How the new discipline of collaborative scripting can engage brains across your workplace to cultivate better learning, open up new opportunities and markets and establish transformational new thinking deep at source within your business
The road to productive, enduring transformation lies in persistent organisation-wide learning
In the age when everyone seems to be at it, the road to successful digital transformation in any company is most likely be built upon the effectiveness with which its information officers can capture and put to work its native intelligence and ability to create new knowledge.
Transformation is, after all, not a simple, one-off, set-and-forget event, but now a perpetual daily challenge to any business’s status quo.
The great promise offered by collaborative workplace technologies is that through a more effective communication process, the whole can be motivated to perform better than the sum of its parts.
By exercising collective intelligence, it can make its minds smarter and better at anticipating, spotting and adapting to the realities of relentless change.
One problem, however, is that while the tools of social workplace collaboration can promote effective effort and knowledge sharing across silos, most employees may not yet know exactly why or how they’re meant to use them.
To counter this, corporate collaborative scripting sets up a system for using these tools to strengthen an organisation’s propensities for learning, insight, invention and dependable organisational improvement.
In a learning economy, collaborative scripting makes explicit the knowledge an organisation needs to accomplish its goals, and the steps it will take to get it.
Collaborative knowledge transformation must become a better executed discipline
As social workplace technology-driven collaboration grows in uptake and management-media attention (here and here, for example), the need to exercise it as a well executed workplace discipline grows, if it is to assist the competitive practices of constant digital transformation.
The problem in most businesses is that despite containing more intelligence than ever gets put to use, knowledge is routinely disaggregated, captured and shared ineffectively.
Through this, the cost of information loss and degradation grows, unnecessarily reducing productivity, potential, and even undermining the necessary possibilities for exposing and managing risk in a new and fast-changing environment.
Yet, in social workplace knowledge-sharing applications such as wikis, we have the best tools ever made available for articulating, sharing and targeting learning and knowledge-creation across a business.
In organisations that adapt well to their uses, this will be a source of much future profit, repeated innovation and productive disruption suffered by rivals.
The aim of collaborative scripting is to create a transformation platform that turns innovative ideas quickly into the learning capable of delivering rapid product advances, improved workplace capabilities and practices, and great software.
It shares and makes explicit to those who need to know and to contribute to the knowledge journey on which a company’s future will be built.
In his 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, New Yorker magazine business columnist James Surowiecki elucidated the simple idea that larger groups of people are often smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant, at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, and even predicting the future.
Helping information officers tap into this spirit to capitalise on the strengths of workplace diversity lies at the core of collaborative scripting.
Collaborative scripting addresses two principal current transformation concerns:
- Conjuring ideas for new products, processes and improvements.
- Probing to articulate what must be learnt across a business to construct the platform to accomplish them.
Build a better coordinated collaborative organising principle
To be captured, shared and grown, knowledge must typically, at a minimum, be written down.
But, while their intelligence, their ideas and suggestions may be good, not everyone has the same gift, comfort with or care for written communication. Many people write poorly, don’t like doing it, or record information in a fashion unsuitable for use by others.
To counter this, collaborative scripting draws on the practices of professional publishing to facilitate clarity and aid comprehension.
Collaborative scripting provides an integrating force for digitising knowledge development
In digital business transformation, no single executive is likely to be able to think through all potential outcomes and scenarios, or be able to create and test any solution single-handedly.
The path of transformation demands constant iteration and consideration of multiple individual perspectives.
And no matter how good or how popular the particular social workplace tools they use for collaboration, managers can’t be hands-off in assuming the effort and knowledge of a business will form itself into a meaningful, coherent, usable whole.
But, in the knowledge age, increasingly, knowledge assets in the form of people, processes and technologies can make or break any business and present a significant boost or drag on its productivity potential.
To make this a boost, the focus of collaborative scripting is to deliver coherence and consistency, as better knowledge capture can assist in transforming processes for building new intelligence and applications across an organisation.
And its narrative processes assimilate naturally with the innate human need for storytelling about the world we each create in our heads (see beneath).
What does collaborative scripting comprise?
Collaborative scripting is informed by those traditions of storytelling and more recent thinking on workplace knowledge management.
It focuses the spirit of collaborative invention and renewal found in open source software development on organisational improvement and innovation.
It adds to this practices of professional reporting and sense-making to narrate, source, comment and keep comprehensible and on track the internal stories of what is being learnt, improved and invented.
In open source software development, solutions are coded, documented and made more robust by constant collective peer review.
Collaborative scripting draws purposefully on the brains across a business to probe for optimal process and to report on the knowledge that is and must be captured to drive organisational understanding, improvement, invention, learning and growth.
Collaborative scripting emulates software thinking
Elements in the writing of software are often described as “scripting,” as the nature of what is written prescribes the routine a piece of software must perform consistently and reliably.
Collaborative scripting likewise articulates a plan for growing an organisation’s future knowledge as routinely and deliberately as a business would the computer code on which its knowledge assets are increasingly built.
It articulates the expertise and knowledge it values most and must attract and develop.
It constructs a knowledge-creating workplace of repute, attractive to those who go to work wishing to learn.
And it provides for a future of iterative exploration and testing in which the range of possible what-ifs is more widely understood, shared and explored.
How storytelling lies at the core of our being
In narrative psychology, an individual’s life story is not a chart of its facts and events, but how that person integrates them internally, picking apart and weaving them back together to make meaning.
Stories present links to ancient traditions, and, through symbols, to a larger self and universal truths.
We are wired to understand life through stories. They are our primary sense-making mechanisms.
