In many organizations the highly prolific, if not addictive, use of e-mail is considered an impediment to the adoption of social collaboration or other collaboration methods. People are resistant to use anything but e-mail and sometimes get very protective, sometimes hostile, when asked to use something different. How can you drive change and evolve into a more collaborative/social organization when you can’t get people off of e-mail?
At great risk, I am undertaking a multi-part “E-mail is Anti-social” blog effort to give you reasons why e-mail isn’t a good collaboration tool and to offer a few ways to motivate change.
Let’s start by busting the common misconception that communication and collaboration are the same. They are not. Collaboration is a higher form of communication. That is to say that communication is required for collaboration but not all communication is collaboration.
Communication is the exchange of information to achieve a better understanding.
Mass communication by its nature is highly distributed. The message is projected and received widely. The results of the communication is highly fragmented. It resides in the minds of each and every recipient. And absorption of that message can vary greatly including no absorption at all. This makes it very difficult to measure the success of mass communication.
Collaboration is different.
Collaboration is the exchange of information, and things, to advance the state of a collaborative product.
This product, this entity, this result of the collaborative effort is tangible and central. Everyone works to improve the collaborative product. We judge the success of our collaborative efforts by measuring the change of state of the collaborative product. This makes success much easier to measure.
To illuminate this difference let’s pursue a thought experiment using Legos. Let’s say 748 of us are collectively trying to build a Star Wars interceptor with Legos. Each of us has a Lego piece to this interceptor. If we were to work together to assemble this interceptor we would be collaborating. We would judge our success by measuring the accuracy and speed by which we were able to build this interceptor. The interceptor is the collaborative product we are trying to advance. I will continue to use this Lego thought experiment throughout the remainder of this multi-part blog.
It is ironic that our most ubiquitous collaboration tool, email, isn’t a very good collaboration tool. It is a highly successful communication tool. It has been so successful that it has become the default for IT based human interactions. Regardless of whether or not it is an effective tool for those interactions. In the next blogs I’ll examine a few of the primary characteristics that make it a great communication mechanism but a poor collaboration tool.
Ok, let’s hear your feedback. I’m sure some e-mail zealots out there are already fuming 🙂
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