Coaction and apophenia: patterns of the collective mind


The act of participation and collaboration is one deeply engraved pattern amongst us human beings. Our brain capacity is far reaching when it comes to adaptation. The senses we use to communicate remains the same, but our tools change as well as our everyday pursuit. Teamwork is a well-researched area, as well as knowledge management but I would like to give some cues to future networked coactions, from two similar but still different experiences. Both cases do reflect the need to coordinate, collaborate with a specific outcome and timeline. Highly time-stamped, as they both represent live events for knowledge creation. Both cases have co-located and distributed networked resources, where the first all participants work at the same enterprise and the second case several actor networks contribute in the collaboration.

Themes on knowledge networking

  1. Intra-organisational
  2. Inter-organisational

When pulling together a teamwork effort, to create any information and knowledge to be shared we all agree that being co-located will the best way to deliver. But one cannot squeeze all resources into one spot, without a great effort and to a high cost, so we daily rely on distributed networks to get things going.

How do we get knowledge flows seamless with different modalities to interaction, prior, during and after an event?

Case I: Intra-organisational. A consultancy firm with a Community of Practice, being experts within enterprise content management.

How does one expand a live event experience into a multichannel knowledge flow?

The setting, 150+ in the CoP and a corporate body with 1300+ in several countries, but mainly Swedes. A two days event off-site and a nice location with invited guest artists with fixed theme. Prior to the event a wave conversation emerged to develop the agenda, shared ideas to our joint outcome after the event. The internal SharePoint collaborative space and a Yammer mixed the channels, but the main contribution in Wave to trial multi-user-wiki experience, and to expand the prior-event conversation to the guests as well.

At the event, a live HD-Video broadcast were set-up to capture and stream the guest artists to everybody not being on-site. Collaboratively participants contributed to the vivid and lively wave conversation, and posting internal tweets using Yammer to get cross talk within the whole corporate body. The idea generation from the event, used a tailored Moderator series, were distributed resources could add questions to the participants, while listening to the video streaming experience and following the simultaneous contribution channels.

Outcome? Well, it took awhile to get all accustomed to Google Wave (well documented drawback), but when 90+ peers work from one highly connected place, in time and space. Things do emerge and new ways of knowledge contribution in a never before seen fluid way, really made the event a success. The distributed approach to invite people to an onsite experience while being away, really worked well and we got several ‘spot-on’ questions in the idea-generation in Moderator that converged well into the stew. Good quality streaming and video/sound and fun new conversational spaces enlightened all participants. The art of community is a social construct, and the digital habitats needs stewardship.

Case II: Intra-organisational. A live Tech Business Case Competition, with students, University and Corporate resources co-located and distributed

Will open-spaces and Internet based (i.e. ‘social media’) collaboration improve knowledge sharing?

The setting, 16 teams from top Universities from all over the world were invited to a 24h race, where they would develop a tech business case and present it to top-corporate management. Winner gets 25 000 USD. The joint taskforce from the corporate world and University, wanted to tap into the collective mind and the stream (‘social media’ use amongst smart MBA students anno 2010), to capture the vivid online conversation. This years quest ‘Navigating the sea of Connectivity‘!

Prior to the event several different means were used to collaborate, Google Apps/Docs, Wave, email, teleconferences, and inside the corporate walls SharePoint spaces. Different means to develop a coherent plan of actions and activities, simply put distributed-teamwork. To engage the students before arrival Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Linkedin, and a Univ. Blog and corporate dot com sites where used. At the event a very distributed team from both the corporate and university worlds acted both co-located at the university site and on the Net. All competing teams were given a twitter accounts, and shared principles for participation and contribution were used. To glue all channels together a social tagging scheme were proposed. Given that the teams managed to aggregate the online conversation regardless of contribution space in a coherent way, using Google Reader, Twingly, Tinker and Yahoo Pipes. This mashup tinkering and pragmatic approach delivered a very comprehensive and easy to use flow. During the 24h race the tweets from the different actor networks melted into one social tag space, and cascaded into live-blog entries and Facebook page updates. The same path emerged from video, sound and picture uploads. The co-located competing teams used many different tools, such as DropBox, Google Docs and Slideshare in their knowledge creation before presenting to top-management.

Post event, the ambition is set to develop a collaborative story telling based upon mashup technologies and i.e. Wave conversation (to be told in future posts)

Apophenia, the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things

Traditional collaborative spaces, i.e. old school Notes used during the 90′ and today’s corporate use of SharePoint have well documented draw backs, so will new emerging technologies in the social media and mashup spaces (Enterprise 2.0) unleash new ways of knowledge sharing internally or externally? Given these two very simple cases, there are some tangible cues:

  1. Mashup, bringing all channels together and all actor networks. Filtering is key, since we all act as individuals in the ecosystem of our everyday life. Simple integration works.
  2. Being social! Well, network effect runs the show! Constraints given the mission impossible to squeeze everybody into one room, will find its remedy using social media tools.
  3. Open collaborative spaces unleash innovation. Serendipity will be a beacon when we all connect. Cross talk inside the corporate walls or on the Net glues the collective mind into an emerging tapestry.
  4. Simplicity rules, low-cost and fast deployment of context specific collaborative spaces. Technical infrastructures and information interoperability between platforms, a modular architecture. Disruptive Technologies runs innovation.

These new tool-kits to undertake teamwork as in both cases; do give us new means to solve the problem. A richer experience! But one obvious warning to all this, it is not about the tools. The social fabric will emerge, and we do not always know which tool kit that will fit for purpose. The answer to the questions raised based upon the experience from these two separate events is:

  • To get knowledge flows seamless, one have focus on simplicity of contribution and integration
  • To expand a live event, one have to have orchestrated and well governed approach, spiced with loads of pragmatism
  • Emerging technologies for collaboration do improve the outcome

Are there any patterns of the collective mind? Yes, make-do and pragmatic tinkering works regardless of technology. We as humans adapt!

A fun notion to all this, is that prior to the events in the two cases, SharePoint worked pretty good to capture the preparation, but ones the event went live the distributed teams needed to mix modalities from being mobile (using Facebook, twitter, flickr, youtube and texting) and stationary producing blog entries, content and presentations. Micro-coordination had to cope with this multitude of channels and modalities. By no means this happened to be workflow, or traditional document management. Having SharePoint on your mobile device yet? think not! but a set of social media tools….future posts will continue these early thoughts.

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