The number of problems that 7 billion people must solve to sustain themselves let alone thrive would appear infinite. Yet one great gift of humanity is that it can solve so many of them. Karl Popper, one of the most significant philosophers of the 20th century, noted that all life is problem solving (1999). Questions provide the heartbeat that drives an endless yin-yang cycle (image on left) of composing and understanding to achieve ever better solutions. Another special gift of humanity is its capacity to team (see/click wonderwall photo on right), to partner and collaborate to a consensus that enables multiple individuals to synchronize their work on many facets of a question or problem. Personal learning networks (#PLN, Downs, 2007; Drachsler, et al. 2009; Richardson, 2011; Warlick, 2012) can quickly evolve into collaborative learning networks (e.g., Microsoft Learning Network; HIVE). The Internet has become the fertile breeding ground for a massive global horde of change-minded collaborators and their inventive tools. The implications of this are beginning to emerge.
The information age has made it simple and fast to solve many personal questions with a Web search. Yet in spite of the Web's expansive array of collaborative tools, it has yet to provide a comparably efficient tool for questions that require teams and larger. This need is magnified by an exponential age whose institutions naively takes longer to pivot to tackle a new challenge than its innovation does to causes the next one. Thinking that becomes tied to a particular model or solution and cannot respond to the truth and opportunities of "facts on the ground" is obsolete and potentially harmful. This makes the primary challenge of the age one of how to enable leadership to gain sufficient experience in guiding us away from a harmfully obsolete institution and towards an agile and adaptive one. Across the range of ideas of this chapter on teaming is most of the set of collaborative features that are needed to solve the major problem of the age. Those features should be sufficient to stimulate finding the rest.
Sufficiently challenging problems have always required the formation and collaboration of long standing teams that may pursue problems and carry out solutions for years, decades and generations. That team effort too often collapses suggests that there is much to learn about the nature and values of teaming and how that impacts the larger culture. Yet the process is rich with opportunity. This includes the opportunity for entrepreneurs to follow their personal interests to find a system that will successfully finance and grow the continuation of the team's effort into a larger organization, a team of teams. This is as true for profit as for non-profit organizations, and the latter has the highest rate of growth for new jobs (Rifkin, 2014). This includes the opportunity for schools to encourage their learners to follow the adult lead of inventors and creators to real self-directed learning. Are the numerous and marvelous digital tools of collaboration the scent of a soft revolution in the air?
Questions organize facts and teams: question, understand and compose; we share, shape and solve problems. Compositions are shared to check understanding and inspire new works. The question process is surrounded by team workflow which is in turn surrounded by its digital palette array of tools for building files (e.g., text document, video, audio, etc.) and things. Every job anywhere is the result of a team building process. Whether a team is effective and functions well depends on a number of relatively well known factors (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993) but as the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead had noticed, the social importance of effective teams has been well known to every culture (Mead, 1964).
Now in the rapidly changing 21st century, the globally connected Internet age makes it ever easier to see how problems can form pools of related questions and people around different topics, yet too few have the knowledge and training to connect problem pools with teams, and to connect pools of people with appropriate problem solving skills, knowledge and workflow. Every business or institution still standing today is the result of founding individuals and teams with sufficient entrepreneurial spirit, knowledge and skills that discovered how to implement changes to form new answers to persistent questions. Increasingly, school curriculum through common core standards is being asked to teach more about teamwork and creativity. Good teamwork in the 21st century includes knowing and learning the necessary knowledge and having the skills to use specific digital communication and composition tools. But it is equally important to also have the ability to form team social standards and procedures that fit a task at hand, whether a group is developing curriculum materials and lesson plans or starting a business.
We share. We communicate to learn and understand, a communication which involves reading/viewing (incoming) and talking (outgoing). Socializing is the reported feature of school that the majority of children appreciate the most. This seeing, reading and listening, this discussing of what is going on around us, is richly supporting by collaborative digital applications.
