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David Friedman
I'm a consultant, educator and thinker who cares a lot about people and what happens to us!!
Interests: child development, reading non-fiction, staying healthy, my family, anything my son likes to do
Recent Activity
Last week I heard two examples of very similar structures that seem to generate a high degree of interpersonal involvement among participants. In each case, participants get together to get help on something they are doing and to help their colleagues. There's much more helping of others than getting helped (directly) and the results make people feel quite connected. I'll describe each and then note the common themes. And maybe you can suggest more examples or why these seem to work so well. Action learning The first example was "action learning". In action learning, people are put together in groups... Continue reading
Posted Jan 29, 2014 at Positive Structures
My work on collaboration has been greatly influenced by the Polymath project in 2009. In the first Polymath project (there have been more since) mathematician Tim Gowers asked if there was a way for mathematicians to do research together. He proposed on his blog to test the idea by trying to shed some light on a problem (called "DHJ" for short) he was working on. He outlined a few extremely sensible rules for how to work together, and invited contributions. The result was a major success, opening some new mathematical pathways and leading to a paper published in a very... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2013 at Positive Structures
I have been thinking a great deal about a book I recently read, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, by Rebecca Solnit. It highlights the mutual aid communities that often spring up in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. While it is hard to think of a disaster as a positive structure, the book makes clear that something positive (and perhaps amazingly positive) can spring from such challenging roots. Examples assessed include the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, 9/11 in NYC, an explosion of an ammunition freighter during World War I in Halifax, Nova Scotia,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2013 at Positive Structures
Have you heard of Janelia Farm? It's a scientific research facility funded as an experiment by the Howard Hughes Medical Insitute (HHMI) near Washington DC that opened in 2006. There are about 500 scientists working there, under conditions designed to enable them to create breakthroughs. It's a very conscious organizational design, with some features that I find quite interesting. The idea was to consciously recreate the atmosphere of Bell Labs in its heyday and of the Cambridge Laboratory for Molecular Biology. It turns out that these two instituions had a few characteristics in common that HHMI thought might be what... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2013 at Positive Structures
HBR has published an article which you can (at least right now) view for free here. In it, the author discusses how he measured communication (at the micro-level) among members of various teams, and discovered(??!!) that the social side of team life is critical. One big suggestion - have "team members" have their coffee breaks at the same time and performance improves -- because they talk with each other. I've been following the work of author Sandy Pentland of MIT for a while, and I find it a little spooky to snoop on people (albeit unobtrusively) only to discover what... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2012 at Positive Structures
This story, which I just re-uncovered, is a great example of the problem-solving mindset that doesn't settle for a first answer (see the Barometer Story for another). It's from the book Managing as Designing by Richard Boland Jr., and Fred Collopy. They are talking about the construction of a building on Stanford's campus. Toward the end of the design process for the Lewis Building, there was a need to reduce the floor space by about 4,500 square feet. One of us traveled to Gehry's Santa Monica offices and worked with the project architect, Matt Fineout, on the problem. We first... Continue reading
Posted Oct 6, 2011 at Positive Structures
This poster apparently was posted all over New York City in 2009. It encouraged people to talk with strangers. How about sticking it up a bunch of these at your next large meeting. I found it via Benjamin Aaron Degenhart and the work was actually developed by Ryan V. Brennan. In a similar vein, I just joined an website called Letslunch . It matches people within close range of each other who don't know each other but have some common interests and simplifies the process of them meeting for lunch. A clever idea - and we'll see how it works. Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2011 at Positive Structures
I don't know what the protocol is with blogs for just lifting something wonderful and reproducing it (with only one comment of my own at the end), but I'll push on. This is a wonderful post from Jack Ricchiuto on a blog he contributes to called Network Weaving. I just liked it so much because it talks about what is important in a network. 9 Indicators of Growing Networks We continue to have countless conversations with funders and others who want to "grow" networks of collaborations and innovations. This is impossible until they have enough network literacy to understand what... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2011 at Positive Structures
For the past few months, my colleague Jim McGee and I have been hard at work on a project we've named Collaborating Minds. It will be an online problem-solving community -- with a unique membership recruiting strategy. The goal is to create a resource that will be able to assist organizations with hard problems by providing rich insights and multiple perspectives. It's a marriage of some of the ideas of crowdsourcing with the principles that make for high performance teams. It's an example of getting more people to work together better, a topic I wrote about a while back. Collaborating... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2011 at Positive Structures
On Saturday, May 28, I am going to be participating in the 3rd annual Radical Realtime Virtual Collaboration event. It's an unconference where people can lead sessions on whatever topic they want related to the overall topic, which this year is Innovation Cloud: Virtual Spaces for Creative Collaboration. To minimize technical difficulties, the organizers are encouraging organizers to use a chat collaboration tool for the session, and to prepare any upfront material, well, upfront. I'm organizing a session called Improving Virtual Collaboration - Managing the Motivations, and I put together this video as my upfront material. If you find the... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2011 at Positive Structures
The Idea CivicConnect is an online community and problem-solving space that I have been working on (with my colleague Jim McGee) for the past 18 months with Civic Consulting a unique and wonderful organization in Chicago. CivicConnect has been a successful testbed for some important ideas about how to use to social tools successfully for problem-solving. Civic Consulting is a not-for-profit backed by the business and philanthropic communities of Chicago. It provides free management consulting to the City of Chicago and related agencies. Civic Consulting has a core group of 6-8 consultants who work on teams that draw dedicated pro... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2011 at Positive Structures
I just saw this video (from 1994) by Russell Ackoff. It's about systems thinking, and what it means. It's very clear and very powerful. Systems thinking, in the way Ackoff talks about, is central to understanding how positive structures are created -- they are systems that work because of how they allow people to interact in new ways. There's a very brief intro and then Ackoff gets started. Enjoy!! Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2011 at Positive Structures
