Monday, January 04, 2016
The secret to unlocking great ideas? Slack off

One thing really bothers me about the new Slack ad: in the entire processes from ideation to delivery of the final product, nobody talks to each other. Not once.

Even characters in the same room, sitting next to each other, use Slack messages to communicate. 

Not once do we see a fiery brainstorm, or late-night bar crawl where a surprise solution presents itself after too many beers. There are no arguments, no whoops or high-fives, and no late-night phone calls as a crazy idea strikes and just *has* to be shared. There are, instead, lots of little chat windows that whoosh around.

Is this the future of office collaboration and - as Slack says - the answer to less email, fewer meetings, and more getting stuff done? Or is that just email all over again, except different?

Most collaboration experts extoll the virtues of speaking to our coworkers. A quick search on recent articles uncovers a huge list of leading minds telling us to get up from behind our glowing rectangle if we really want to get stuff done.

Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager, talks about the importance of presence when managing others. Ford’s Head of Innovation says interacting with his team face-to-face is essential. Renowned organizational psychologist Sir Cary Cooper has blamed email for the UK’s low level of productivity, and called for health warnings when email is used on weekends. In a recent Forbes article, communication expert Nick Morgan wonders if our lack of face-to-face interaction is to blame for 70 percent of workers feeling disengaged.

As workers, our first response to the overwhelming feeling of having to show an always-on attitude was email. Sending an email from the sofa in the evening, copying in our boss, gave us the briefest feeling of victory. Once that feeling wore off, we started email more. Then on the weekends, and then on vacation.

Soon, email broke under the strain so clever technology people started looking for a fix. They took the concept of email and started to re-engineer it. Collaborative documents, collaboration software, instant messaging, threaded conversations, chat groups. All of these things just iterated on email and added to the pile of tools we already had to use.

Don’t get me wrong - I use Slack, Google Docs, Quip, and Skype every day. All that software has shifted the burden from my Outlook inbox and made things easier by streaming tasks into software that’s more suitable for the subtleties of that particular task.

What these tools can’t do - and will never do - is replace the communication required between humans to execute a creative process from beginning to end. They complement the subtleties of non-verbal communication that no emoji can replace.

The new Slack ad has inspired me to action: My New Year’s Resolution will be to get up from my desk and share a ridiculous idea with a coworker at least once a day.

If they smile and high five me, I’ll know I’m onto something.