There is a classic scene in the movie Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman is beaten down by a cruel warden, who then utters the famous line, “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.” Ever since that moment first appeared on the silver screen, it has become imbedded in our vernacular.
I just wish a failure to communicate was the problem we often
rely on claim it to be.
You see, I can’t tell you how often I hear serious weight being thrown behind things like communication breakdowns, communication gaps, miscommunication, and so on. I even use the “c-word” when I want to oversimplify the problem. But communication is not the issue. Information flow is. Let me explain.
Communication is about you speaking and me listening. And vice versa. It requires that we both participate at the same time. It is a very active kind of interaction. As soon as one of us is not available (or no longer interested), communication starts to break down. So what do we do? We push people to stay actively engaged with the communication. We get louder. We get creative. We even get repetitive… just in case you weren’t listening the first few times.
But in today’s extremely
insane fast-paced world, where people literally check email before they get out of bed and before they go to sleep, communicating more is not actually helping. It’s making things worse. So I have to ask – is communication really the problem?
I don’t think it is.
I believe that the real problem is a lack of information flow. What I mean by information flow is that the knowledge that we collect should be designed to move. Up, down, and across. With all of it available when I have to use it. Not only when someone is actively willing or available to give it to me, but passively – waiting for me to both access it and to add to it.
Great information flow means that the information does not wait for someone else to initiate the flow of information to me. I shouldn’t have to worry if I got that email, joined that teleconference, or was invited to the meeting (that kind of stuff only makes me join the email chains/telecons/meetings out of fear that SOME HOW I will be missing critical information – what a waste of time). Great information flow is never about waiting for the information to be sent to me period. I can – and should – always be able to go to it on-demand.
Imagine if the data we needed most was available to us like Wikipedia, Yammer, and SharePoint combined. The technology to do that exists today. What would that do to work flows and processes? How much copying from one data source to paste it in another data source (sales reports and forecasts, anyone?) would be eliminated? The experts in information flow that I talk to tell me it would reduce as much as 75% of administrative time by simply eliminating the hunt/copy/paste activity we all do waaaaaaay too much of. Can you imagine that? I know I can. And I get giddy just thinking about it.
And that, my friend, is a future I would encourage us all to push forward with. Look for ways to start small. Start by separating what is genuinely sensitive to other eyes from everything else. Compare your definitions of sensitivity with your team mates. Make the “everything else” stuff accessible on common drives. If you can, stop answering requests for information to be emailed, etc., and tell people to go to where the information is sitting for them – to be accessed any time. Tell people not to take the information out of the shared space, but to simply work with it there then leave it for others. Fight against hoarding information. And above all else, stop communicating this information. You are only making the chaos worse.
I mua. Onward and upward.