Category Archives: porous

Yes And — The Power of Language

Yes And is a technique that is taught in improvisational acting and in communications courses.

In improv, an actor begins supplying some bit of information that helps to create the scene. They may say to another actor “Looks like we’re in for a bad storm.” This is called an offer and the other actor’s job is to accept the offer and support their scene partner. They might say “Yes and I hope that the road doesn’t flood.” The opposite of accepting the offer is blocking, for example, contradicting the offer, which stops the flow of the scene.

Here are a couple of videos that demonstrate this technique:

The Improv Yes-And Rule

The Yes-And Technique

Yes And as a communication technique is meant to raise awareness of when we are dismissive of the ideas of other people. For example, Chris says “We could hire a virtual assistant to handle all the routine work that is using up all of our time.” Lee says “Yes but we’d have to spend time training a VA in how we want things done.”

The “but” in that reply can feel like a rejection of the original idea. Can’t you just hear Chris say “You’re always so negative. How are  we ever going to get out from under if we don’t do anything?”

If Lee said “Yes and we’d have to spend time training a VA in how we want things done.” The conversation might continue in a similar vein. “Yes and we could start the VA in stages to break up the time drain.” Or even “Yes and we’d want to think of a way to minimize the disruption.”

Use the “Yes And” method to acknowledge and accept another’s suggestion and build on it.

The Pause That Refreshes

When Maddie and I have workshop participants take our Collaborability assessment, we frequently ask them which collaboration aspect surprised them. The most frequent answer is Pausing to allow time for reflection.

Pausing is most important when you have an instant and negative reaction to a collaborator’s suggestion.

When I notice that I have a strong negative response toward an idea, it’s a sign to me to slow down and check out what’s really going on. More often than not, I find that my reaction has more to do with me than with the idea itself.

The pause allows you to develop awareness about your own areas of resistance or automatic response.  Once you’ve paused, you can ask yourself “How could this work?” or “How is that idea connected”? If you take the time to consider the merits or opportunities of an idea, it may lead to a solution that will work well.


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?