This is the last posting in my recent three-part series on "flapping", where we've been exploring how we are often off target when it comes to being innovative. We often try to replicate how things worked previously ("flapping") instead of focusing on the essential elements ("flying") to give us what we want.
In the first part "Confusing Flapping with Flying", I observed how we finally succeeded at flying when we stopped trying to copy birds and insects and instead focused on the essential elements of flight, such as lift. In the second part "No Future in Flapping", I introduced one of the most recent examples of "flapping"—virtual worlds such as Second Life.
To try to reduce our tendency for flapping or copying the past as we develop these virtual worlds, I asked you to think about the true value of being with people at conferences, in meetings, or in classrooms. What is it that is unique and valuable about these experiences? And to ask yourself how we can use something like virtual worlds to go after these essential characteristics and benefits on a greater scale and frequency. Hope you have given this some thought. Now let's look into this further.
First let me emphasize again that I am NOT suggesting that virtual worlds are a waste of time. Quite the contrary. I strongly encourage you to spend some time in virtual worlds, such as Second Life, if you have not done so recently. I also want to ensure that we don't reject or forget these innovations at this early stage of their evolution, since I'm convinced they will rapidly become significant for most of us.
Looking more closely at the key characteristics of in-person experiences, we might notice for example that as most of us mature, we develop skills such as the largely unconscious ability to read the body language, gestures, facial expressions, eye movements, and voice inflections of others around us. We rely on these, in turn to figure out:
- Who we trust
- Who we want to spend more time with
- The person's mood
- How interested the person is in our conversation
- Whether a person agrees or disagrees
We also use many of these same elements to communicate with others in very important ways with a look, a wink, or a sigh. When we are together with others at conferences, meetings, and classes, the most value often comes from the serendipitous discovery of someone who is of great value, because they have deeply similar interests, experiences, or talents. How can we retain and enhance these when we are together virtually?
At the other end of the spectrum in-person gatherings have major limitations. You only have time to attend so many, can only afford the travel for a small number, and only benefit from those who join you in that same place and time. Even when you can be there in person, you usually only benefit from those who either speak your language fluently or when someone is available to provide translations.You also have very limited opportunities and methods of finding others who would be of most value to you.
Can you see how this kind of analysis helps us to identify the essential elements we want to retain and equally the limitations we want to overcome? Doing so helps prevent us from our historic behavior of copying the past ("flapping"), and keeps us focused on innovating and improving ("flying"). When it comes to person- to-person interactions, meetings, and the like, how can we use something like virtual worlds to dramatically increase the quantity and quality of these essential elements and benefits that physical meetings provide, while concurrently reducing or eliminating their real world limitations?
I don't predict, nor really care if Second Life and Linden Labs are the ones to lead the way out of the flapping stage into much more innovative and beneficial applications. Indeed, history suggests that it will be others. No matter who it is, I'm convinced that things like virtual worlds and augmented reality will bring huge benefits and changes to our ability to learn, collaborate, work, and live together. However, this will await the inflection point that occurs when we focus on taking off and flying instead of running around "flapping" and perfecting the irrelevant.
As you look at your own behaviors, as you evaluate and experience other "innovations" and the "next big thing", check to see if you are focused more on "flapping" or "flying". I look forward to seeing you all at increasingly higher altitudes as we "fly" into the future together.