Productive Friction and Innovation
In some recent discussions I have been introduced to the concept of “productive friction”, which is an effect that’s created when team members with a diverse background get together. It happens for example when people from different cultures or academic disciplines or companies work together to solve a problem and it increases the level of innovation. John Hagel describes it in his book The Only Sustainable Edge and in his Article in the Harvard Business Review.
This recent article in Newsweek describes the effect, and gives some practical and simple advice on how to take advantage of it in your projects:
What they found was that the most successful teams did two things right. First, they attracted a mixture of experienced people and those who were newcomers to whichever field they were in. That’s not surprising–the need for fresh blood has long been recognized as an important ingredient in success. The second criterion, though, was far less obvious. What successful teams had in common was at least a few experienced members who had never collaborated with each other. “People have a tendency to want to work with their friends–people they’ve worked with before,” says Luis Amaral, a physicist at Northwestern and a coauthor. “That’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”
Blogs and social networking tools help people establish the essential connections between experienced people with different perspectives, and this is one of the main reasons why I keep a public blog, and long for an internal blog, or an alternative mechanism:
The study also suggests a role for technology in bringing seasoned people together. Tacit Knowledge Systems, a start-up in Palo Alto, California, is marketing a computer system that links people with similar professional interests. The system monitors e-mail in a corporation or other large organization and keeps tabs on what employees are interested in. If a worker is looking for somebody to collaborate with, he or she can query the system to find somebody appropriate. Tacit is developing a new version that actively forges connections by prompting employees when it finds people who, on the basis of shared interests, might make a good team. Finding a way to maximize creative potential is one of the most pressing problems in corporations. Knowing what makes one team more creative than another is an important first step.
If you want to find out more, but don’t have the time or the money to follow the links above, I recommend you download and listen to these two interviews from IT conversations.
In this IT Conversation, John explains why he considers web services to be a “deceptively disruptive technology” and why he’s an advocate for web-services strategies that focus on the edge of the enterprise rather than lower-return internal integration projects. “Companies are losing opportunities by not thinking systematically about the technology,” he says.