conversation is an engine

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Power Distance Vs. Skunkworks (Shop Talk #8)

with 3 comments

Don’t Fax Me In

I’m anticipating a Social Media Breakfast Friday morning that promises dialogue about dialogue: how companies can get better at engaging employees for collaboration. Collaboration intrigues me because it forces this question:

How is it our organizations gather all these smart people and yet routinely fail to get them working together on big ideas? Why is true collaboration still a distant dream rather than today’s pressing reality?

Anyone can see we’re well beyond the “You talk. I Listen.” model of management relations. In my class we’ve been tracing the opportunity of social technologies backwards to where conversation bumps against command and control personalities and cultures. I’ve been coming to the conclusion that conversation is inevitable: with customers, with your own workforce. Especially with your own workforce. This is good news for anyone who works. To expect anything less than people talking back (where you can hear it or where you cannot hear it) is to settle comfortably into the pace and ethos of 1980 or 1990. Back when we might just fax in our order.

One celebrated model for collaboration is that of Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks: smart people hiding from bosses (or some bosses) to work together on a particular passion. It was a skunkworks setup that allowed Steve Jobs to make his radical break that resulted in the Macintosh. The absence of bureaucracy and the concentrated abundance of resources contributed to innovation.

And this: slightly naughty has its own peculiar draw. If skunkworks promises to disrupt the social order, I’m in. So are a lot of other seemingly ordinary citizens.

Cubicle-dwelling life is often more about receiving messages rather than dialoguing. In my own life it was the rare boss (I count three) who was able to deeply engage teams and bring out the very best—the brand new stuff that would happen only when everyone talked.

My fear is that internal communication is mostly just another flavor-of-the-month HR stunt, only using new tools. Just another command and control technique that only climbers are interested in.

My hope is that leaders take their top positions and use them to demonstrate dialogue and make themselves vulnerable.

My observation is that a generation of Anti-Vladimir Putins and Anti-Kim Jong-uns is already emerging.



3 Responses

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  1. Interesting read, Kirk. And it really resonates with me. Thankfully, my current position is full of collaborative people but there are always the inevitable cliques, and even worse – the good ol’ boys clubs.


    February 20, 2014 at 9:09 am

    • Being with a group of collaborative people is a great treasure. Makes any job so much more fun. Thanks for the comment.


      February 20, 2014 at 9:41 am

  2. […] Power Distance Vs. Skunkworks (Shop Talk #8) […]

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