Monthly Archives: February 2010

Being Agile

During this year’s winter Olympics, the highlight for me was watching the figure skater, Kim Yu-Na of South Korea. The agility she displayed as she skated to win a gold medal was both breathtaking and awe-inspiring.  Not only did she show her well-trained body’s flexibility but her life story demonstrates how adaptable her spirit is as well. Click below to see her in action.

Video Library Player:  A Nation Awaits Gold in Figure Skating

Like Kim Yu-Na, collaborators need to be agile.  Websters defines agile as 1) marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace and 2) having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.  In business, one doesn’t need to learn how to do a triple lutz jump but it is vital to know how to quickly adjust to and build on the numerous points of view on any project or team.  If you are able to influence and be influenced, you avoid the ineffective spinning that comes from people talking at one another.

Collaborative Agility is demonstrated when we change how we relate to someone in order to better communicate.  It occurs when we can reframe a problem into an opportunity.  We are agile when we don’t have an answer but improvise  with others until a path becomes clear.

In the next few blog entries, we are going to look in more depth about the value of agility in collaboration.  You can begin thinking about the value of agility in your collaborations.  We’d love to know some of your stories.

Collaboration Won $1,000,000!

Yesterday I wrote about the Netflix prize — $1,000,000 awarded to the team BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos for creating an algorithm that was 10.06% better at recommending movies that customers would like.

Improvements came quickly and then bogged down. Here are the highlights:

  • 2007 $50,000 progress prize —  BellKor with an 8.43% improvement
  • 2008 $50,000 progress prize — BellKor in BigChaos with a 9.44% improvement. This team was a combination of the two front runners BellKor and Big Chaos
  • 2009 $1,000,000 grand prize — BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos at 10.06%. This team was a combination of BelKor in Big Chaos and Pragmatic Theory. Another collaborative team, the Ensemble (a merger of the Grand Prize Team and Opera Solutions and Valdelay United), tied but their final submission was submitted 20 minutes later.

“This has been one of the wonderful discoveries in the competition, that blending teams can lead to substantial gains…” said Chris Volinsky, a scientist at AT&T Research and a member of BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos Team. Blending different technical skills (statistical and machine-learning techniques) “only works well if you combine models that approach the problem differently. That’s why collaboration has been so effective, because different people approach problems differently.”

Some of the factors that affected predictions were:

  • people rate movies they saw a long time ago differently than the ones they saw recently
  • movie watchers tend to rate movies differently on Fridays versus Mondays
  • a rating given on a Monday is a poor indicator of other movies the viewer will like

Other companies are also using crowdsourcing to solve real problems. Check out these websites to see some of the opportunities offered through these clearinghouse sites:

What problem would you like to solve by offering a prize?

Crowdsourcing at Netflix

The challenge: Create an algorithm that was 10% better than the one Netflix was currently using to recommend movies to subscribers and win $1,000,000!

The contest began on October 2, 2006 and was expected to take some time. It is a great example of crowdsourcing, or community-based design, which allows organizations to become more porous and tap talent outside of their organization.

“It’s been quite a drama,” said Neil Hunt, Netflix chief product officer. “At first, a whole lot of teams got in — and they got 6-percent improvement, 7-percent improvement, 8-percent improvement, and then it started slowing down, and we got into year two. There was this long period where they were barely making progress, and we were thinking, ‘maybe this will never be won.’

On September 21, 2009 Netflix awarded the $1M Grand Prize to the collaborative team “BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos.” Tune in tomorrow to find out about the role of collaboration in this contest!


Being Porous

“Winning companies today have open and porous boundaries and compete by reaching outside their walls to harness external knowledge, resources and capabilities.”

–Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott & Anthony D. Williams

What does it mean to be porous? According to Websters, Porous is an adjective meaning 1. possessing or full of pores; 2a. permeable to fluids, 2b. permeable to outside influences; 3. capable of being penetrated, as in porous national boundaries

Porosity is actually the measure of the void spaces in a material. Examples of porous materials are sponges, cork and sandstone.

