A futurist’s take on hyper collaboration

I took advantage of a summer vacation to read Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End.  Rainbow’s End recently won the Hugo Award for science fiction literature.  Like any good hard SciFi book, this one portrays a not-too-distant future where technology has fundamentally transformed the human experience.  The 2025 Southern California dramatized in Rainbow’s End features pervasive connectivity sub-vocally accessed through smart contact lenses resulting in a world of augmented reality.   The main plot revolves around Alzheimer’s patients who have been “cured” after many years in a vegetative state.  The book portrays the challenges these previously successful people face now that they lack the literacies required to command the new technology that runs the modern world.  It’s a good read and if you are into the genre, I highly recommend it.

But the really interesting feature in the novel was the skills that allowed certain characters to thrive in the highly complex, connected, real-time world.  The most capable characters had mastered the art of massive collaboration.  

Not necessarily able to solve complex problems themselves, the successful characters had a process to organize others to solve complex problems.  They were able to quickly determine what specialists were required, brief and motivate independent teams to work on their components, and then synthesize all the work that came back. It occurred to me that those are the precisely the skills that good ad agencies must exhibit in the increasingly complex media landscape.  No matter how large, it is hard to imagine a single communications firm with deep expertise in all the communications channels required to impact a scaled audience and drive meaningful business outcomes.  However, having a single entity that can drive the master strategy and orchestrate specialists is becoming as valuable in communications as in other increasingly complex industries like software and construction.

While agencies have always done this role to some extent, it seems safe to assume that demands for hyper collaboration will increase alongside media fragmentation.  It is important for agencies to continue to develop these new literacies lest they suffer the same challenges of the awoken Alzheimer’s patients in Rainbow’s End struggling to survive.