Can technology help you think in new ways? Here's one way it helps me, every day: I think in public.

Whenever I'm working on a problem - some information I can't find, some advice I'm hunting, a bit of research - and I hit a dead end, I know what to do. I talk about it out loud, online. I go onto Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (or whatever tool you enjoy) and tell people what I'm working on, what I'm wondering about, what I'm looking for.

And you know what? Nearly always I get rapid help. I get ideas offered by friends, or sometimes just interested strangers. The other day I was researching whether or not software firms still engage in 'dogfooding'. That's a colourful phrase for forcing themselves to use their own tool - even in the early stages, when it's half-baked and barely working. In theory, dogfooding forces programmers to confront the terrible bugs in their work. But does it work?

So I asked out loud, on Twitter: "Hey, any companies out there engaging in dogfooding? What's it like?"
Within minutes, several followers told me about colleagues around the world who were dogfooding. Within an hour a global conversation erupted - with complete strangers comparing notes on their dogfooding experiences. 

I learned more in one hour of talking out loud than I did in a week of pondering the issue at my desk and doing research in documents.

We live in a world where it is now possible to broadcast our thoughts - and listen in to the thoughts of others, through the ESP-like 'ambient awareness' of social media. If employees learn how to use it correctly, it is a massively powerful way to find answers and big ideas faster than ever.

Public thinking works so well because of what scientists call the phenomenon of 'multiples': If you're wondering about a question, the odds are hundreds of other people around the world are also. You just have to connect up with them.

And if you're worried that you'll hurt your competitive edge by talking out loud, just create networks for public thinking inside your firm. Many top-performing companies have created their own internal, private social networks where employees are encouraged to post their thoughts and problems. It has a powerful effect - it makes knowledge visible.

This means that knowledge, experience and wisdom of staff isn't locked in their heads any more. It's public, externalised and searchable.

In a badly connected company, employees are constantly reinventing the wheel. They don't learn from each other, because they can't. Everyone's knowledge is invisible. In a company filled with public thinkers, it's the opposite. Employees quickly learn from each other - making the firm into a whole bigger than the sum of its parts. 

Clive Thompson

Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better has just been published by William Collins



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