June 30, 2014

Keeping up with Collaboration in the Age of Connectivity

Megan Landes

Neuroscience nerd, peanut butter aficionado. Never found without colored pencils.

Communication is changing. We live in the Age of Connectivity, a world where no one would be shocked if wifi made an appearance on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and communicating face-to-face is becoming more and more "primitive.” The signs are everywhere: I'm confident I'm not the only who has been texted from the next room to be told that dinner's ready.

Breaking the Collaboration Mold

The growth of technology has changed the way we communicate, and therefore, the way we collaborate.Because it has become so easy and so common to communicate by text, Skype, email, phone, etc., physical distance no longer has to play a role in how we share (or generate) ideas: we are moving away from the old idea that collaboration has to mean everyone sharing the same space at the same time.

Growth of Technology

So what does this all mean for innovation?

Change can be scary, but change can also be good! This paradigm shift towards different kinds of collaboration does not mean that innovation will slow down, but rather, just the opposite. As it turns out, our increased connectivity has opened all kinds of doors for innovation.

The Age of Connectivity challenges us to entertain a crazy idea:the most important part of collaboration doesn’t necessarily require us to physically share the same space.

Face-to-face vs. Far Away

Technology makes the world a little bit smaller every day.  The growth of the internet and the rapidly increasing number of people who are connected have made it easier than ever before to exchange thoughts and ideas with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Face-to-face vs. Far Away



We are not, however, leaving face-to-face collaboration behind: there is an undeniable shared energy that can drive in-person collaboration and post-ups to be a source of great innovation and problem solving. This energy is often the element that comes to mind when we talk about successful collaboration: the sparks and momentum that come from a room of people bouncing ideas around (well, that, and also probably sticky notes).

Innovation is not sympathetic to our schedule

The thing is, face-to-face collaboration is not unconditionally successful.

Just sharing a space with other creative people is not enough to inspire innovation, and if we were to tell the truth (which we always do), the fact of the matter is that we are not always at our most creative when we are in our meeting room and armed with an arsenal of post-its and sharpies.

One of the drawbacks of face-to-face collaborating is that the pressure to come up with something insightful can actually keep us from thinking creatively. If we are acutely focused, our brains shut out all distractions. This is all good and well, except that being distracted can actually do wonders for creativity (which is great news for the daydreamers of the world like myself).

Innovation

When we are distracted, our brain processes a broader range of information, according to a study by the Scientific American. This helps us out, because it allows our brain to combine ideas in ways we may not have thought to on our own. Breaking away from more linear thinking can lead us to discover alternative ideas and solutions.

This is why places like the shower are such a popular places to have brilliant ideas -- because we let our minds wander!

This is also why remote collaboration can come in handy:

it offers us the ability to share our ideas from wherever (and whenever) inspiration comes the easiest.

“Chance favors the connected mind.” -Steven Johnson


The bottom line is, the goal of collaboration is to generate creative ideas and solutions.

In his book "Where Good Ideas Come From," Steven Johnson aptly points out that some of history's best and most revolutionary ideas were not thought of all at once in a single sitting.

Instead, they came from what he refers to as "half ideas." These "half ideas" are little inklings that were exchanged between people and mixed together and altered over time, and eventually evolved into full-fledged Ideas. This, he argues, is why Coffee Houses and Parisian Salons were such a hub of innovation during the Age of Modernism and the Enlightenment: because they were places where people would gather to exchange all their inklings about the ways of the world.

“The thing that turns a hunch into a real breakthrough is another hunch that’s lurking in someone else’s mind, and you have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts.”


This coming-together of inklings to form Big Ideas is the true magic of good collaboration, and this is where remote collaboration really shines.

Remote Collaboration

Being connected offers us the opportunity to have access to the rest of the world and their inklings at any time. Our increased connectedness makes the ideal idea-sharing environment of the Parisian Salons and Coffee Houses of the Enlightenment and the Age of Modernism available to us almost constantly. Which is pretty cool.

Here in the Age of Connectivity, we have an infinitely large database of human knowledge and insights at our disposal, which is also sometimes referred to as "The Internet." We can use these and all kinds of mediums of communication to gain inspiration and exchange our inklings with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Today, all of our own "half ideas" and the "half ideas" from all over the world have a chance to meet and combine and grow into Big Ideas. Before, we were limited to only the inklings we could find in person. Now, we have a world of inklings at our fingertips.

Puzzle


Chance favors the connected mind

We also possess the ability to share our inklings and insights with more efficiency and more resources (like images, videos, links, spreadsheets) than even the most innovative minds of the Coffee Houses and Parisian Salons could have imagined in their wildest dreams.

So happy collaborating, wherever you may be!

Takeaways:
  • Our increased connectedness is changing the way we communicate
  • Today, it is easier to exchange thoughts and ideas with people all over the world because we are constantly connected
  • Distraction can be good for creativity! So we might not be in a particularly convenient place when innovation strikes. The good news is that being connected allows us to share our insights at any time, from anywhere
  • The internet is a great resource for us to gain inspiration from other people's ideas