The opportunity is to build environments -- "creation spaces" -- that combine the advantages of tightly-knit teams with the ability to scale to encompass increasing numbers of participants. Teams and local work groups are powerful engines for learning because they encourage deep, trust-based relationships. These relationships allow us to access and build tacit knowledge, the knowledge that resides in individuals, the result of day-to-day experiences and practices, which is challenging to articulate to others. If we want to accelerate learning, we need to encourage the formation of teams and work groups where tacit knowledge can be shared and expanded.
But here's the challenge: Teams don't scale. Once they reach a certain size, teams begin to fragment and lose the deep connection that drives rapid learning. Creation spaces address this through a set of platforms and resources that team members can use to connect with others beyond the team and beyond the institution. The resources include discussion forums, easily searchable archives, reputation profiles, videos, simulations and a host of other problem-solving tools that encourage interactions between teams.
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When done right, creation spaces can be scaled indefinitely; more and more teams can be connected within the rich broader learning environment. In fact, creation spaces offer the potential for increasing returns -- the more participants join, the more rapidly everyone learns. We have found examples of these creation spaces in such diverse arenas as extreme sports, online video gaming, digital music production and open-source development ecosystems.
Collaboration doesn't just happen. Neither does accelerated learning. Whether for open-source development or big-wave surfing, performance-improving interactions require some intentional design and support.
What distinguishes a creation space from a more casual enterprise social interaction?
Creation spaces are more than just team rooms. First, they must be scalable to a broad membership, both within and outside the organization. Team rooms and shared workspaces need to be supplemented by a versatile social software platform that can help participants find and connect with each other and can capture the interactions and organize them to be easily searchable by other participants. Creation spaces also need to incorporate problem-solving tools that help participants engage together.
Successful creation spaces combine three elements:
Participants: Organizers find ways to attract a large number of relevant, yet diverse, participants. Low barriers to entry and compelling challenges or opportunities help support this.
Interactions: Creation spaces accommodate both team interactions and looser interactions, across the ecosystem, that allow for serendipitous, beneficial encounters. Organizers are thoughtful about fostering both types of interactions; for example, they set up challenges that encourage new team formation and promote discussion forums that help members search for answers beyond their teams.
Environments: The organizer provides the platforms and infrastructure to support participants in productive interactions. In addition to allowing multi-layered communication paths, the infrastructure provides governance protocols and feedback and incentive mechanisms.
Finally, most of the creation spaces we've seen incorporate both a physical and a virtual component. The virtual platform is critical for scalability and allows for a history and memory that supports trust and makes accumulated knowledge accessible over time and beyond team boundaries. The physical component allows the broader community to periodically come together to enhance relationships formed in the virtual space. Face-to-face interaction is invaluable for establishing interest and trust. The SAP Developer Network, for example, periodically hosts events that include challenging competitions and socializing in addition to more traditional forums and networking.