They are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we understand our place in the world, and how we create our identities.
In the human brain, our narratives are consistently being updated, and so powerful is our impulse to detect story patterns that we see them even when they’re not there.
Imagined experiences are processed in the same way as real experiences, and managers can make powerful use of storytelling in the sense-making needed to direct an organisation’s learning and capability development.
A brief history of knowledge management
Master craftsmen have always taught apprentices, and workers traded know-how, but it wasn’t until the 1990s, through the spread of networked computers and shift in the foundations of industrialised economies from natural resources to intellectual assets, that senior executives started talking about the need to manage knowledge.
Among other things, knowledge management became viewed as:
- A means of storing and structuring information to make it available to those who needed it.
- A way to distribute information to encourage its spread to others.
- A way of generating ideas that could make or save money for a company.
Currently, growing value is increasingly found in the “tacit” knowledge that exists in our heads that may be hard to articulate even to ourselves, much less to others.
Tacit knowledge adds to explicit knowledge (facts, data, and so on) the unconscious knowledge generated by our actions, our intentions and the emotions we produce from experience.
Tacit knowledge is created as we confront new situations, and its value lies in reflecting in our first-hand experience changes that are occurring around us.
Most people don’t know what they know, but tacit knowledge gives us insight, and as the best defence against change, its development needs to be encouraged in any workplace.
Effective management of tacit knowledge won’t happen by accident, however, but any company can benefit when it can build its consideration deliberately into its knowledge management strategy.
How collaborative scripting draws on the inspiration of open source software development
Perhaps the best example of open source software is the operating system Linux, developed by the voluntary, collaborative, shared efforts of large numbers of software developers around the world, on which a very large proportion of the World Wide Web now runs.
In open source development, success is driven by computer code being exposed to many sets of eyes, typically resulting in software that has been more extensively tested and is of greater reliability and quality than that produced by smaller teams.
In open source software development, it has been observed that, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”
In the workplace, the same development principle can be applied equally also to improve non-software processes, practices and to stimulate workplace innovations.
Collaborative scripting’s professional publishing practices define the effectiveness of its knowledge capture and communication
The search for better ideas and knowledge defines collaborative scripting.
In professional publishing’s search for truth and clarity, and for what must be learnt next, we ask questions, document and expose the answers for shared reflection and comment.
From what is learnt, we create new questions to which we direct people’s attention and build learning by repeating the cycle of review and enquiry.
This method is the way in which over generations we have all learnt pretty much everything we know.
A collaborative scripting editor’s role is to probe for understanding
It is not an editor’s job to know the answers, but to help us understand by directing the knowledge enquiry and reporting the story of what is going on.
In collaborative scripting, editors work with managers to make explicit what a business needs to know, and how it is going to get it.
Their job is questions and answers all the way down, and armed with the workplace responses to their probes for knowledge, they decide how reports and questions should be presented for easiest consumption by their target audience.
As everybody’s original writing contains errors they can’t see, the editor’s job is to enforce sense in communications, often rewriting and using simple, clear and precise language to bring focus and remove density and ambiguity.
The collaborative scripting process
Ask the collaborative scripting question (see 1 on diagram)
A manager “commissions” a question to be asked of the workplace by an editor, whose job is to help them get its answer.
The editor guides responses by describing why the question is being asked, precisely what needs to be known, and the deadline by which submissions are required.
Get the question out (2)
Once framed, the question is posted to the wiki, web page or channel into which those answering it are to post their responses.
To circumvent non-response, it will most likely also be circulated by email with a link to the destination in which responses are to be captured.
Manage responses (3)
As contributions come in, where posts are contributed on the same wiki page by two or more contributors, comments on preceding responses may be made by those submitting later to take advantage of the social nature of the medium.
This is beneficial as interplay between contributors exposes to its audience who knows what and who knows whom, growing the knowledge of where expertise lies in the business.
The editor sifts, sorts and compiles responses to make sense of what is contributed.
As I wrote in Some rules for effective workplace wiki publishing, we can also predict that without proper review, guidance, or checking, not all contributors will be as diligent about the consistency with which they tag, reference and index their own contributions.
Yet, effective codification, indexing and search are really important to the learning experience. They remove unnecessary distraction for readers to improve continuity of thought, attention and understanding.
To keep users engaged, sense has to be made.
Editors summarise the responses and review them with the commissioning manager to ensure their satisfaction that their question has been answered.
They then post their summaries for scrutiny by the audience, inviting comment and soliciting, where appropriate, answers to other questions arising.
In the coming years, organisations that take the lead will be those building learning cultures, in which workers are increasingly empowered to look across traditional departmental silos to suggest and discover innovations that improve customers’ journeys.
In such organisations, the information officer’s ability to manage mission-critical learning may now prove one of the most potent emerging differentiators in driving a business’s competitive knowledge creation, transformation, advantage and responsiveness to change.
Yet, if only on the basis of time and attainable focus, not all will be equally equipped to do this.
For most, the publishing know-how it entails may also not be core business, and if it is not in their background, there may therefore be some uncertainty even about the skills required.
In any community, however, effectively acquired and disseminated knowledge is the route to all breakthrough.
And, the more workplace knowledge becomes fragmented by change with people working off site and remotely, the more important will become the use of workplace social technologies in capturing, containing and turning to advantage what knowledge exists.
Certainly, those best able to organise, plan, articulate and develop the knowledge their organisations contain, communicating it clearly via the recognised, proven publishing model, would appear to stand the best chance of making the journey of perpetual digital transformation an enduring success.
This piece was first published at http://cloudcitizen.shiroarchitects.com