Friday, June 23, 2006

Improving Everyday Business Practice: Collaborative Technololgies Conference

This week, I attended the Collaborative Technologies Conference (CTC) in Boston sponsored by CMP.

The focus was emergent practices, tools, and ideas about collaborating across enterprises and elsewhere. In other words, everyone was talking about how to connect more effectively, particularly in teams and meetings.

Some Provocative Talks

Among the speakers, Linda Stone, Ken Thompson, Jessica Lipnack, and John Seely Brown were in excellent form. The strongest panel included John Beck and Jim Ware who talked about "General Shifts: Brain Drain and Youth Culture."

In Need of a Redesign?

CTC participants seemed to be talking more about redesigning the conference than they were about the content -- the split between discussions about ideas and sale of product. This left participants without experience of new possibilities. Instead of demonstrating how things worked, most speakers just talked about data and analysis. In other words, rather than allowing participants to see how principles and applications apply (and if they do), there was more about what has, hasn't, should, shouldn't, might, or could happen in more abstract.

While some of this is useful, like theater, software needs to be experienced. Proof of concept -- in the room, in the moment -- is necessary for a satisfying experience.

Ideas for Next Year

Collaboration online is an emerging field -- and the value of emergent processes was a big focus for many of the sessions. In this context, you can't talk about collaborative technology without also talking about change management both in the abstract and in the room at the moment of conversation. And again, this discussion can't be carried out to its full potential without a play among these experiences and the technologies that make them possible.

What if a presenter were paired up with a vendor and told to make the presenters' ideas work with the tool? What kinds of new ideas might emerge, and what could be learned by those presenting and the sessions' participants?

Or what if vendors worked with presenters or read up on their ideas, and their demonstrations in the "vendor room" were geared around the sessions?

Either way, these practices would eliminate the sense that vendors are only there to sell -- and a hard separation between technologies on display and the processes they are supposed to enhance.

No Matter What . . .

CTC should make play more of the focus of the conference -- not just of ideas but among ideas and technologies and the technologies themselves as well. Otherwise, the essential elements of change management necessary for any of these tools are too deeply hidden to allow them to be applied in most business environment. Furthermore, how do you know which tool to apply unless you try it in context?

More on a notable exception and on particular speakers in future posts.

If you don't want to wait for commentary, you can find the presentations right now on the CTC website.

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