May 7, 2013

Collaborative solution seeking


Problem Statement

A business problem doesn't have a right or a wrong answer. The solution depends on various factors - context, environment, dependencies, principles/ethics, goals/objectives, available skills and many more. Solving a business problem requires a collaborative effort within the organization. Often at times, because of past mindsets, conditional thinking and groupthink, business managers might not be able to visualize solutions from different perspectives.

A third person's view point or a casual chat with an ex-colleague or a friend might open up new avenues of thinking and expand our scope. Sometimes, while attending a seminar or a discussion forum, new ideas might spark which could have a great impact at our workplace. Such is the importance of interacting with people from different backgrounds - be it education, work experience, thought processes or even ideology.

In the current scenario, if we want to seek answers to certain business problems outside the organization, the following are the options that we most frequently use. Please feel free to comment if there are any other options that you choose to reach out.
  • post a tweet on twitter
  • start a discussion in a relevant Linkedin forum
  • ask a question on quora
  • call your friends/ex-colleagues/acquaintances
These mediums are great platforms to get various perspectives across the globe, for your business problem. But I see a fundamental missing piece - interactions that enable collaborative solution seeking in a group.

If I have a query on a technology/programming language, a simple google search or posting/searching on quora/stackoverflow will give me an answer immediately. In case of business problems, one might have to understand/analyze the situation and suggest a possible solution. Such kind of interactions will be elevating and inspiring only if they happen in person or through a collaborative medium like a chat forum.

Solution

This is the idea I'm proposing. What if there is an interactive video chat platform where people in the business world can enroll, describe a problem situation and ask for a virtual meeting to discuss and gather solutions collaboratively with other interested business folks?

Users
  • Anyone in the business side of things - business development manager, product manager, marketing manager, business analyst, CXO, VPs etc
  • B-School students
  • Techies interested in business
Process
  • Users register themselves and add their areas of interest - digital marketing, valuation, cost accounting, product strategy, design etc
  • Any user can post a problem statement and tag with the appropriate area of interest. Let's call this user as "Conversation Starter"
  • All users who are matched to that area of interest get a notification about the problem statement
  • A possible discussion time is scheduled 
  • Some of those users can volunteer and prepare ahead - jot down some notes, quick data analysis, a powerpoint presentation, useful links/articles to share or just participate, thinking aloud during the discussion. Let's call such users as "Conversation enablers"
  • Other users might just be interested in the problem but do not have much to contribute. The discussion will be a useful session to enrich their knowledge. Let's call such users as "Conversation listeners"
  • During the discussion, 
    • the "Conversation Starter" summarizes the problem
    • Every "Conversation enabler" gets a chance to bring forth their views and ideas
End Result 

This would be a collective virtual brainstorming session that happens outside the workplace and with people who are ready to share their views. It's a win-win situation for all parties - 
  • "Conversation Starter" gets different perspectives to solve his/her business problem
  • "Conversation enabler" gets to ideate and think through varied set of problems in his/her areas of interest and build their expertise
  • "Conversation listener" gets to learn something new through such discussions
Next steps

I'm sure there are lots to think through regarding this solution. Most importantly,
  • incentives for the enablers (it's like consulting with no pay)
  • privacy concerns (why would I share my company problems with others?)
Let's leave the "what-ifs" and "oh-but" for now. My questions to all those kind souls who have read so far
  • Do you see value in such a product?
  • If you are in the business side of things, would you be interested to participate?
Please share your thoughts as blog comments as it would be easy for us to track and discuss further.

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