Digital Collaboration: What’s Possible Now? with Deborah Reuben, CLFP

Have you ever had déjà vu? That feeling of having already experienced the present situation. Deborah Reuben, Founder and CEO of TomorrowZone®, likes to flip that idea on its head by practicing Vuja de. Coined by Adam Grant in his book Originals, Vuja de means to look at something familiar and experience it in a whole new way, and it can be an extremely useful tool when trying to get into a future mindset to create meaningful, productive, and inclusive digital collaborations.

During a recent workshop with AMA Chicago, Deborah explored the questions of how to get into the “TomorrowZone®” mindset, what’s possible now in the digital landscape, and what’s the future of technology and how it will affect your business and digital collaboration. Here are some of Deborah’s insights:

Change is Accelerating

Every business owner knows how important it is to stay on top of tech and trends in order to stay relevant. With so many disruptive business models fueled by new technology, it sometimes feels as if it’s impossible to keep up.

Technological innovations aren’t slowing down. They move at an exponential pace rather than a linear one. The question then becomes what are you doing today to prepare for future possibilities? Do you want to be the disruptor or the disrupted? There are four steps Deborah uses to get into a future thinking mindset to prepare for the future and be known as an innovative thinker:

  1. Recognize the pace of change
  2. Pay attention to forces of change
  3. Select and set a technology watchlist
  4. Imagine the future and reflect on its impacts to your business.

You don’t need to be a technology expert to watch and explore new technologies. If you doubt that, think about how most people have no clue what the intricacies are that make the internet and wifi work, but they can open a web browser and do a Google search with ease. New business models emerge from exploring what’s possible at the intersection of multiple technologies; for example, Tesla, Uber, and FinTech developed because of advances in multiple tech sectors. Innovation is about connecting a lot of dots in new and imaginative ways.

When imagining the possibilities of the future, try some thought experiments asking: What is impossible right now? Could it be possible in five, ten, or thirty years? What challenges will people face? What will they need? What role could technologies play? Remember, there are no wrong answers because the future hasn’t happened yet. Making time to imagine the future isn’t about perfect predictions, it’s about preparation and shifting your mindset from passive learning to active experimentation.

Effective Digital Collaboration Is Always About People First

In the context of combining future thinking and digital collaboration, always have a people first mind set. There are a lot of companies and startups out there trying to figure out how best to enable remote collaboration, and while it’s great to be aware of all of the tech possibilities, Deborah encourages the importance of thinking about the tech last. Instead, think first about what it takes to create a meaningful human-to-human connection in digital collaboration. Here are the top three things to focus on:

  1. People first: understanding your collaborators and creating an inclusive and safe space for breakthrough ideas to be shared.
  2. Outcomes: why are you bringing these people together to collaborate in the first place?
  3. Facilitation: make sure you’ve planned and considered co-creation and shared understanding of goals.

Once these are in place, you can begin build your “tool kit” to help achieve your collaboration goals. What technology is needed for the collaboration? Challenge your own assumptions about how things should be done; for example, do you really need another meeting? How can you leverage asynchronous collaboration to achieve your goal with less real time meetings? It’s also important to “learn forward” – leave room for learning and adjusting as you move forward in the collaboration process.

What’s the Future of Digital Collaboration?

AI is already infused in our daily lives. From the apps we use to get through traffic to asking Alexa to play our favorite song, narrow AI applications are performing cognitive function tasks we normally associate with humans. What if this technology was part of your development team? What if smart technology was helping you find innovative solutions?

Human collaboration with intelligent machines is part of the future of digital collaboration. It’s not too difficult to imagine AI accomplishing more complex tasks that could enhance our productivity and creativity. And while it’s not likely that AI is going to take over your job, there’s no reason why AI couldn’t take over the parts of your job that you don’t want to do. Currently there are multiple startups working on narrow AI applications to solve real business problems and to help bring more efficiency to the workday. It will be necessary to develop skills to collaborate with intelligent automation, and there can be a big ROI in doing so. You’ve probably already got some know-how if you are using apps like Waze, Grammarly, QuickBooks, or Google; so don’t be afraid to explore and experiment with other new AI-powered applications.

Choose to Learn Forward! Step away from your day-to-day and get into the TomorrowZone®

Just a few mindset shifts can help you get into that zone where you are thinking about new possibilities and have more Vuja de moments. Understand what’s possible now by keeping a watchful eye out for it, experiment to learn, then think about what’s possible next. You’ll find yourself open to making awesome happen with inclusive and innovative collaborations!

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