The Internet age has brought not only a wide and diverse range of new digital tools to the problem and team processes but endless new ways to connect and collaborate with each other. A sense of the extent of the extraordinary cyberspace possibilities for teamwork can be seen in this color prism chart. This a scaled down and modified version of a chart by Brian Solis and JESS3. Just two of its dozens of widely used elements across 26 dimensions are highlighted. One is Blogger, a free online site and application for blogging provided by Google. The second is Twitter, the world's most popular microblogging and text sharing tool. Both, ecrop.blogspot.com and twitter.com/rshoughton, are used extensively by this author.
To actually see the symbols and read the labels of the prism chart, one option is to click the chart which is linked to a larger image, which can be clicked for an even much larger image. Another option is buy the poster or to download a size version of your choice: https://conversationprism.com/free-downloads/.
Not everything that could be included is on this chart. Searching for and finding team members and teams includes globally used scheduling tools such as MeetUp which is listed under Events and iZoca which is not. There are also meeting space listings not included here such as the global explosion of the digitally rich makerspace co-ops and clubhouses.
Though the term team has historically meant a group of people, the wide-ranging set of media has provided another kind of team, a collaboration of different types of media, an interconnection of message and message systems across different densities and types of media. A 140 character tweet may link with a multi-paragraph blog posting which contains a link or links to multi-page web sites and digital books, each containing different kinds of media. Vine's 6 second max videos may contain text that links to video chains at MixBit and so on to longer form at YouTube. Any media may cross-connect messages and people using hashtags, user handles and web links. High volume bite-sized elements can lead to longer form multi-course meals. When this concept is done intentionally in an organized way, this might be referred to as social-multimedia-threaded-communication (SMTC).
Another entire color chart of apps and dimensions (categories) that rivals the Conversation Prism above is needed for team composing. The collection of digital composing apps and dimensions is every bit as large as the "color wheel of apps" for the communication necessary for understanding, but to date the infographic is empty, providing an invitation for a creative person to fill it.
Text Based Collaboration
For starters, every type of application on the digital palette has some parallel form of online composition application to support geographically or time dispersed team composition; see the left hand column of Evoke options listing. Another such dimension is online decision making; Loomio is an online app for consensus building and decision making.
The best of the team composition media tools to-date have been text based, as they require transmitting the least amount of data. Collaborative text teaming (collaborative writing) began in a minor way with sharing email file attachments among team members, a cumbersome process that is still common, though increasingly outdated due to its slowness and inefficiency. Google Docs applications allow simultaneous typing/editing of the same document kept in one location instead of traded around. Another better approach is SimpleNote, an online cross platform and device application that allows anyone to take notes for themselves or share a note that others can type on as well. However, users have to pause to take turns to to prevent the second person from erasing something the first was entering if both are editing at the same time. This is roughly the same approach as Google Docs, now titled Google Drive which allows collaborative composition.
Quip is a breakthrough online application that not only makes real-time writing on the same document possible, but does not require turn taking, updating everyone's writing constantly while providing a column of chat comments alongside the document. Further, Quip promotes unlimited upload file size space for the team as compared with Google Drive which maxes out at 15 GB of space for each member's account.
Empowering Image Drawing and Collaboration
Collaborative composition tools are emerging that will move collaborators beyond text and into image media. The CLabs research at Purdue University has announced software that uses the computer to make editable shapes given a hint by those not adept at drawing themselves. An image might start in Jaxtapose with the drawing of a circle, which would then show many other related clipart like images, that with a click replace the initial circle, which can then be further edited in terms of shape, color distortion and so forth. That image might be passed to a program like skWiki (pronounced squeaky) or a new image might be created by software that runs on a touch tablet, laptop or other device. "Say a person created a drawing of a helicopter," Ramani said. "Somebody else on the design team could make a clone of your drawing and replace the landing gear, and someone else might modify it further. So you have branching designs that can then be merged. It's a very dynamic collaboration, and it's in real time within seconds" (Venere, 2014, April 29). Any designs in skWiki are in a shared setting where others can pull the shape into their own workspace and creation a new version of the image but without changing the original.
