Creating the right context for ideas and collaboration has led to unsurpassed breakthroughs. Whether we’re exchanging ideas in a coffee shop or online at our office, the heart of an idea’s growth and formation is environmental connections.
The History of Innovation Is Based on Connections
James Burke through his ground breaking books and miniseries “Connections” popularized the idea that events and ideas across the world influence and produce more innovation than we are ever really conscious of. In his extensive body of work and even his PersonalBrain, he shows us how many seemingly unrelated events, people and ideas fit together and intersect to impact social and technological change.
He explores how scientific progress, technological evolution and human thought are interrelated. The entire history of civilization is based on this interlacing – a “Knowledge Web” of interactions and relationships.
When these environments are fluid enough to let ideas permeate and intermingle on a regular basis you get a hyper growth curve of advancement like such that occurs with the diversity and specialization of life in a coral reef, in a city or on the Web.
Innovate by Focusing Your Network
So if we agree that connections lead to innovation then we need to understand what connections are best for us. Today we have more channels of communication and information sharing than ever: We can see what colleagues are tweeting, schedule meetings, check RSS feeds, digest streaming media, go to the corporate intranet, email…
But the critical question is: How do you stay connected without over whelming yourself with all these “connections”? It would be a mistake to think of “plugged in” as the single attribute of a creative network, as so many of us do. That premise leads us to the kind of day where we end up tripping over water fountains because we MUST text while we are walking.
We need to push our Brain and projects towards more creative, organic exchanges without overloading our circuitry. So what I want to talk about here is not a hive of information buzzing around us or even a “GlobalBrain” (as cool as this might be) but rather a TeamBrain: – a focused and connected information environment with a specific purpose, an environment that enhances our natural ability to make associations while leveraging the ideas and thinking of our select peers. With focused collaboration you can start a small to medium sized network of creative idea exchange and gain exponential results.
Set Up a Focused TeamBrain
If you are reading this post most of you will probably already have a PersonalBrain, maybe even BrainEKP in your organization. So the first step in setting up your TeamBrain is to setup your WebBrain account. Then contact TheBrain to enable TeamBrain services for your team. It’s a free beta service for the next 30 days.
A key aspect of collaboration (especially in this day and age of Facebook status updates and tweeting our dinners) is the level of distinction one should create between their personal and public information. For this reason I suggest creating a new Brain dedicated to collaboration with your team and key projects instead of sharing your 10,000 Thought Brain on everything in your life. (Though that could be a great TeamBrain for you and your spouse). For example, you might want to copy your marketing research into a new Brain and start with that.
Keep in mind that focused does not need to be boring. In fact, for the purpose of getting started I suggest you share either a new Brain or create a section in your existing TeamBrain that enables people to experiment and brainstorm. If your TeamBrain is on company sales, it might turn out that it’s your product design and development area that your group adds the most Thoughts. Sometime it’s these types of surprises and free flowing exchanges that lead to innovation, so make your idea exchange fun and don’t narrow the scope of your TeamBrain too tightly. A single project Brain, depending on the complexity of the project, may be too restricted. It’s the serendipity of the linkages that makes the gestalt network greater than the sum of its parts. And remember, unlike conventional mind maps or linear folder structures, there’s no limit to the number of Thoughts or connections that can be made in your TeamBrain.
Click the refresh arrows to see all the latest changes. Name of user and time will appear next to the modified Thought.
It’s a live organic knowledgebase, always there, assessable from anywhere. TeamBrain lets you work offline on your desktop. All you have to do is hit the sync button to synchronize your changes with the group. The network grows more powerful as everyone continues to use it. Changes by users are tracked in the reports area. So you can see who has contributed to what.
Laying a TeamBrain Foundation
Like any good city or urban dwelling, infrastructure is key. Create a basic structure for your Brain where your Thoughts lay a solid foundation upon which new connections can grow. Start by mind mapping all your key projects, departments and people networks. This foundation and visual structure will distinguish your TeamBrain from the noise of all the other applications and feeds that overwhelm people and contribute to information deluge. Connecting people to department or expertise is important. This is especially helpful when you are collaborating with a geographically dispersed team. For more information on mapping out people networks see “Everyone Is Connected. It’s Time to See the Links”.
The structure of your Brain will provide an overarching context for your information. When your sales team clicks on a brochure they not only get that document but they can see related whitepapers, connected products and vertical markets. The structure can also be changed. Linking new Thoughts and unlinking old ideas can happen instantly.
Now here’s where the exponential growth comes in. It’s like an idea soup. Your sales guy updates your TeamBrain with his customer feedback report which triggers an idea you have for improving the user experience on your Web site. Meanwhile your Web developer in Milwaukee has been playing with some new style sheets and code. He now sees your new idea in TeamBrain and connects his project to yours. Net result: your half-baked idea is now augmented and completed by somebody else’s work. And thus an otherwise sidelined idea becomes a real project that actually comes to fruition because your ideas have connected.
With TeamBrain execution is augmented and streamlined. Moving forward everyone continues to work together sharing thinking, making connections, and referencing past ideas. Furthermore, as a byproduct of your projects you are also capturing and creating your collective memory. References and past project context are also key for your team to build upon previous thinking as you can draw upon your working memory for new projects and ideas.
As history points out, innovation and progress happen when ideas collide and connections are made. By building the right context for collaboration you’re fertilizing and cultivating your own idea network – a place where ideas germinate and breakthroughs happen naturally.
TeamBrain Video Tip
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To join the TeamBrain Beta program:
email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 310-751-5000