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Thought Leadership and Collaborative Technology

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At a time when the potential for artificial intelligence is nearly endless, four communication tools can help keep today’s thought leaders on tomorrow’s cutting edge.

We live in exciting technological times. Evidence of a thriving collaborative mobile economy is all around us: the Internet of Things, the growth of cloud-based storage, the unfolding frontiers of AI, and the rapid growth of real-time data sharing across devices, to cite just a few examples.

Thought leaders around the world are embracing the emerging landscape of technological collaboration enabled by the mobile Internet. They are accelerating the process of absorption, recognizing and surfacing winning ideas, then channeling them to the right people to get them implemented. These leaders and their organizations are working hard to facilitate smoother information-sharing, faster up-scaling, and greater agility.

But these demands can put real strain on firms and other large organizations. Many may have strong hierarchies, top-down management or a tendency to develop information ‘silos’. Some may rely heavily on geographically-dispersed teams. Anyone of these will tend to slow down absorption and innovation, and more than one will simply aggravate the challenge.

So how can thought leaders encourage the mobile collaboration that the times demand? How can they encourage constant sharing and sharpening of ideas?  How to manage and lead in a way that reduces silos, encourages constant improvement, and generates opportunities for younger ‘digital natives’ to step into important experimentation and influencing roles?

Here are four suggestions: techniques and mindsets that thought leaders should embrace to drive collaborative technology. These will boost integration, teamwork, and transparency in almost any organization as it works to apply the fruits of collaborative technology and AI.

Suspend your agenda.

This is about being a superb listener. A critical skill for driving mobile collaboration and absorbing cutting-edge ideas is to listen effectively. This is an on-going challenge given the constant pressures of time, technology, and distractions, but we need to make the effort.

Learning to suspend your agenda — disciplining yourself to put aside your own concerns and priorities temporarily in order to listen to others — is a technique that will distinguish you as a superb listener. And as you get better at this you will discover that others are paying more attention to you. This pays big dividends in driving collaboration because a key outcome will be the rapid spread of ideas.

Challenge assumptions.

Challenging assumptions brings rigor and clarity to decision-making. It is a visible, efficient way to pressure-test ideas and helps ensure that the best ideas and solutions prevail. Last and certainly not least, challenging assumptions is a useful way to minimize or avoid mistakes. So this is something we need to do consistently.

Unfortunately, it can be easy to rationalize not challenging the assumptions behind a proposal or a course of action: ‘This isn’t my area of expertise, so even though those numbers look weak I’ll just stay quiet.’ Or, ‘I don’t want to embarrass my colleague (or client) by questioning their assumptions.’ Or, ‘We’re on a tight deadline so we really don’t have time to dig into the data.’  We need to overcome these objections – or a bout of occasional laziness – and challenge assumptions when it is called for.

Ask implication questions.

These are the ‘What if…’ questions that can inspire people to think creatively and find ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions. One powerful technique is to identify the obstacles or constraints that are blocking progress, and then ask, ‘What if we could remove this obstacle?’ ‘What if we could reduce this constraint?’ ‘What if there were another way?’

It is often the pressure of time that keeps us from asking these questions: we have so much to do and so little time that we think, ‘Well, this is good enough; I’ll just go with this answer.’ And we don’t ask that powerful follow-up question: ‘This is pretty good, but can we do better? What if we looked at this from another perspective?’ Many times it is that last implication question that takes us to the next level of insight and creativity.

Summary and synthesis.

Summary and synthesis are also important tools for driving collaborative technology. A summary is essentially condensing a list of ideas to make them more readily understood or remembered. Synthesis goes further, combining concepts to generate insights or make connections. Good synthesis can ‘connect the dots’, highlighting implications or consequences that were not apparent: ‘I hadn’t thought of it that way.’ And done well, synthesis offers new perspectives on an issue and opens up fresh avenues for analysis and discussion.

highlighting implications

In sum, these techniques blend critical thinking and effective communication to help thought leaders drive innovation as they leverage collaborative technology: suspending one’s agenda, challenging assumptions, asking implication questions, and leveraging summary and synthesis.

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Mark Brown
Mark Brown works with executives who are striving to become more effective leaders. An American based in Europe since 1994, Mark has worked extensively as a facilitator, leadership consultant, and executive coach across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, with individuals of 75 nationalities. He is currently a director of a Portuguese company providing tri-lingual leadership development to firms worldwide. Mark holds an MBA from Solvay Business School (ULB) in Brussels, an MA from SAIS - Johns Hopkins in Washington, D.C., a diploma from Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a BA from the University of Florida. A highly experienced executive coach and mentor, he holds a PCC from the International Coach Federation (ICF). Mark has published numerous articles on executive coaching, leadership development, and business strategy and published his first book in 2016, ‘The Empathic Enterprise: Winning by Staying Human in A Digital Age’. He works comfortably in English, Spanish and Portuguese and resides with his wife in Lisbon, Portugal.

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