Collaborating Minds

Some details about what my partner in collaboration, David Friedman, and I have been up to lately.

Improved logo with background and tagline
For the past few months, my colleague Jim McGee and I have been hard at work on a project we’ve named Collaborating Minds. It will be an online problem-solving community — with a unique membership recruiting strategy. The goal is to create a resource that will be able to assist organizations with hard problems by providing rich insights and multiple perspectives. It’s a marriage of some of the ideas of crowdsourcing with the principles that make for high performance teams. It’s an example of getting more people to work together better, a topic I wrote about a while back.

Collaborating Minds’ main assets will be:

  1. Its network of 500-700 part-time participants
  2. Its approach to community building and structured problem solving,and
  3. Its software platform that supports and enables the community building and structured problem-solving. 

The people will be recruited and selected based on their interest and ability to work together in the community in just the way the software platform allows. They will include people from a very diverse set of backgrounds. We’ll have scientists of various stripes, engineers of various types, humanists, consultants, experts in all kinds of fields. So in that respect it will be like crowdsourcing.

The community and the problem-solving will be actively managed, and the members will be expected to get to know at least some of the other community members outside the context of the specific problems we are working on. Community members will help each other on their own issues and challenges, and can use the problem-solving tools provided to do so if they like.

The software platform includes a social network of a particular kind, and a structured problem-solving process and spaces for the problem-solving to occur. The problem-solving method will combine structured asynchronous elements and structured synchronous elements (online meetings). We also will have an alternative free-form option for members to use when the structure isn’t right for the problem at hand.

There’s a lot more info available now at the Collaborating Minds site. We are almost finished with the alpha version of the software platform and are starting to talk with people about recruiting and membership. We have a lot of unanswered questions (e.g., precise target markets, compensation, and governance) and probably some wrong answers to others. One of the best things about this idea though, is that we can aim our group at ourselves; if this sort of group can generate insightful and powerful solutions to hard problems (which I believe it can) then it help us solve the issues that remain ahead.

Collaborating Minds
David Friedman
Fri, 24 Jun 2011 19:07:11 GMT

Choosing to be productively stupid

Finally had a chance to read a very interesting essay in the Journal of Cell Science titled "The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research." In the wondrous ways of the web, this little gem from 2008 found its way into my life by way of a blog post by Matthew Cornell in January of this year. Here’s the key notion, but the whole thing is worth the time to read and to consider:

Productive stupidity means being ignorant by choice. Focusing on important questions puts us in the awkward position of being ignorant. One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.

From The importance of stupidity in scientific research

This willingness to move forward without knowing has made for much of the progress we’ve seen and benefitted from in the science and technology real. I wish I saw more of that same willingness manifest in business, education, and elsewhere. Maybe we’d learn to be more comfortable listening to people with provocative and productive questions and less willing to pay attention to people peddling the illusion of right answers.