When such software will be polished sufficiently to leave the research lab and be available for use by the general public is not known at this time.
The opportunities to challenge old problems in new ways is exceptional, both in the sense of the growing capacity to collaborate and in the ongoing explosion of quantities of data and information available with which teams can mine and use. Clearly at this point in history the options for adding value through teams is exploding. But in addition to the quantity of software options, there is an historically unique qualitative opportunity. The Internet provides the ability to scale teams across any distance of geography, between any set of points on the globe. Sites such as iearn, ePals GlobalReadAloud, Skype in the Classroom , Global Classrooms and EdModo invite collaboration and teaming. They play a critical role in providing opportunities for teachers and students to become aware of and explore the connection of multiple distant points. All of these sites are not found on the previously shown social media chart either. The concepts of "virtual teams" and "virtual collaboration" are rich areas of search for further ideas. There would seem to be plenty of room to develop even more ways to invite the formation of both virtual and co-located teams, notably around the many sites that focus on questioning and projects.
In a similar way, the silent and invisible knowledge explosion also provides exceptional opportunity. It can deliver massive quantities of data and knowledge to the doorstep of teams to mine and use. The animation on the right shows the explosion of knowledge just between the years of 1986 and 2004. The small blue dot represents the quanity of data in 1986; the expanding circle around it is the growth in knowledge through years noted. Note that this expansion began long before 1986 and continues at an even faster pace in the present.
The knowledge explosion has created a very curious goldmine, one that grows as it is mined. At the same time the knowledge tsunami also provides a unique qualitative difference, the "non-rival" nature of knowledge. I cannot lose possession of an idea that I give away to you. Together, teams with superbly rich tools of communication, widely used tools of composition and near infinite resources of digital knowledge may develop a new set of social values that better fits the needs of the times and the digital age.
The concept of problems represents a very wide range of difficulty, from the very easy to handle by one person to those that require multiple interlocking teams to merely address, with no clear solution in sight. Problems can get a rather negative press as problems after all...are problems. But it is through the process of creating solutions to unanswered or ongoing questions that people add and build value for themselves and their community. Questions are the food, the nutrition, the motivation, the pump to provide the energy to think further in order to provide solutions. To compose an interesting actionable question is a significant creative act in itself; it should be valued as highly as a solution. A simple search of the Net for "top ten" problems provides hundreds of million Web pages that cut across every aspect of life. For specific areas of interest, try variations on that search theme by adding issues and other terms to test the range and depth of this material: "top ten" problems science; "top ten" questions global warming; "top ten" problems _______.
The more that questions appear to group themselves around a particular topic, or the more similar questions come from a wide range of people, the more there is opportunity for a team to move faster and more effectively than an individual ( Kugler, Kause, and Kocher, 2012). The pace of 21st century culture is fast (Gleick, 1999). The greater the cultural pace of change and the greater the knowledge explosion, the more there is a need for not only teams but teams of teams. Almost every business or non-profit organization is the team response to at least one major question. This means that problems or questions have a unique value in and of themselves. Questions create great potential. Problem solvers create reality. Unique to our species is our ability to team in the making of tools and other products to support both the process of problem solving and the implementation of a particular solution.
Teams can make a significant different. In spite of the opportunity that problems create, observations of the failed attempts of others and insufficient skills in problem solving and teaming can lead many to feel that any effort is futile. Nothing will every change; there is no hope of something different. To that Margaret Mead is often quoted as saying, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has" (1), an idea expressed in greater detail in her work, Continuities in Cultural Evolution (1964). Leadership is not only understanding the relevance of Mead's idea, but having the skills to organize teams to work effectively on problems to which the teams are committed. It is the presence and the identification of relevant and important questions or problems that enable entrepreneurs to organize teams around a common purpose. An entrepreneur is a leader that can see the opportunity in problems and organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise that will address the problem.
