Our Role in Solving Collaborative Overload

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This post is for us, but not about us. We need to walk in their shoes. Feel their struggles.

Most of us revel in the joy, wonder, exploration, amazingness, and possibilities of 21st century collaboration. Indeed, the upsides are amazing! And yet, for most people who work, collaboration is like Luke never going anywhere without Vader — the fantastic Light Side always carries Dark Side consequences.

I have been studying how we communicate, collaborate and work for over 30 years. From our ongoing study, Search for a Simpler Way, which includes research on overload, work habits, technology, and the future of work, a few data points to consider …

Jensen - Collaborative Overload -inblog

  • Only about 5 percent of those who work are able to quickly connect the dots between disparate communications within the deluge. Which means most everyone needs support in understanding context, meaning-making, sense-making, and applying all that to daily decision-making.
  • Three of the top five sources of work complexity and time-wasters come from collaborative communication.
  • The average person loses between two to four hours per day trying to make sense of, connect the dots between, and keep on top of collaborative communication.
  • Information inside the average company is doubling about every 500 days. (*Faster in high tech firms … and the doubling-rate will only keep getting shorter.)
  • If you printed out the average person’s daily collaborative communication, it would fill about 350 pages. (*And will keep increasing.) Yet the average person only needs about five pages of information to do their job every day. So that 350:5 ratio represents their daily struggle. And as noted above, the solution is not just about finding the right five pages of information (analytics, data-mining) — it’s about meaning-making and sense-making. That occurs only within each individual, one person at a time.
  • No matter how much collaborative overload increases, as it surely will, one number will never grow: 1400. That’s the number of minutes in a day. Every company’s biggest competitive challenge is not what they think it is. It is competing for every employee’s time and attention — their most precious assets.

Our Role in Solutions

  1. Empathy. Our biggest job: Stop thinking and solving like geeked-out, tool-driven collaborators. Start feeling everyone’s struggles. Walk a mile in their shoes before we put on our own. My wishlist for the future of work is that everyone who works is required to be trained in programs like IBM’s Design Thinking. We all need to be much more other-centered, designing our solutions based on how others experience collaborative overload.
  2. Be the Workforce’s Advocate. Employees will use any tool, even if it poses a security risk, to overcome collaborative overload. Employers need to be far more user-centered in their solutions so employees don’t feel the need to go find their own. I have been fortunate to see this kind of advocacy as IBM developed its new email solution, Verse. But having worked with hundreds of companies, and studied thousands, I can assure you that true workforce-centeredness is still the exception, not the rule. The hardest and most crucial work we can take on is being the voice of the employee in every design decision, budgeting discussion, and planning session. More of us must put our asses on the line for those on the frontlines.
  3. Data-Visualization Marries Coaching Marries Storytelling. Deep analytics is only the start. The future of work will require many more storytellers, sense-makers, and meaning-makers within companies. Designers who understand the potential Dark Side of 21st century collaboration, and who help the world quickly make sense of things.
  4. Triaging Can and Must Be Taught. The number one skill of everyone who works in the future of work … triaging: The ability to quickly assess incoming information, organize it, synthesize it, simplify it, and communicate it in ways that engage the hearts, minds and actions of others. This must be among most companies’ top training and development priorities.
  5. Answer: Five Years from Now, What Will My Legacy Be? We stand at a digital and analytical crossroad. The Dark Side of collaborative overload still eats away at even our most brilliant solutions. What will our role be in solving this?

What will yours be?

~Your humble @simpletonbill


Learn more about collaboration overload in “The Top 5 Collaboration Challenges … and How IT Leaders Can Overcome Them.”

For more from Bill Jensen on the future of work and simplicity, click his name below.

Join the conversation on Twitter with futurists like Bill Jensen by using #NewWayToWork.

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