Fostering social collaboration at work is an art as well as science. Whether you are a new entrepreneur or an executive in an established company, fostering social collaboration and thereby leading to innovation needs the acceptance of chaos in the initial product development stages.
It is imperative that we avoid making detailed long-term plans but instead focus on the smaller details of users or customers’ needs and wants. We have to allow managerial teams to compete with many alternative designs and projects within a framework of goals and limits to achieve the desired results.
Further, it is a common understanding and perception that small companies foster greater social collaboration at work than large companies. This is not necessarily true. However, there is a lot to learn from the managerial practices of some of the world-class companies on fostering social collaboration at work and innovation. These practices can help other companies and managerial teams to learn and be more socially collaborative.
Firstly, what is social collaboration at work ?
Social collaboration at work is a set of processes where groups of individuals interact with each other to do common goals. The interaction might also be a ‘Brainstorming’ activity where people participate and new ideas emerge out of the participation and contribution.
Wiki Collaboration has permeated virtually to all forms of on-line collaboration and social media. It was a seed concept which was invented and developed in 1994, came to be used so widely today. The best example of Wiki collaboration, the Wikipedia, is the most referenced online content repository in the world.
Talking about Wiki collaboration, James wales, the Founder of Wikipedia has recently announced that he will be starting a new publication called the ‘Wikitribune‘ to cover fake news. James says, ‘Wikitribune’ would be a ‘news site with a sense of community’ with ‘Evidence-based journalism’ on the underline.
Wikitribune will bring together the public and the journalists on the same plane. Wikitribune will project facts as it is and news content will be taken out of bias. It will be unrestricted for all with a genuine sense of community. Commendable.
I am not going to talk about -what ails Wikipedia? or the rise and decline of Wikipedia. There has been a number of articles written on the decline. I feel that there is a lot to learn from Wikipedia. Now with the announcement of the Wikitribune, my sincere hunch is that it would reverse the trend for the better.
Vannevar Bush, the celebrated engineer, inventor and administrator must be one happy man in his grave. He left a legacy and passed away. His invention of the Memex in the 1930’s, led to the development of the internet as we know today. The memex also led to the development of the Wiki collaboration software.
It was in 1994, Ward Cunningham the inventor of Wiki software, was inspired by Vannevar’s ideas on Memex and further developed it into a software where people can share and collaboratively edit documents.
His desire was that people can collaboratively contribute and talk about their experiences by adding and editing content without much technical know-how on computers.
There are thousands of active wikis in use around the world. They are used as team collaboration software, knowledge management tools, corporate intranets and community forum websites.
A wiki is an online software that lets you share and collaboratively modify and edit contents and documents with others using a simple web browser.
Did you know: Wiki is a Hawaiian name, which means ‘Quick’.
Wikipedia: the best known Wiki collaboration software
I was amazed to know that about 10 billion people visit the Wikipedia in a month for the English version alone. No wonder it is the 6th most widely read magazine in the world.
An article from MIT technology review from Tim simonite was a thought to provoke. Though the article was written in 2013, the title of the article ” The decline of Wikipedia’ caught my attention’. You can find the article here.
I saw some valid points. Apart from that I have not seen much written about it in the recent years. There is one from Andrew Lih titled ” Can Wikipedia survive” published in the Newyork times. You can find the article here.
A lot to learn from Wikipedia
I came to know that there were a lot of improvements that Wikipedia was working on, ground up. Surely, there must have been a lot of challenges that Wikipedia as a Wiki collaboration software would have faced over the years.
How did Wikipedia face them and what were those? What are lessons that we can learn from its journey?
are the few questions that came up to me.
There is a social instinct in all of is to collaborate and contribute content. We do it for the greater good. Wiki collaboration needs a good dose of altruism. On this take, Wikipedia is a strong example of wiki collaboration and stands tall as a beacon.
Its success and sustainability are far more important to students, academicians and knowledge seekers of the world than to the volunteer professionals who regularly edit and contribute content.
Though Wikipedia in the recent past has suffered from a lack of young contributors, it is still doing fine.
