Originally published by Sibi Nathaniel Grey
“The smartest person in the room is the room itself” from David Weinberger’s “Too Big to Know” is a quote that’s gaining certain popularity. After all, it makes more sense to stand up and ask the entire room the question instead of trying one’s luck with small groups of people. Other than statistically raising your chances of getting the right answer, it creates a space for collaborative solution creation by design. Take for example the case of the collaborative online game, Foldit, built by the University of Washington’s Game Science Department in conjunction with other University partners. The collaborative efforts of gamers, who were neither molecular biologists nor biochemists, solved a difficult Molecular puzzle in 10 days. A puzzle involving the molecular structure and configuration of a protein-cutting enzyme, from an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys, that had stumped some of the world’s best scientists for over a decade who had individually taken on the task. The collective abilities of a few non-specialists, when enabled with a platform for collaboration, rewarded through simple gamification, and empowered by a common goal, are formidable.
In a world where volatility and unpredictability are the status quo, and change is the new constant – the brilliant idea or the right solution is no longer expected to come from the most experienced person in the room. Often, a collective effort achieved through collaboration between multiple people and motivated teams leads to the most intelligent solutions and innovative ideas. As such, it has become commonplace for organizational structures to be flattened into decentralized, less pyramidal organizational structures – where the organizational dynamics of cultivating ideas into actionable solutions is a democratic process. As the mundane workplace tasks of everyday become increasingly automated, and working remotely is a lived reality – the true worth of every individual to an organization is their expertise, skills, and know-how. In any organization filled with talented and diverse individuals – it would be foolish to not implement a solution to institutionalise, gather, and leverage the network’s collective intelligence.
There’s a plethora of technologies with features that allow for both organization-wide and team specific collaboration – from the Yammers and Teams of Microsoft Product Suite fame, Workplace by Facebook, Slack etc. However, the fundamental missing piece in those pieces of technology is that of “Finding the right expertise at the right time”. As it currently stands, we are either expected to throw a question to the entire organization and hope for the best, use an internal people directory if we have an inkling as to who we might be looking for (See Below for my Sidebar diatribe on the Death of the Traditional People Directory), or ask our friendly, neighbourhood “human portal”.
“Human Portal” is a coined term of endearment that I’ve come to use for the concept of a “go-to” person when we look for information, knowledge, or an introduction. They are the living embodiment of the Network Effect because Human Portals are those who a) know a little something about everything just because of who they are, b) can point you in the right direction when you’re looking for information, or c) can connect you to the right person you need. The aim for organizations, therefore, is to institutionalise the concept of a Human Portal as a tangible, living, breathing platform for interactive collaboration between employees. This involves three key functions –
- Find & Communicate with the right expertise, at the right time
- Collaborate with a group who are interested in collectively creating a viable solution to a problem
- Rewards & Recognition for those who actively engage
SIDEBAR DIATRIBE: The Death of the Traditional People Directory
The traditional people directory needs to be put to rest. Fundamentally, it makes no sense to expect me to know the name of the person I’m looking for unless I already know exactly whom I’m looking for. Keeping an updated record of various skillsets and interests within an organization’s people directory requires incredibly high levels of manual effort. The chances of an individual’s timely and accurate response, as a friendly favour to my predicament, are slim. Statistically, there’s a higher possibility that I go looking for an answer to a problem, or for people with a certain skillset. The expectation that my choice of nomenclature for a problem or skill matches the semantic choices of the person who has the answers to my problem, is unrealistic.
A solution to this “People & Expertise Search” predicament that I encountered during my latest Strategy Project with Dentons (The Global Law Firm) is a company called ProFinda – a Machine Learning powered piece of technology that matches people to skills, people to work, and people to other people. It’s like an online dating platform – except that it uses Natural Language Processing to match you (via your search term) to people with the skillsets you’re looking for, and to people with similar and relevant expertise that you could have overlooked. A little “Art Of The Possible” thinking would lead you to a plethora of product ideas leveraging technologies like ProFinda for your organization’s digital workplace to harness the collective abilities of the network. What seems like a dream for organizations might be a reality after all, and not exactly a new one. Along with a rising trend in Digital Workplaces as part of the future of work, ideas like Publicis Groupe’s ‘Marcel’ an “AI-Powered Professional Assistant for its 80,000 Employees” to “shift Publicis from a Network to a Platform” through better collaboration is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building intelligent organizations.
Which begs the question – what is your organization’s next move towards the future of work?
This article is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series about Leveraging The Network Effect For Businesses. The other two articles are linked below:
About the author
Sibi Nathaniel Grey is an independent Consultant for Digital Strategy, Digital Transformation, Change Management, Business Transformation, Technology, Marketing, Data Science & Analytics. Working directly with clients or with Agencies and Consulting Firms on engagements where he utilises Design Thinking & Business Design to anticipate and solve real business problems. Connect with him at LinkedIn.