When we’re thinking about collaboration, porous might mean:

  • To allow new/different ideas to seep in
  • To be willing to offer your ideas to others
  • To be willing to change your mind
  • To have room for new/different points of view – to not be closed off

In the next few blog posts, we’ll explore a technique for being more porous and an example of a company inviting in external knowledge.

In what circumstances is it easy for you to be porous? When is it most challenging?

Cultures in Harmony

Last night, I was listening to my favorite radio program, From the Top. Here in Phoenix, it’s on KBAQ, every Sunday evening at 7pm and it features the best young classical musicians in the country. The featured story was about William Harvey. His original dream was to be the next Joshua Bell.

His vision changed after playing for the soldiers who had spent an exhausting day clearing away rubble at Ground Zero. He wrote:

At Juilliard, kids are hypercritical of each other and very competitive. The teachers expect, and in most cases get, technical perfection. But this wasn’t about that. The soldiers didn’t care that I had so many memory slips I lost count. They didn’t care that when I forgot how the second movement of the Tchaikovsky went, I had to come up with my own insipid improvisation until I somehow (and I still don’t know how) got to a cadence. I’ve never seen a more appreciative audience, and I’ve never understood so fully what it means to communicate music to other people.

Harvey was struck by the real power of music and went on to found the non-profit Cultures in Harmony. He believes that music can help bring peace to our world.

Cultures in Harmony collaborates with other non-profit organizations, governments, agencies and schools to create projects that bring musicians to other countries such as Moldava, the Philipines, and Egypt. Once there, the musicians collaborate with each other and local musicians on western classical music, music of the country they are visiting and original compositions they create on the spot.

I hope that you will be as inspired I am by this organization. Explore the stories of their projects and the important work they are doing. And on this page you’ll find a list of creative ways you can celebrate their fifth anniversary and help their efforts.


Looking thru a collaborative lens

I seem to be experiencing everything in my life these days as a symbol of some aspect of collaboration. It’s like the phenomenon of suddenly noticing all the crimson red Priuses on the road after buying one yourself or not being able to avoid walking side-by-side with pregnant woman when you are going through infertility treatments.

Collaboration as a lens

Whatever I am thinking about seems to show up in my life or at least I find the connection with the help of my creative mind.

Last Friday’s car ride to one of the outer boroughs of New York  offered me yet more evidence of the power of coming together.  My creative writing group friends, Mickey Waring, Jan Margolis and Marcia Holtzman became passengers in my car for our trip to Brooklyn. This was the first of a series of rotating writing group meetings and we were headed towards the home of Donna Rubens.  Our 45 minute ride from Metuchen was full of each of our unique energies.

Jan had her GPS system to augment our printed directions. Jan, the calm, guiding and reassuring one showed us the way from Route 287 to the Staten Island Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and beyond.  Her eye on our path kept us on target.

Mickey, the first to jump into the front seat with me, brought her open, honest spirit to our midst with her talk of being hungry.  Of course we all in unison felt the need to stop for a bagel in support of Mickey.  The compassion of this group of women towards one anther is unequaled.  Mickey has helped make it safe for all of us to say what we need at any time.

And then there was Marcia.  Her quiet affirmations of my driving skill encouraged me to relax into being the one to carry us on.  In the life of our writing group called WOM – Writers of  Metuchen – Marcia has taught us the importance of highlighting the promise and the positive potential of what we each write.  Our energy as a group grows from this strong foundation.

A simple car ride across 2 boroughs of New York reminds me of some of the key elements that sustain collective efforts.  Clear goals, honest expressions and a positive outlook help strengthen our writing group.  How lucky we are to know one another. It’s no accident that I am co-writing a book on collaboration and I know from trip’s like this one to Brooklyn, the subject had some of it’s birth in  the life I have shared with this group of writers.

Now that I have you thinking about collaboration, what will you notice  around you today?

