One of the questions I’ve been kicking around for a while is whether it’s possible to generate novel knowledge in online teams where the team members are working asynchronously. You probably know what it’s like to brainstorm ideas successfully in person – one person suggests something, another throws an additional idea into the conversation and these are considered and iterated until a brand new idea arises from the combined ingredients. A perfect alchemy of trust, some constraints on the process, the use of exploratory language, a dose of caffeine, and no doubt other factors can result in co-creation of new knowledge.
But how easy is it to replicate this creative process online?
In talking with Chris Parsons at theCR Connect a few weeks ago, I learned about a model for problem solving called the double diamond. Proposed by the Design Council it explains the four broad steps needed to go from defining a problem to identifying a possible solution.
In reading “Reclaiming Conversation” by Sherry Turkle recently, the chapter about work caused me to reflect on our ongoing relationship with email. New apps, such as Slack, are touted as email killers, but why are we so addicted to email in the first place? In this post, I’ll dig into our relationship with email and what we might do to release its grip on us and our interactions at work.
Avoidance tactics – when email removes real connection
It prevents us from getting out of our control zone – We probably all know that feeling of being productive and terribly reluctant to interrupt our rhythmic rally of send an email, read an email, send an email, read an email…Yet while we’re firing words back and forth at speed we may have lost the sense of connection with the recipients, and almost certainly can’t context switch between different threads and recipients with any precision.
It helps us to avoid moments of vulnerability and accountability such as saying sorry – Missed a meeting? Late to deliver a report to a colleague? Send a quick “Sorry” and move on. Email lets us avoid the awkward eye contact. We get out of seeing the effects of our actions in the flesh. And so we also miss out on taking the sometimes messy, emotionally difficult steps to rectify our mistakes and rebuild relationships.
Next week I’m taking part in a panel discussion about the role of trust in communities at the Community Roundtable’s annual CRConnect event. Ahead of that I wanted to share a few reflections about trust.
Trust and vulnerability come hand in hand
Trust is ultimately about a willingness to make our vulnerability visible to another – and to believe that they won’t take that show of vulnerability and abuse it to hurt us. Vulnerability can take many forms from revealing a secret fear to a friend, to sharing key insights with a collaborator or admitting to a supervisor that we need more support.
The moment at which we take the plunge and share our vulnerability is always transitional – the next steps for the relationship hang in the balance until we receive a response from the person we’re sharing with. If our revelation is met with reassurance, care, and appropriate respect then we’re likely to share again and the relationship will continue to develop. Break the boundaries of the tentative formation of a safe space and the relationship may be damaged temporarily or permanently, depending on the scale of the breach.
In a series of 3 posts, I’m sharing some books that I’ve found useful on the topics of community management, online interactions, and leadership and team culture. In this post, I recommend 5 books that cover various aspects of how we behave online from different types of interactions to how structures influence our activities and more.
1. “It’s complicated” by danah boyd
I really enjoyed danah boyd’s dissection of the various beliefs about how teenagers use social networks – indeed, it was probably my favourite book of 2014. But it’s not simply an internet explainer/debunking of scare stories for the worried parent. Yes, each chapter addresses a topic of potential misunderstanding – from online identity, to privacy, to the naive belief that the internet is a great leveller. But, boyd frames many of her arguments in relation to the 4 affordances of online networks – the behaviours that the various online tools make possible. I enjoyed considering persistence, visibility, searchability and spreadability as key factors in sharing content online – and have started a series of my own musings about these affordances.
Social intelligence is the ability to navigate complex social relationships and environments – something key to being a successful community manager or facilitator. However, on reading recently about some of the components of social intelligence proposed by Dan Goleman it struck me how poorly we optimise for many of them on social media.
Goleman proposes that there are two broad categories of skills that comprise social intelligence – those of social awareness and those of social facility. Social awareness includes paying attention to others so that we develop empathy, attunement and cognition, whereas social facility is about how we regulate our own interactions with others – including how we present ourselves and exert influence.
Could some of the problems that we’re seeing with anti-social behaviour online be attributed to two related issues? 1) Platforms being better optimised for social facility traits and 2) Technical limitations that seriously restrict social awareness online. I unpack these ideas in this post.
Did anyone else see this article in The Atlantic that asks “What is community”? It explores what community comes to mean if we focus on personal identity – in politics, online and in our relationships:
“….Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter and Snapchat and their many fellow services emphasizes identity through a combination of consumption and performance: On Facebook, for example, one’s favorite music and one’s favorite news sites and the memes and jokes one shares suggest, in the aggregate, not just what they like, but who they are.”
I’d argue that things are a bit more nuanced than that – sharing of information in the right context can lead new connections, and that it’s only by revealing something of ourselves that we are able to build meaningful relationships to others. The detrimental effects of focusing on identity seem to come when we hold identity as a rigid, immutable concept, instead of one that it able to change based on new knowledge and experiences.
What do you think? Do we have spaces online where identity can be more fluid? What is the role of the community manager in issues of identity? How would you define community?
Recently, I listened to an interesting podcast interview about gratitude. Something that really resonated with me in terms of community-building was a discussion of how gratitude creates a sense of belonging – a key element in communities. The interviewee mentioned the classic example of a Buddhist giving thanks for an item of food and realising how many different people went into bringing that item from the field to the kitchen table. In a global, interconnected world none of us can say we’re truly independent – we belong to a complex network of many other people.
But aside from making you realise that you didn’t achieve or obtain a certain thing entirely on your own and that you’re part of a wider ecosystem, I think there are two other points relevant to community-building:
- Gratitude as a concept for me had gotten somewhat lost in the word “sharing” which perhaps gets overused when talking about online exchanges. Yet if we unpack the action of healthy sharing within a community, it’s both the offering of a skill, piece of information etc and the giving of thanks for it. And if you’re thanked for your offering, you’re more likely to feel appreciated and you’ll probably contribute again in the future. Gratitude also signals that your behaviour was appropriate for the community – which helps to clarify belonging.
- The exchange between the donor and the recipient builds a specific, two-way interaction between two community members. i.e. giving thanks makes the interaction bi-directional, and therefore stronger than if it had been a uni-directional gift-giving. You feel like you belong because you have an actual reciprocated tie to another person.
How does this translate into practical actions to take? It could be that you always acknowledge contributions to your community/group – even if that’s just a thank you for leaving a comment. It could be publicly thanking by name members who have contributed content of value in the past week. Or it could be specifically “rewarding” members who contribute more than most with badges, a Q&A with them about their role, or some other way of deliberately increasing their social capital.
What role(s) does gratitude play in the communities that you belong to?