An individual (not the one in this story) often gets stuck with one or two possible answers. A group of diverse people should be able to come up with lots of possible good answers. Here's one version of an inspiring (to me) fable -- and a link to what some other people thought of. The story is copied straight from No need to tell it better than they do (I just underlined each solution) Thanks Snopes. The following concerns a question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen: "Describe how to determine the height of a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2011 at Positive Structures
For the past few months, a few colleagues and I have been trying to figure out how to make Enterprise 2.0 solutions work much better. We've got a few ideas, and a working prototype (to be discussed in a future post), and plans for more. Our key insights are: More infrastructure is needed than the software typically provides (and much of what's needed is not hard to add), and The social process of joining and being in the Enterprise "community" (we put quotes on deliberately -- it's a vague word) must be orchestrated and managed. Some people do this --... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2010 at Positive Structures
My friend Jim McGee and I have lately been prototyping a unique online problem-solving community. It’s a place where people who are mostly strangers can come together and productively work. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks. Today, I’m focused on one issue we’ve encountered – which is building the right amount of workflow into an online collaboration. To me, the right amount of collaboration is enough to guide people to do what you want them to do, but not so much to constrain them to do only that. Or to paraphrase a long-ago manager of mine... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2010 at Positive Structures
If we can map social networks into value networks and quantify the value each person receives and the value of the network as a whole we could answer some interesting questions and figure out some strategies to respond to what we learn. Where is the network most at risk? We can look at the value each node of the network (each person) gets and at least in theory compare it to the alternatives that person has. If being in the network is costing someone -- that is, they don't feel what they're getting is worth what they're giving, aggregated across... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2010 at Positive Structures
In the previous post, we looked at how social networks could be looked at as value networks. We could map the tangible and intangible value (e.g., links to valuable information, job leads, business referrals, social support). that people receive from each other through the network. If we could quantify what an individual gets from the network and what the network produces altogether, we could begin answering some interesting questions like: Where is our network most at risk? How much contribution does each person make to the network? What changes could enhance the productivity of the network? In short, we could... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2010 at Positive Structures
Networks can be incredibly “positive structures”, but understanding them requires thinking about both social networks and value networks. These two similar but distinct concepts are rarely brought together (an exception is Verna Allee’s work) but they should be. And after they have been brought together conceptually, tools can be implemented in social networks to improve the performance of those networks as value networks. Social networks are graphs that document relationships between people. Here’s an example. Social network analysts can mathematically describe the structure of a social network. Researchers have discovered fascinating elements of social networks, such as the “weak ties”... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2010 at Positive Structures
I've been thinking a lot about crowdsourcing and the types of problems where it (and some team-oriented variants of crowdsourcing) could work. In my research, I ran across the story - so far - of the crowdsourcing of solutions to the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf. I say so far since as of this writing the problem is continuing only slightly unabated. BP didn't post the question of what to do on any of the available crowdsourcing platforms, like Innocentive. It didn't launch a crowdsourcing site of its own for a long time, although it has... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2010 at Positive Structures
I had the opportunity to put together some information on the Polymath collaboration from last year for a presentation in a series called "Collaboration on Collaboration". So it's very easy to share some of the details here. Polymath is a favorite collaboration story because it involves many people working on a single problem. Tim Gowers (the gent shown here) wanted to answer the question -- Is massively collaborative mathematics possible. He decided to tackle something called the density Hales-Jewett Theorem (DHJ) (and no, I don't know what that is). He had an idea but wasn't sure it was useful --... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2010 at Positive Structures
There’s been a lot of writing about the relationship economy. I have been wrestling with some of the fundamental issues/ questions and would love to have an engaged dialogue with people about it. What I get, and deeply believe People working together with new electronic tools can create immense economic value. Many tools (social networks, etc.) are are inexpensive or free. Leveraging these tools and the relationships they facilitate (new relationships, stronger relationships) are central benefits of “the relationship economy” Relationships in themselves are valuable to people. There is a social value to being connected to other people ; for... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2010 at Positive Structures
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Mar 15, 2010
A positive structure, as I said in our first post: Advances the content it addresses (e.g., the issue at hand), Strengthens participants commitment to being thoughtful about process (because their experience of good process shows them the value of this thoughtfulness) and Builds constructive relationships between participants that they can rely on for other processes Makes people feel good about themselves and their capabilities One of the archetypal examples of this is what my partner Rula Moradi and I call the growth cycle. It is what an outstanding salesperson does what they are selling. The result is a win-win transaction... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2010 at Positive Structures
There is a very interesting post about this topic from Wired magazine here. It suggests that there is an optimal size for an online conversation, where people feel that they are in fact contributing to a conversation. When the community around a topic (e.g., a blog and a specific post) is small, conversation is fairly slow. As the community grows (say the blog grows so now more people are reading each post), the pace of the conversation picks up. But at a certain size, the conversation flags, as people begin to feel anonymous and unknown in the community. I wonder... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2010 at Positive Structures
If strangers want to collaborate together, they need to know something about each other and how to work together. It would be great if each person would make available the critical information that others need to see, in advance, whether a collaboration is likely to be useful and possible. And to see how best to get started. Here's a start on what could be critical: My skills My values Things I am willing to take questions about How best to contact me on different subjects, if you are a known acquaintance (or come referred by a close contact of mine)... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2010 at Positive Structures