Collaborating With an Expert

Here are some of the ways that Gwyn Nichols has helped with our book writing project.

by psd on flickr creative commons

Gwyn’s belief in us and excitement about our topic and kept us connected with our goal until we were able to set aside time to work on it more concretely.

She took our Collaborability assessment and created an online survey so that we could collect more data as well as demographic information. The survey included write-in comments about what participants would like to learn about collaboration and traits they thought were important for effective collaboration.

Gwyn facilitated our writer’s retreat in Chicago virtually. Together we planned our approach and she suggested multiple check-in calls. During those calls we talked about our progress, where we were stuck and our next steps. Gwyn typed up notes and emailed them to us.

The check-in calls kept us focused. Comments like “You guys have a dozen books to write. Which one do you want to start with?” helped us understand why things seemed like a jumble at times and to see a way to get clear.

One of our goals for the retreat was to start a blog. Maddie wrote the “Our Story” blog post and Gwyn edited it for us. She also commented on our blog posts and quoted them in her own blog. How encouraging!

Gwyn gave us tips on how to write when there’s no time. My favorite is the one about rewarding yourself which I wrote about in a previous post.

Who has served as a catalyst in your life or work? What have they done that has been helpful?

We Should Write a Book … Someday – Or… Life Transformation through Silent Auctions

Silent auctions have been the start of magical transformations in my life. It started with the Wilmington Women in Business Foundation Scholarship event – making higher education possible for women in Delaware returning to school.

photo by I am I.A.M.

My philosophy, formulated at that first auction, is to bid on everything remotely interesting during round one. Then I get more and more selective as the bidding – and price—goes up. [Caution: Consider the number of people attending the auction. If it is small you may end up with more opportunities than you can handle!]

I was clearly looking for more balance in my life that evening because I bid on and won a month of coaching, a life balance care basket, and a massage. I’d been intending to hire coach Wendy Mackowski but was just waiting to make time in my life for coaching – I’d probably still be waiting today but for that auction! All of my winnings were wonderful and the coaching ultimately started me on a whole new career.

At my first National Speakers Association (NSA) auction, I won time with three amazing speaker mentors, Ian Percy and Doug Stevenson, and Neil Dempster, who wasn’t even on the auction block. With his permission, I hastily drew up an auction form on the back of an already used piece of paper and this package ended up in down to the wire bidding between me and Jean McFarland! Neil generously capped the bidding before we could come to blows (just kidding) and created a package for each of us.

At my next NSA Silent Auction, I was ready to go! I bid on and won a photo head shot package from Tina Celle and mentoring from John Hersey because I admired the work of both, and Gwyn Nichols – Gwyn who? I’d actually never met nor heard of Gwyn before that afternoon (she was brand new to the organization) but she was offering editing and coaching for writing a book.

Just the previous week my colleague Maddie Hunter mused “We should write a book on collaboration some day.” Be careful what you say around me!

Ok, so this was a bit premature. We both already had lives full to overflowing. How would we ever fit in writing time? Well, sometimes I find it useful to create a circumstance that will push me to action (remember my bid on coaching)? Have you ever followed your instincts like that?

Gwyn is the catalyst for one of those transformations. How, you ask? First, her belief in us and in our project provided a boost to our own conviction and commitment. Have you ever experienced the confidence boost of someone else’s belief in your abilities?

This week we’ll post more about Gwyn’s structures and ideas and how they have helped us as well as other ideas on how to work collaboratively on a book. What has helped you to write your book? What would help you to write your next book?


Collaborating on The Fun Theory

Do you take the escalator rather than the stairs?  What would it take for you to consider the more effortful way to climb?  Take a look at this video and see if this fun idea would make you leave your lazy tendencies aside.  Debbie and I are asking ourselves what this video has to do with collaboration.  It’s true that collaboration can be fun.  We’re admitting that collaborating for us is the fun way we can get things done. What is the connection to collaboration that you see  here?