With a Little Help From my Friends

mused on 05 Jul 2016


When we talk with others about the any2any approach to experience we normally start by talking about the frictions and dissatisfactions that can undermine our everyday experience. When we move on to talk about constructive aspects of experience we find ourselves talking about connection, community, tribes, groups and teams. It is often in our relation to others that we deepen and enhance our experience.

We intuitively know that connection and community are vital to enhancing experience. Being with people, engaging and sharing with them we think is key. And this is true regardless of context, whether at work, or in our private lives. Indeed the social isolation that occurs when we do not fulfil our need for community is a pressing and real societal concern. Everybody knows some ‘alone time’ is important, but we know that ‘being’ human is a shared endeavour.

We know that some seek meaning in symbols of power and status, whether money or position. We also know that some find it in challenging and fulfilling work with managers who help them grow and develop as people. Some find it in a sense of service and a mission. These fulfilments are not always available to everyone, and perhaps just as worrying, when work is finished for the day, or a career, or through some other termination, then the meaning can disappear as well, leaving the individual disoriented, confused and sometimes isolated.

Seeking out meaning through connection directly is worthwhile since enduring connection to others transcends any particular aspect of life; it doesn’t end when work ends. We all know don’t we, that filling a life with friends and family, is the best method of enriching meaning and belonging in life. We all know that workplaces rich in camaraderie, friendship and goodwill are also rich with performance and the spark of innovation; they are also frankly, places where people want to be.

A trend we see in co-working environments and in some forward-thinking corporations is ‘curating’ connection and experience. That is, you help people find meaningful connection by suggesting them, by creating contexts, opportunities, even serendipity. ‘Oh, but its not the company’s job to help people at work find friends and connection.’ Maybe, but it is when we connect with others that new and interesting possibilities for innovation arise and positive atmospheres nurture positive teams, positive teams nurture better business results.

If you wanted to engage directly with improving workplace experience then you would surely create spaces in which your people could find and be with colleagues and friends, create contexts in which they can collaborate and exchange. You might try and think in terms of communities, tribes, flocks at work, allowing them to form and overlap, to disband and regroup, to allow leaders and facilitators to emerge who can help encourage their development; encourage these engaged people to act as curators for their tribe, or flock. You might think of what you can do to facilitate increasing this kind of interaction, with the assent of the communities involved, through gentle experimentation (e.g. what happens if we put a team space here? What happens if we seek an ad hoc team to investigate this?). You would surely support this with tools to enable them to associate more easily and collaborate more effectively. Indeed, you might go further and try and create conditions in which new connections can be created, through innovative design, creative disruption, projects, activities and events.

Note how by definition these are local, participatory and iterative activities. These are not big projects or transformations; these are human-scale activities. Nobody wants to be herded into new contexts, but its difficult to believe anyone would object to participating in some modest change to enhance their experience of work. Think how much can be learned from your own people about effectiveness and organisation, if only we choose to empower and listen. The risks associated with these small steps are tiny, whereas the risks associated with the big transformation are enormous, expensive and very risky.

Iterative, employee directed, connection and community focussed, sustained by the organisations complete confidence that connection enhances meaning, meaning enhances experience and experience will drive all of the good things that we want to happen at work or indeed at play. The power of curating. What do you think?