Boring Ideas and Boring Dinner Guests – Jeffrey Baumgartner

Jeffrey argues that the fundamental rule of brainstorming leads to boring thinking. He proposes a different approach:

In fact, this would probably be the most interesting strategy: ask him the most outrageous questions you can think of in order to force him out of his boring story comfort zone and make his stories more interesting. It would be much more fun than listening to him bore you. Indeed, you might find that after half an hour, all the attention at the party is on you, the previously dull dinner guest and your crazy stories!

You can do the same thing while generating creative ideas in a group — such as in brainstorming or anticonventional thinking. But it requires that you break the golden rule of brainstorming, that you must reserve judgment and not criticise ideas. Instead, you need to be able to judge ideas boring and ask questions that are effectively criticisms of ideas. For example, if you are brainstorming ideas for improving corporate communications and someone says, “let’s build an intranet in which every department maintains a blog that they must update regularly”, you should be able to reply, “We already have an intranet. It’s boring. No one looks at it. How can we make people want to read those blogs?” or “Great, but if I want to find out the chemical composition of one of a cleaning product that is under development, how am I going to find it?” or “Who is going to read and write all those blogs? You know we’re working 60 hour days! How can we communicate more efficiently?”

By asking such questions, you force the idea submitter to think about her suggestion and improve it. You potentially move from an obvious but flawed idea to a better developed and more intriguing idea.

Critical questions are not allowed in brainstorming. They are welcome in anticonventional thinking. This is because research and my own experience demonstrates that if you want a high level of creativity, criticism, questioning and defending ideas are better than passive acceptance of every idea uttered.

Not convinced? Here’s a suggestion. Try it your next idea generation event. Allow people to ask critical questions about ideas, but be sure that it is the ideas and not the idea submitters that are being questioned. See what happens.

Read more: Boring Ideas and Boring Dinner Guests

Video Conferencing Where You Work

On The Smarter Office, I posted on video conferencing where you work:

A couple of reports this week paint an interesting picture on the adoption of video conferencing equipment and approaches in the enterprise. According to a Deloitte study of 250 CFOs, making more video conferencing equipment available is a high priority, in order to reduce travel costs and the associated impacts. But it’s the Infonetic Research study that throws an interesting angle on what’s going on out in the market: organizations are de-emphasizing room-based video conferencing equipment (including full-immersive telepresence equipment) and shifting more towards video-enabled desk phones and desktop video devices. Throw in the tremendous traction gained by Apple over the past 18 months with the iPad 2 and iPad 3, and you have the makings of a new story: video conferencing where you work, not where you go to have a meeting.

Read more on The Smarter Office

Collaborating in Office 2013

On The Smarter Office, I posted my thoughts about the updated / enhanced / new ways of collaborating in the upcoming Office 2013:

It’s one of Microsoft’s regular big years this year, with a whole swath of updated products coming to market in line with Microsoft’s three or so year product development lifecycle. These updates are important to Microsoft’s revenue generation for the next few years, and Microsoft’s partners hope they will ignite a buying frenzy of new hardware, complementary systems, and professional services support. Windows 8 is coming in October. Two versions of the recently announced Microsoft Surface tablet will follow over the subsequent three months. SharePoint 2013 is coming. And Office gets a massive update. While the updates coming in the new Office are too many to elaborate on in this post, I want to look briefly at how Microsoft is further building collaboration capabilities into the heart of Office. It’s not a new movement by Microsoft, but rather a continuing journey of enabling people to treat Office as a collaborative canvas.

It’s early days following the public availability of a near-final review edition of Office 2013 last week, but here’s the four main things I noticed about collaboration capabilities in Office 2013 …

Read more: Collaborating in Office 2013

SharePoint for Document Collaboration – a PleaseTech Study

PleaseTech, a vendor of document collaboration and review software / services, undertook some research last year into what users and IT professionals thought of SharePoint for document collaboration. It has released a white paper that summarizes the findings, including:
– the types of issues people experience on a multi-person document review.
– the reasons why people would consider using an alternative document collaboration solution.
– … and more.

