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Assumptions in the digital future

May 2, 2014

Only 10 years ago, we had no Facebook, no iPhone, no cloud, no Amazon Web Services… not to mention no 3D printers or Google driverless car (and the list goes on). Nearly 20 years ago, 42% of US adults had never heard of the internet, and an additional 21% were vague on the concept. (source: Pew Research) According to the Economist, the web has the fastest rate of technology adoption ever – faster than the PC, TV, and radio. Pew Research data on mobile device ownership shows 90% of US adults have a cell phone, 58% have a smartphone, and 42% own a tablet.

In sum, as we all know: a fast changing world of information and technology yielding new ways to connect, share, create and respond. The global work culture is one of continuous work, ubiquitous connection and unbordered collaboration. I’ve blogged previously on the disruptive power of collaboration in business, and recently spoke to MBA students about collaborating for impact.

This was the 5th year I’ve guest lectured in UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler MBA classes on the topic of virtural working environments. As in previous years, I covered the business and strategic reasons for fostering collaborative environments, some practical tips on how to collaborate effectively, and thoughs on leadership in virtual enviroments. I’ll blog about these topics in coming weeks. Over the years I’ve been guest lecturing, it seems the MBA students have gotten younger (ok, maybe I am getting older). So as I was researching new things to talk about this year, I was thinking about how to capture the difference in the expectations of the digital world they are in and the workplaces they are about to enter, versus the ways I’ve grown into a digital life, at work and at home. The habits and expectations are different, and so are the outcomes and impact of the collaborative environments.

Here’s an example: the story of Robohand. This MakerBot blog explains the story better than I, but essentially this is a story of a need, a community, multiple technologies, and many lives transformed. A worldwide community of people is collaborating to design robotic hands that can be printed on 3D printers. Not only are the collaborators reducing the production cycle time (from months to minutes), but they are also reducting the cost to produce. This is especially meaningful for children who outgrow expensive prosthesis devices in just months.

I use this story as an example because it underscores the fact that virtual collaboration is assumed by those involved. The original pair of inventors are a master carpenter from South Africa and a puppeteer from Washington state.  They share their designs on Thingiverse, and people connect with them on Facebook, blogs, and other social media to send requests and feedback.

The assumption of virtual collaboration is a significant shift in our collaborative environments, and creates different expectations and opportunities. And, these assumptions are starting at very young ages – which will be a topic for next week’s blog.

From → Collaboration

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