In popular opinion hearing voices in your head is a bad thing. But it actually is the basis of our ability to think! As it turns out we can only think when we collaborate. Thinking is an internal collaboration.
As young children acquire language they tend to verbalise most if not all their actions. This is a key part of how they learn.
Naturally they learn to reason, to think, by verbalising the process. A child learning with her mother to solve geometric puzzles reasons through dialogue. “Where does this boat piece go?” “Look at the shape.” “Where can this pointy bit go?”
The thinking here is actually happening outside, between mother and child. As the child learns, this dialogue starts to be a conversation with self. They hold down both parts of the reasoning conversation. Then they pitch up at school and the teacher says “Sssshhh….” so they start to have the thinking conversation with themself and silently.
All reasoning is a dialogue. It’s just we learn to do it internally and silently. What does this mean for problems that canot be reasoned or thought about individually? Problems where an organisation needs to think about a problem.
Current practice for complex strategy documents requiring multi disciplinary input is that everyone drafts their bit in isolation. The document is then consolidated and sent to all authors for review. This review is a conversation but of the most simplistic kind. So it is not very deep organisational thinking.
Better organisational thinking means richer conversation; more iterations. This is what we really mean when we say collaboration.
To achieve this requires an online authoring environment. An environment that allows authors to own a section but for others to have visibility and to provide comment in real time. An environment that allows an organisation to think deeply.
Thanks to the goodness that is Radiolab for the inspiration for this post. Click the link to listen to the full podcast.