There is no centralized control. No restriction. Anybody can contribute. The Wikipedia foundation is a non-profit organization and yet the volunteers contribute on their own free will. A commendable sense of community spirit. They are a set of passionate folks. They do it for the ‘Love of the WWW (World wide web)’.
There is a lot to learn from Wikipedia as a channel for wiki collaboration. Though Wikipedia has been so popular, it is not been seen as social media tool by many. Perhaps, the founders and volunteers need to shape it up in such a way so as to encourage a lot of public contribution.
Best practices for Wiki collaboration
There has been no alternative to Wikipedia so far, as a Wiki collaboration tool. It is online collaboration at its best.
A good characteristic which distinguishes itself from others is the concept of NPOV (Neutral point of view). Wikipedia depends on its volunteers to update and contribute information. The final information that is presented to the user is neutral in nature.
Volunteers update information from various sources. Some may agree and some may not agree on the information presented. The contentions and disputes among volunteers on information sources and claims are quickly resolved. What finally is presented is the information on a topic or subject matter from a neutral point of view (NPOV). A good best practice that even today, there are many regulations on information management and databases that are derived from it.
Another important practice that Wikipedia does is to weed out vandalized information on a continuous basis. Online Wiki collaboration has its bane as well. Any good information found on the internet which is free and easy to edit and collaborate is also prone to information being vandalized. The volunteer editors at Wikipedia have a very tight network where they immediately discard unwanted information in a matter of minutes.
Many other publications had tried to emulate the success of Wikipedia. One such example which is worth mentioning is “LA Times“. LA times introduced ‘Wikitorials’ which was shortlived. They introduced it with the intent that the public would edit and collaborate with each other to work on their editorial page. But with the absence of dedication and commitment from the administrators and volunteers, the site was quickly vandalized by some elements in the public. They had to shut it down.
So, it was the sheer dedication and the spirit of community among the Wikipedia volunteers that led to its success. Maintaining such a comprehensive repository of information and knowledge on the public domain is no mean challenge for Wiki collaboration.
There was harmony among the volunteers to produce content which was acceptable to everyone. It was done for the ‘love of the World Wide Web’.
Off-late some pitfalls
Wikipedia was at its peak in 2005 and its English language version was the most visited reference site in the world. Andrew Lih in his New York times article talks about the staff crunch that Wikipedia faces.
It was said that they had about 60 editors who were allocated for admin roles in a month. Now, it is hard to allocate even one editor in a month.
The number of volunteers who contribute new information is dwindling. There is a dearth of young contributors, who have the potential and zest to write about topics, agrees Tim Simonite from the MIT Technology review.
Obviously, there seems to be a generational gap within the old timers who stick to the traditional approach for updating information and are unwilling to change. Wiki collaboration has to change with the time. The newcomers and the younger generation want information to be updated on the new mobile computing infrastructure. There is a learning curve attached as well. These governance issues need to be sorted out.
The Wikipedia foundation which runs the administration and infrastructure portions have plans to bring in new software and editing capabilities, to steer the way the Wiki collaboration happens among the volunteers.
It is time now that Wikipedia is used by its users as a social media tool as well. Just like how Facebook serves as an entertainment social media. Wikipedia should place itself as a ‘knowledge social media’. Though I have been hearing talks, I haven’t seen any ‘share’ or ‘thank’ buttons incorporated yet.
The Final word
Wikipedia will succeed and overcome its challenges. It is a matter of time. There is now enough impetus with the introduction of Wikitribune. As a Wiki collaboration software, Wikipedia offers us many lessons to learn not just about how Wiki collaboration should function and work but on the remarkable spirit of community and for the power of free expression.
In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.
But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.
It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.
That is a good number.
But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.
The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation. There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time through collaboration and group think among team members.
Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.
Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.
Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?
The answer is – Yes!
Is there an online environment yet? Probably not.
We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.
So what is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.
There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.
Useful note: Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.
There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.
IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.
As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.
Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.
Being spontaneous and passionate for brainstorming
Focus: Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.
One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do. The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.
A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.
Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.
Go for quantity: It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.
Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.
Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.
Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.
Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.
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