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.
[ What does social business need to succeed? Read Social Collaboration: A Work In Progress. ]
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.
From an IT perspective, creation spaces are challenging in a couple of ways. First, because too often technology platforms inadvertently develop in silos: teaming/shared workspace tools over here; enterprise social tools over there. A creation space must bridge both.
In addition, creation spaces must accommodate teams and connections that span organizational boundaries and extend to partners and customers. IT projects tend to be categorized as employee tools or customer platforms. Again, the creation space platform is likely to engage both and requires integration between internal and external. The flow of information, communication, and participation across boundaries poses issues for access control and management.
Reputation profiles are critical for supporting trust-based interactions in creation spaces. Within teams, trust develops based on an individual's assessment of past interactions with other individuals on the team. In the larger population of a creation space, a participant might not have previous interactions with another, but is able to trust, based on interactions with other members of the community. This requires the platform to support a memory for previous behavior and endorsements of skills and trust by others. What mechanism is best for creating and maintaining reputation profiles? How do you manage them, preserve integrity and prevent gaming the system?
Reputation profiles also help participants get recognition for what they've done, not just to elevate their achievements but to allow others to find and connect with them based on shared skills, interests, experiences and goals. What mechanisms can help generate profiles that don't depend on the assertions of the individuals themselves but instead automatically capture the interactions and contributions that demonstrate their experience and skills in action?
Three tips for a successful creation space:
-- Be clear about the performance metrics that the space will be evaluated on and have a plan for monitoring metrics such as level of participation and frequency of response.
-- Avoid the temptation to over-engineer. Launch the platform with a minimal level of functionality and build out based on how the participants are actually using the platform. The same applies to governance and management structures. Start with a minimal set and let the participants themselves evolve ongoing rules and practices tailored to their context. Watch for areas of real engagement and try to propagate those practices into other areas.
-- Consider launching with a limited set of participants who are actively wrestling with a performance challenge that could have a significant near-term impact on metrics that matter to the company. A targeted launch reduces the investment and lead-time required for deployment; the resulting impact on performance metrics will draw more participants in to address other performance challenges.