Fellow ZDNet blogger Maurene Caplan Grey who covers collaboration and workplace productivity on her blog, recently wrote about her pursuit of time management nirvana. In her post she lays out the evolution of technologies from personal information managers (PIM) to groupware to collaboration. Along the way, she reflects on the move from personal to group to the current blend of both that collaborative tools are beginning to provide. It’s an interesting exercise in overlaying the personal and social consequences of technology development and it resonated even more than it might usually because earlier this week I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours speaking with a class of working professionals who are pursuing an advanced degree at the University of New Mexico’s Andersen School of Management on many of the same topics.
Since I contributed an essay titled “Work is Broken” to the More Space project a couple of years ago, the themes of personal productivity and how it scales to teams, workgroups, and organizations, the emergence of the read/write web, and the increasing power, utility, and affordability of mobile devices have been coalescing in a perfect storm of ideas. Coupled with the societal and demographic trends chronicled by some very smart folks like Don Tapscott, Daniel Pink, Thomi Ahonen, and Alan Moore, the confluence of these trends has become increasingly interesting to me and has provided a rich vein of information that I’ve spent a considerable amount of my time mining.
I’ve become a big believer in serendipity over the past few years as stuff that I need to know, people I need to connect to, or information I need to help crystalize an emerging train of thought, appears with little or no conscious effort on my part on an increasingly frequent basis. I’ve come to call this self-perpetuating flow of information and personal connections my “serendipity engine”. A big part of this engine is the amount of networking and connecting I’ve been able to do on the internet using disruptive and evolutionary technologies like free (or nearly free) VoIP telephony and video conferencing and shared tools and workspaces like online office-type applications with collaboration features, wikis, and blogs has made that serendipity possible. Embracing these technologies and incorporating them into my tool kit and skills set has opened a wide range of opportunities to participate in some really challenging and rewarding projects.
Circling back around to Maurene’s post, the statement that jumped out at me most was the following:
“I'm convinced that a natural outcome of working collaboratively is a gain in personal time efficiency.”Absolutely right. And, I’d take that statement one step further and say that the gains generated by working collaboratively transcend mere efficiency in your use of time and actually represent an exponential increase in the amount of information and number of personal connections you have access to. Business and social connection services like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, and MySpace all leverage this human network effect (admittedly to varying degrees of success) as do more transactional and commerce-driven environments like Craigslist and eBay.
The other day, as I was on my way back to my office from a lunch meeting, I got a call from a PR guy representing Intuit. Nothing particularly unusual there – I get calls and e-mails like these every day – they’re an important component in my “serendipity engine”. What was unusually synchronistic about this particular call, inviting me to review the findings from a recent research study of the small business market conducted by Intuit and the Institute for the Future, was how it aligned with my emerging focus on the perfect trend storm I described above, the class discussion I participated in two nights ago, and the conversation I had just finished having over lunch.
The Intuit Future of Small Business Report, as the summary of the research project has been titled, is not so much an epiphany as it is an affirmation of what many of us in the baby boomers segment have come to recognize as the inevitable direction we’re headed in our work and our play as we get older and (hopefully) wiser. That inevitability is the acknowledgment that the social contract of work we understood years ago when we first began our careers has vanished, that any notion of a job-for-life or real security or loyalty from an employer is a mirage, and that opportunities to leverage the skills and connections we’ve built up over twenty or more years of work can be a powerful springboard to the creation of a new kind of work that is at once more liberating, enjoyable, immersive, and profitable.
Thomas Friedman referenced this trend in his book The World is Flat in the context of his notion that we’re currently experiencing Globalization 3.0. That book came up in the course of the classroom conversation the other night and I remarked that while it was an enjoyable, well-crafted read, the book really provided no new insights or breakthrough recommendations to those of us who keep up with business news and trends. I said that I understood why it was popular despite the absence of these takeaways – like a number of texts that achieve “must read” status, the value is in the organization and presentation of ideas, not in the delivery of epiphanies. The instructor of the class I visited, a longtime friend and deep thinker about knowledge management and organizational dynamics and change echoed that comment I had made yesterday after he read the Intuit report which I forwarded to him.
“I’m convinced,” he wrote “that few people ever get past the funnies and the sports page. That’s why summaries like this and Friedman’s book are so useful.”