One of the themes I’ve been strumming in presentations is one where we complement what we do well with tools that do well the things we don’t. A colleague reminded me that JCR Licklider wrote of this decades ago (and I’ve similarly followed the premise from the writings of Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, and Don Norman, among others).
We’re already seeing this. Chess has changed from people playing people, thru people playing computers and computers playing computers, to computer-human pairs playing other computer-human pairs. The best competitors aren’t the best chess players or the best programs, but the best pairs, that is the player and computer that best know how to work together.
The implications are to stop trying to put everything in the head, and start designing systems that complement us in ways that assure that the combination is the optimized solution to the problem being confronted. Working backwards , we should decide what portion should be handled by the computer, and what by the person (or team), and then design the resources and then training the humans to use the resources in context to achieve the goals.
Of course, this is only in the case of known problems, the ‘optimal execution’ phase of organizational learning. We similarly want to have the right complements to support the ‘continual innovation’ phase as well. What that means is that we have to be providing tools for people to communicate, collaborate, create representations, access and analyze data, and more. We need to support ways for people to draw upon and contribute to their communities of practice from their work teams. We need to facilitate the formation of work teams, and make sure that this process of interaction is provided with just the right amount of friction.
Just like a tire, interaction requires friction. Too little and you go skidding out of control. Too much, and you impede progress. People need to interact constructively to get the best outcomes. Much is known about productive interaction, though little enough seems to make it’s way into practice.
Our design approaches need to cover the complete ecosystem, everything from courses and resources to tools and playgrounds. And it starts by looking at distributed cognition, recognizing that thinking isn’t done just in the head, but in the world, across people and tools. Let’s get out and start playing instead of staying in old trenches.