Monday, January 16, 2006

Many Hands

Bug-bashing pizza parties. Quilting bees and barn raisings. And now, interstellar detective work right here on earth. Many hands make light work, as the old saying goes. With centuries of proof that that the concept works, the challenge these days is to figure out how to apply it under 21st century conditions.

Fortunately, the distributed computing approach developed at the end of the last century for the SETI@home project is highly adaptable, even to situations in which human intervention is required such as will be the case soon with the Stardust probe data analysis. That's right, if you can prove you can tell the difference between interstellar dust and other microscopic particles and scratches, you too can help look for these tiny particles responsible for life as we know it.

And if the folks at JPL were able to figure this one out, then surely the rest of us ought to be able to figure out how to harness the power of many for more than just "help me move my stuff and I'll give you beer and pizza." After all, most situations are not so complex that they require solutions developed by rocket scientists.

The basic recipe is actually pretty simple and hasn't changed much over the years. For best results, take four parts difficult, tedious work and add three parts camaraderie, one part food, one part refreshing beverage and sprinkle humor liberally throughout. A dash of good-natured competition makes it even better. Suddenly, that difficult, tedious work doesn't seem so tough anymore. If you've got the "help me move my stuff" bit down, you've probably got what it takes to get a work party going for just about anything else short of looking to the cosmos for answers to life, the universe and everything.

The best part about it is that it's the sort of thing that can be undertaken in the corporate environment by staff and leaders alike. Potlucks arranged by co-workers can be every bit as enjoyable as pizza and soda bought by a manager and this is just one approach of many that are available to us.

As unlikely as it may seem, I suggest this as someone who is totally used to doing things by myself and, like any good geek, still believes in a meritocracy. Surely in the midst of all this, there is room for community too. It's simply more fun that way and a heck of a lot less lonely.

What would help us shift to a more collaborative approach and what things still make more sense undertaken independently? Send your thoughts to me at and perhaps we can find a way together to make more happen and have more fun in the process.

What are you and others trying to do alone that you could be making easier by sharing amongst yourselves?

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.