seeing the value of cooperation

Nancy Dixon tells a wonderful story about ‘Researcher’s Square’ and the hallway of learning. The whole story is well worth your time. It describes how a diverse group of mostly independent researchers who worked in their individual offices were able to cooperate and even collaborate due to a change in the built architecture. A central hallway was placed in the middle of 20 offices so that everyone had to 1) use the same café area, and 2) use the only available large table & whiteboard, which were visible to everyone, for group meetings. In addition, copies of everyone’s published research was on display in this central area. While most researchers felt this would not change their work behaviours, it did.

We see from this example that people, even very smart people, are unable to anticipate the benefits of in-depth interaction with colleagues until they have experienced it for themselves.

Before people can learn from each other or collaborate on issues, they need to build connections – that is, gain some understanding of who the other person is, including their skills, depth of knowledge, experience, and attitude toward others.

The researchers proved to be more interested in others’ projects than they thought they would be.

The learning that occurred in Researcher’s Square did not come from presentations, rather the knowledge gained was through conversation.

Selling cooperation is a hard job. Like complexity, the relationship between cause and effect is seen only after the fact. I find this with my PKM workshops — there is a lot of confusion until each participant has an ‘aha’ moment. We cannot know in advance what will trigger this moment or when it will happen. This is why small changes — Trojan mice — can be much more effective. There can be many experiments and a variety of experiences in different contexts. They do not have to be expensive or highly staffed either. The example given by Nancy Dixon took advantage of an already-scheduled move. A work culture that is open to this kind of experimentation is one that can keep learning.

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