of ideas and thought and a new result then there is no collaboration. If I write this blog entry and you agree then there is confirmation. If I write this blog and you disagree then there is consternation. If I correct or add to this definition here or in another place because of your comments then that might be collaboration.

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