I was recently asked by a large Wall Street company to help define how enterprise can understand and take advantage of collaboration technologies. You’d think the creation and launch of Solstice would have already helped to answer this question, but the ongoing dialog has been interesting. One conversation that I’ve had is worth sharing here because it’s relevant to my readers.
As part of the exercise, I asked the company to tell me how they have adopted other technologies in the past, and I challenged them to name the most impactful technology that has been deployed in their business. The answer was perhaps not entirely surprising – word processing – but further analysis as to why it was so impactful was very interesting. How could the adoption of what at first glance is an incremental improvement on the typewriter transform a company? Why not teleconferencing? Or mobile phones?
After digging deeper it became clear that word processing had such a dramatic impact not because it allows us to type, send letters and easily create beautiful documents. Many of these things could already be accomplished with the right resources and training in a large-scale business (incredibly skilled typing, copy editing and a production department). The real reason was word processing impacted the way employees interact. It changed the way they think more than the way they write. Cut & paste, shortened document lifecycles, deeper interaction between authors on the same document, willingness to write now and edit later – were all identified by this company as positive positive outcomes of word processing technology. It makes sense – while writing this blog, I can cut & paste a link to an interesting article related to word processing and handwriting with almost no interruption to my flow of thoughts – sharing with my readers in a few seconds without the complexity and additional steps – No scissors required.
So why is this important? I’d argue that wildly successful technologies almost always have large impact on how we think and behave – and they usually unencumber us from things that distract us from human-to-human interaction (i.e. searching for scissors to cut & paste a thought into a letter). I believe a new class of emerging collaboration technologies will have an impact on the way we work – similar to word processing. These technologies use wireless infrastructure in new ways, embrace the idea that we all carry the devices we want to use, and that visual data is central to collaboration.
Imagine walking to a conference room with millions of pixels that are waiting to act as a shared palette to support your storytelling, presenting and collaborating. Then imagine using your phone/tablet/whatever-is-next to post, control and interact with any number of media streams with your colleagues. You’d be able to create new looks at data that is normally imprisoned on a set of very disparate devices. Allowing you to cut & paste entire video streams, 3D applications, video teleconference windows, edit/reposition media and collaborate. This will change the way meetings are held, it will change expectations about how the collaborative process can unfold, and it will enable entirely new ways of seeing your business in the same way word processing did. No scissors required.