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Sunday 24 November 2013

Do you pass or share?

Passing information to other organisations is not the same as sharing it.

Passing implies distance and the negotiating of boundaries.

Sharing implies closeness and the lowering of boundaries.

To use a surprising, unsubtle but certainly very memorable example:

US aircraft bombing enemy positions in Iraq used spotters on the ground to guide them to possible targets. Initially, these spotters had to "pass" the information back to analysts in the Pentagon who would evaluate it and decide whether or not the aircraft attacked. Whilst this passing and processing and analysing and deciding were going on, the enemy were not staying put. Consequently, aircraft frequently attacked positions no longer occupied by the enemy.

The system was changed, allowing pilots and spotters to talk directly, share and evaluate information in real-time, and make decisions about whether or not to attack. Consequently, aircraft began to attack more positions occupied by the enemy.

The above example shows the value of real-time sharing and exploring rather than serial passing and processing. It shows that creating time for face-to-face or voice-to-voice sharing and evaluating of information makes a process more efficient and effective --not less. 

But when collaborating with others it is safer to pass rather than to share; you can maintain your distance and boundaries and the power and control they provide. It is riskier to share; distance and boundaries are eroded and so too your power and control. The Pentagon defence chiefs and analysts were taken completely out of the above process, losing most of their direct control over pilot decisions. (They did, however, gain statistically superior results.)

It is no surprise that businesses, institutions and organisations with power and influence are instinctively inclined, if having to collaborate, towards passing rather than sharing. If they share and their power is eroded as a result, what will become of them? What will be their purpose? What will be the point of them? What will be their place in the world? What will be their unique selling point? How will they survive? How will they make a profit? How will they continue to matter?

So, collaborations between powerful and influential businesses and organisations can often be cumbersome: focused upon creating routes and staging posts for passing information between partners rather than upon sharing, analysing, evaluating and exploiting information with partners.

Anyone who watches television news bulletins about failures of joined-up working knows the truth of this. The police, social and health services have worked hard at building pathways between their respective organisations for sharing vital information about potentially vulnerable people. All too often, however, the information is received and "processed" without its deeper meaning (the opinions, attitudes and contextual knowledge the various agencies have and hold about it) being shared. 

When information is passed rather than shared it can become inactive, dormant: a packaged product to be moved or stored rather than the flowing fuel of insight. Someone receiving or processing such information is more likely to read its label and pigeon-hole it rather than open it up and explore it.

Passed information all too easily becomes "past" information that is processed and shelved rather than talked about and acted upon.

Passing and processing information encourages a functional mind-set that is lacking in curiosity. It will involve databases, emails and documents and perhaps the odd follow-up procedural phone call. Very rarely will it involve people sharing their thoughts about information face-to-face or voice-to-voice in the "here and now". 

Sharing and exploring information encourages a creative mind-set brimming with curiosity. It will involve databases, emails and documents and perhaps the odd procedural phone call. It will always involve people sharing their thoughts about information face-to-face or voice-to-voice in the "here and now".

So, do you play safe and pass or do you take a risk and share? 

The added risk that accompanies sharing information in real-time will probably be worth it in terms of better use of time and money and increased efficiency and effectiveness. 

If you play safe and continue to "pass", your collaborations will likely become more and more time consuming and expensive as the pathways you create to move information back and forth between partners become storage space for parked information.

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