When I heard her use that phrase, my first thought was of all the organizations who have innovation programs and digital programs and culture programs. I thought of the gap between their well-intended aspirations and their actual results.
Except this woman didn’t work in a big company. Her name is Sarah Parcak. She’s the winner of the 2016 TED prize, and an archaeologist whose goal is to protect the world’s cultural heritage. She’s looking for lost civilizations using satellite data, starting with Peru, and her approach is fundamentally different from what you see inside corporations.
In most organizations, big ideas require a Program with all the traditional management roles that come with it. Perhaps you want to simplify operations, reduce costs, or accelerate innovation. The people contributing would be those specifically assigned or funded to do so. Aside from making suggestions, the only way anyone else might participate would be to apply for a job.
But Sarah wanted and needed more than that. She recognized that tapping into the cognitive surplus around the world could unlock possibilities and accelerate progress. By making things open and inclusive, she could attract the very people who could help her implement, improve, and build on her work.
The first step was sharing information, the satellite images, so that anyone could see them. Sarah’s team of experts is analyzing that data, but they're open to the possibility that others may see what they don’t.
She then goes much further than making data available. She invites contributions. For example, a local Peruvian professor is “helping coordinate and share the data with archaeologists so they can explore these sites on the ground.” It turns out the professor is also responsible for a drone mapping program, able to provide additional imagery that Sarah, “a satellite archaeologist,” may never have included on her own.
She partners with people and groups who can help with education, outreach, and site preservation. One group, for example, “empowers these communities, in particular women, with new economic approaches and business training. So it helps to teach them to create beautiful handicrafts which are then sold on to tourists.”
Even you or I could contribute.
“Already I've gotten thousands of emails from people all across the world -- professors, educators, students, and other archaeologists -- who are so excited to help participate.”
Maybe you’ve heard of this kind of effort before. Maybe you think of examples like Wikipedia or you've read articles about Innocentive. But what about inside your organization? Most of your people have never experienced this kind of open, connected way of working. Your management almost certainly hasn’t. So they ask traditional questions about benefits and they cite the lack of time and precedent, unable to see the possibilities unleashed by a way of working they’ve never encountered.
Paraphrasing William Gibson: the future of work is here, it’s just unevenly distributed. Most companies have the business imperative and the tools to make programs “open, inclusive, and at a scale simply not previously possible.” They just don’t have the required behaviors.
One way to help them develop the necessary skills and mindset is to spread Working Out Loud Circles, and you may know of other ways. If your organization wants to thrive or even survive, you must give people the chance to experience a more open, connected way of working. If not now, when?