Key findings were:

1. Most business users are involved in document creation and review, and, whilst many are satisfied with their current processes, nearly all experience issues and would consider an alternative solution.

2. Business users and IT professionals differ in their opinion as to whether SharePoint is widely used within their organization. As a result, potential user adoption is a key determining factor when considering alternative solutions.

3. SharePoint is considered to provide the necessary generic collaboration capabilities required. However, it was also noted that expectations are low as to what constitutes collaboration.

4. Despite being SharePoint advocates, respondents had a realistic view of SharePoint. Whilst one could have expected a more enthusiastic endorsement of its capabilities, this leads us to believe that there exist good opportunities for third party applications to provide specific advanced functionality, and therefore enhancing the overall SharePoint system.

You can download the whitepaper from the PleaseTech site.

IGLOO Software Embeds MicroStrategy BI Tools for Social Insight

IGLOO Software announced a partnership with MicroStrategy, for the integration of MicroStrategy’s business intelligence tools into IGLOO’s social business suite:

The solution will allow IGLOO customers to track user participation, influence, activity and engagement in a social intranet or extranet.

As social technologies are introduced to business, workflow and employee interactions become more and more visible. The resulting activity and dialogue produces unprecedented volumes of data around social behaviors and actions. The addition of an analytics module provides organizations with the ability to identify areas where social interactions are most effective and model those more broadly across the entire organization to improve the effectiveness of team collaboration.


IGLOO will integrate MicroStrategy’s BI platform into the IGLOO administrative console in order to enrich the community management and reporting process. A dashboard of indicators will be presented graphically, including activity, contribution types and top content.

I hope this partnership works out for IGLOO, MicroStrategy, and their joint customers. I think there is good value to be gained by understanding what is going on inside technology designed to bring people together. And I look forward to the more advanced capabilities that could come about by having such capabilities available – mere counts and top content are useful as a starting place, but much more is needed.

In the technology chapter of Collaboration Roadmap, I present four frameworks for evaluating collaboration technology—a framework for collaborative teams, collaborative groups, and collaborative organizations, as well as a different approach called Collaboration Scenarios. What IGLOO and MicroStrategy are doing could fit very well into the initial three frameworks:
– for Collaborative Teams, Pillar 7 (collaboration auto-discovery)
– for Collaborative Groups, Connector 4 (surfacing of related groups and conversations)
– for Collaborative Organizations, Foundations 1 and 2 (identify expertise shown in collaborative systems, and correlate knowledge stored in collaborative systems, respectively).

Basecamp Next – The New Calendar

37signals is getting ready to release a major revision of Basecamp. The calendar has been significantly upgraded:

It’s hard to believe we didn’t have a proper calendar in Basecamp until June of 2011. Before that we had a list-based view which worked exceptionally well for nearly seven years, but people still like looking at dates and deadlines on grids. We get it! 😉

We’ve made a few calendars in our time. Backpack has a great one – it served as our exclusive company calendar up until we built this new one in Basecamp. Now we run all our schedules with the new Basecamp calendar.

We wanted to make sure the calendar for the all new Basecamp was the best one we ever made. And the best one around, period. It’s not going to launch with everything we want, but all the basics are covered real well. We put a lot of time into the interaction details so it’s fast, smooth, intuitive, and flexible. We’ll continue to improve it and refine in over the coming months, post launch.

Read more: 37signals blog

Flipped Classrooms – Use Classroom Time for Collaborative Interaction

One principle of an effective meeting at work is to use face-to-face time for discussion, negotiation, and clarification – not for passing on the information. Meeting attendees are supposed to come to the meeting already prepared – they’ve read the briefing papers, they’ve studied the options, they’ve formulated their view. Someone even wrote a book last year about this, but I can’t recall the name of the author nor the book title (it was something like “don’t call a meeting”).

Anyway, a similar idea is taking hold in some educational settings. Classroom time is used for interaction, not instruction:

The PI technique relies on the power of the “flipped classroom.” Information transfer (a teacher transferring knowledge to students) takes place in advance, typically through online lectures. In short, students study before rather than after class.