There are six fundamental components of every effective team. "A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable" (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). This plays out in many ways in different organizations, such as Rudman's BRAVE acronym (Bradt, 2013) to describe team culture. Knowledge of how to apply these six elements creates not only stronger teachers building more effective ways to engage students in classrooms but better community members of a democracy and its cultural teams.
To extend the value of any question, there is a problem process and that process begins with the capacity to raise and find questions and nurture a probing, questioning attitude. A second phase of the problem process is shaping and reshaping the question in different aspects of higher order thinking in order to find an effective path to a solution. The third and problem solving phase requires study of a problem solving process, the composition skills of the digital palette and a feedback loop of advice. Teams can add value in each of these three phases. Because the problems that create the most value are the more difficult ones requiring teams of teams, numerous business forums have advised that effective teaming and leadership skills are critical skills for students to learn. Though teams have the potential to be more effective, too many teams are not only not operating effectively, they can be destructive to a larger organization of teams. All organizations need team members that have learned the social and technical skills to collaborate effectively.
Once the social and technical skills of teaming are learned, many interesting things can happen. One of the most powerful forms of questioning is to build on the opportunity of the question by forming a team or organization able to raise funding so that team members work on the question and its solution full-time, employed in jobs. These generally divide into non-profit and profit systems. This "start up"approach, entrepreneurship, is described and linked in the graphic on the left. If an idea generated by a question or problem leads to a solution that is valuable to many, then dollars flow. The dollars enable the item to be built and used.
The end of result of ever more effective collaborative teams and team tools that master Internet communication holds out the potential for also collaboratively sharing renewable energy and physical products as well. This suggests a society that can create abundance. A society that creates abundance suggests a path beyond poverty and impoverished learners and schools; it suggests full employment. That is a significant topic beyond the overview focus of this writing, a theme that currently is best addressed by Jeremy Rifkin in his book, the Zero Marginal Cost Society (2014).
The series of linked thoughts below are a collection of further writings on different aspects of the problem process, teaming, leadership and the entrepreneurial spirit needed to see problems as significant opportunities to create value for individuals, teams and communities. The type of problems tackled and the approaches taken do more than create personal growth, economic value and provide jobs, they shape and define the very nature of a community's culture and its ability to grow, irrespective of its size.
Bradt, G. (2013, March 20). Managing the Evolution of Your Startup's Corporate Culture. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgebradt/2013/03/20/managing-the-evolution-of-your-start-ups-corporate-culture/
Downes, S. (2007). Learning networks in practice. National Research Council of Canada; Institute for Information Technology. http://nparc.cisti-icist.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/npsi/ctrl?action=rtdoc&an=8913424&lang=en
Drachsler, H., Pecceu, D., Arts, T., Hutten, E., Rutledge, L., Van Rosmalen, P., ... & Koper, R. (2009). ReMashed–recommendations for mash-up personal learning environments. In Learning in the synergy of multiple disciplines (pp. 788-793). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-04636-0_85#page-1
Gleick, James (1999). Faster: the acceleration of just about everything. New York: Pantheon Books.
Katzenbach, J. & Smith, D. K. (1993). The wisdom of teams : creating the high-performance organization. Publisher Boston, Mass. : Harvard Business School Press.
Kugler, T., Kause, E. E., Kocher M. G. (2012, January 25). Are Groups More Rational than Individuals? A Review of Interactive Decision Making in Group. CESifo Working Paper No. 3701. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1990201
Mead, M. (1964). Continuities in Cultural Evolution. (reissued in 1999) Transaction Publishers.
Popper, Karl (1999). All life is problem solving. Routledge.
Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Solution Tree Press. http://www.mancabelli.com
Warlick, D. (2012). Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network [Kindle Edition]. Amazon Digital Services: The Landmark Project.
Hashtags: #teaming #decisionmaking #pln #makers #makerspace #edchat #nced #ncmle
Search works citing the "wisdom of teams" by Katzenbach.
Version 1.23 Updated May, 2014 Author: Houghton