Solve Problems by Crossing the Streams

Solving Problems by Fostering Community and Surfacing Innovation

We work in silos. The boundaries might be fuzzy like a Turner landscape, but community, collaboration, and innovation can suffer as a result. We can improve our ability to work together to surface and solve problems by learning from how we socialize with the help of technology.

Let’s take a step back and examine the way we connect and communicate socially has transformed how we work.

We start by identifying the commonalities across our work and social lives.

Streams and the Multitude of Answers

I’m willing to bet that most of you agree that your job environment is pretty complex. Really, if you work with other humans, and you have an inkling, desire or flat-out goal to advance over the course of your life, you are operating in a complex system. Things are changing all the time. As colleagues move up or down, come in and out of collaboration, as priorities and budgets shift, you will find yourself constantly adapting to new ways of doing business in order to survive and thrive.

Complexity gurus David Snowden and Mary Boone have called this “The Domain of Emergence.” Their seminal article, A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, ( Harvard Business Review*)  gives a great introduction to the Key characteristics of an increasingly complex workplace, including:

  • Flux and unpredictability
  • No right answers;
  • Unknown unknowns
  • Many competing ideas
  • A need for creative and innovative approaches
  • Pattern-based leadership

Think about your work and colleagues and nearly all of those should feel immediately familiar.

Now think about your social circles and how you interact through the tools of social networking.

When planning something as simple as a dinner out with friends the boundaries of decisions have become extremely soft. Plans can – and often do – change right up until the last minute as DM’s, texts, tweets, and pin-drops influence our ability to stick to a hard plan.

This can feel frustrating for those of us accustomed to locking-in our decisions early, but it opens the door for experiences and last minute discoveries that can only be found by embracing emerging opportunities.

Those experiences are the unknowns that only come to light when one of your group texts or tweets that en route to the restaurant they heard a great band playing a few blocks away, or when the first person to the theatre sees a line a mile long and can reach the rest of the group to organize a last-minute backup plan.

Social networking has improved our ability to adjust to the unpredictable and quickly explore competing ideas (where to eat, what to wear, who brings what for the potluck). We can probe (suggest something), sense (see how others react), and then respond, and our ability to identify patters is heightened because enough information is shared openly that they emerge.

So how can we take those abilities and apply them to our workplace?

Start by tackling a project through any one of your socially enabled platforms. Google docs with google + and circles, or a Linkedin group limited to your partners in collaboration, or just by agreeing as a team to have the conversations around the project through any one of your social-streams, tracked by a hash-tag or equivalent so you can move through probe, sense, and respond much more quickly.

Use your streams as a group to probe, sense, and respond. It’s a lot like being able to challenge the ideas of an “outsider” because of the veil of security afforded by the stream. Laying out some ground-rules in advance can strengthen this advantage, allowing you to challenge assumptions as a team very rapidly and use ideas from across the group to form solutions.

Social media is moving away from being every leader’s biggest fear to being one of our best opportunities to foster community and innovation at work. Get cracking.

*Just google the titles if you don’t have access to a library. Lots of organizations have pdf’s on their website.

 

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