Shared ContextPosted: January 12, 2010
My friend Nirmala has written a nice post about the way people with a shared context can solve problems by interacting with each other. The story that the post tells is self-explanatory, so maybe need not write anything to describe what i thought of the story.
What the story illustrates is something which a lot of people have written about. Something i have written about, as well, the idea of the intersection of knowledge from multiple sources, and the ways of using this intersection to create new knowledge, and from here, new ideas. What is important is that the more the context which is shared among people, the less is the probability that these people would come up with an idea which is new. Like the article says, if two people are speaking the same language, they are speaking the same things, so the way for new things to come up is not too easy, while if you bring together people from different backgrounds, with only a small level of intersection or overlap the probability of new ideas coming up is more.
This is primarily because these people have in their heads a context which is different from each other, and hence, they tend to see things different from each other, and this probably leads to a scenario where the ideas of one in the team could be interpreted differently by someone with a very different context, and this leads to the cross-pollination of ideas. What seems interesting in the story is the idea of encouraging diversity, because it is only through this diversity that the vitality of thought and ideas can be maintained. This is because this diversity itself is what leads to the flowing of the water so to say, making sure the water of thought and ideas doesnt stagnate in a small pool, but rather have a wide sweep of flow.
This is an idea not just for the world of knowledge in organizations, or KM or innovation for that matter, but probably for society as well. An interesting thing which is coming out of the book i am reading, The Discovery of India, is that one of the reasons India, as a civilization has survived the millenia is because of the frequent inflow of new ideas coming from very diverse civilizations, like the Greeks, Persians, Bactrians, Huns and so on, and the ability of the civilization to assimilate these ideas into the social fabric, leading to a constant renewal of strength through new ideas, new thought, new cultures, leading to a constant recreation of thought, ensuring it doesnt stagnate. This is important because stagnation leads to decay. While these civilizations did share some part of their context, there was a large part where their way of looking at the world was very different from each other, and this may have been one of the reasons which brought about the vitality which has enabled the civilization, the culture to survive, evolve, emerge stronger over the centuries.