As a result, the classroom becomes a place for active learning, questions, and discussion. Instructors spend their time addressing students’ difficulties rather than lecturing. While originally developed for Mazur’s introductory physics courses, PI is now used across multiple disciplines, from the sciences to the humanities.

Read more: ‘Flipped classroom’ teaching model gains an online community

SAP StreamWork for Direct Relief International: To Focus and Accelerate Projects

SAP StreamWork published a case study on how Direct Relief International is using SAP StreamWork for collaborative decision-making:

Humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief International has been bringing critically needed medicines and supplies to people affected by poverty, disaster or civil unrest for more than 60 years. In 2010, the organization selected SAP software to help it get personnel and supplies to the right places and people as efficiently as possible. With thousands of clinics located in 72 countries and all 50 United States and hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment and medicines, SAP software helps Direct Relief track every item from its warehouses to the final destinations with a level of precision that has helped the organization consistently score 100 percent in fundraising efficiency as rated by Forbes magazine and the prestigious 2010 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.

Recently, the organization opted to try a new SAP solution – the SAP StreamWork collaborative decision-making application – to help focus and accelerate projects among teams that are distributed across states and countries. Previously, the Direct Relief team members had been using Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration. However, while they found SharePoint useful as a general portal or intranet, when it came to managing the flow of communications and projects, especially for a distributed group, they preferred the more structured environment of SAP StreamWork.

“We were looking for a solution that could help us drive projects forward,” said Ross Comstock, IT director at Direct Relief. “It helps us quickly get a group of people together and focused on working through a problem, even if they’re in different countries. For that purpose, SharePoint was too general. SAP StreamWork was much simpler, with a lot of tools built into it to drive decision-making. When I have a meeting with stakeholders, I can pop into SAP StreamWork and illustrate where we are on a project. It offers a simple way to tell a story, and it helps our communication with stakeholders.”

I’ve wrote about this idea last year in an article called “Don’t Buy a Filing Cabinet If You Need a Heartbeat.” I’ll have to post that up here sometime 🙂

PleaseTech Announced PleaseAuthor – for Structured Authoring

PleaseTech announced the introduction of PleaseAuthor, a structured authoring product:

PleaseTech Ltd, a specialist solutions provider for collaborative document authoring and review, today announced the introduction of PleaseAuthor, a major new component-based authoring solution. PleaseAuthor will be available alongside the company’s flagship product, PleaseReview.

With a planned release date for the second quarter of this year, PleaseAuthor will greatly enhance the document production process by providing users with a simple to use method for the creation of Microsoft Word documents. Inspired by DITA principles to facilitate content re-use in the Word environment, templates are generated from which new documents are created, complete with predefined structure and style, such as layout, heading levels etc., and other Word attributes. In addition, the product’s comprehensive reporting capabilities will provide an audit trail of which content has been used and where, whilst also allowing comparison between the usage and editing of individual content items.

PleaseTech have done a very nice job with its online service for content review and co-authoring. Kudos to the company for expanding its capabilities in new areas.

Note, too, that PleaseAuthor will be available for on-premise installation as well as via a hosted service.

Read more: PleaseTech announces PleaseAuthor, its new component-based authoring solution

Confluence – Team Calendars 1.8

Atlassian released version 1.8 of Team Calendars, with the new ability to integrate Confluence team calendars with Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook.

This release allows you to consolidate your Team Calendars and your personal calendar. With an already strapped personal calendar loaded with the day’s responsibilities, the idea of tracking the schedule of your coworkers is as farfetched as an airborne pig. But subscribing to your People and Events Calendars affords a new lens to your personal planning.

You might be planning a team lunch the week the majority of your team is on leave – viewing your People Calendars alongside your personal schedule keeps you from scheduling a meeting no one can attend in the first place.

This is a basic requirement for calendaring when team-specific calendars are moved to team-specific areas. See Pillar 4 in the 7 Pillars framework for more.