Creativity and Collaboration

Creative Commons Attribution by flickr user

There is an unseemly hubris in content and collaboration software.

It is the assumption that knowledge and innovation can come out of them.  As if our companies were some sort of orange to be squeezed into a pitcher and served up as a healthy and tasty accompaniment to breakfast.  The trend has a long history that is still being played out today though we see some hints of change.  ERP, MRP & Supply Chain systems took the principles of the assembly line and applied them to business processes – from how things are made to how they’re transported from here to there.  These gave rise to HCM systems which took the same fundamental approach and applied it to how people – human beings – are managed and placed and categorized and “quality assured” in an organization (that last part being your annual review).

The fundamental assumption and fatal flaw in all of these software “systems” is that process – those recipes of business – are actually what make the product, bring in the revenue, and service the customer.  They rely on a terribly thin lie; that the process is understood, the recipe is known and all that is left to do is find more efficient ways of executing it.  It is shake and bake business.  If we just automate our phone help desk with push-button easiness and route exception calls overseas we’ll increase success in business.

In many ways we’re the victims of our own technological success.   We’ve succumbed to “Small Earth Syndrome”.  The industrial and information revolutions are said to have shrunk the planet.  That’s a lie.  They extended our reach but they did not shrink and they did not simplify.

Complexity has increased magnificently and terribly in order to access our large planet.  Sophistication of our systems increased to handle the complexity.  Each new permutation of observer-induced cybernetic feedback was identified as the last bug to fix, rolled into our software systems and re-re-re-released with great fanfare.  And all the while the information was coming in – a tsunami made of 8 billion individual spigots left running and our collective sinks overflowing.  We see huge potential in this ocean of information.  Our flaw is in thinking that our old assembly-line thinking and linear systems can classify, index and handle it if only it gets just a bit more efficient.

This is not what brought us the revolutions in industry and information.  Intentional collaboration – directed, focused and goal oriented – gave us superior suspension in horse buggies, line-cook short-order restaurants and enterprise content management software systems. Accidental collaboration – interaction with information and insight regardless of original intent – gave us the GPS system from people listening to Sputnik and doodling calculations that determined its location in the sky, then reversing those to calculate positions on earth.  Accidental collaboration gave us Big Data, Big Insight and will drive the next phase of innovation.

This article originally appeared on on July 11

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