IASC Update October 1999

The group mind can work for skateboarding.

Collaboration is what it’s all about, or so some may think¿including John Seely Brown, chief scientist at Xerox Corporation. According to Brown, “If you ask successful people to reflect on how they learned what they currently know, they’ll tell you, ‘We learned most all we know from and with each other.'”

Ah, sheer profundity! Working together is the stuff of success. This idea was also promoted by Daniel Goleman in his latest book, Working with Emotional Intelligence¿essentially a primer for how to make the connection between knowledge and the creative experience. It makes for an interesting read when you have skateboarding business as your primary arena for application. That is, we all know what makes for a successful company, for a successful business, right? It’s easy. But if this is so, then why is the process so difficult? So challenging?

According to Goleman’s thesis, part of the difficulty is the collaborative process itself¿that success at the corporate or company level is based upon “the crucial nature of social coordination.” Working together, with others¿not necessarily in harmony, but in an environment where “cutting-edge knowledge grows through orchestrated, collaborative efforts”¿is the formula for success.

The usual method, observed in business climes different than skateboarding, but certainly a major component of the action-sports experience, is for one person to get things started. One. The entrepreneurial beginning of one person’s good idea. Add in a friend or two (bring on some “associates”), and with success and growth, keep expanding and developing until … what?

According to Xerox’s Brown, “There are no lone geniuses anywhere. Even Thomas Edison was a brilliant knowledge manager. We traffic in human capital; ideas don’t come from a lone head, but from collaboration in a deep sense.” The workplace is changing quickly, and today’s businesses and employees find themselves in a dramatically different environment than just ten years ago. Is it possible that has the entire business world dramatically changed in the past decade? Yes.

For the past several years, researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University have been asking workers in a variety of different work situations the question, “What percentage of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind?” In 1986 the average answer was about 75 percent, but by 1997 the percentage had slid to between fifteen and twenty percent. Goleman suggests this is caused by the overall increase in information. More knowledge has been generated in this century than in all of history before, and the rate is increasing as we enter the new millennium. How do we cope, how do we adjust, and most importantly, how do we succeed in the management of this new world order of information? Human collaboration.

Success has to do with human relationships. Imagine that. Success is based upon social intelligence. Information is so dominant that the key to managing its impact is not the information itself but the people involved with the process. Xerox’s Brown describes it as an artform, “It’s the ability to pull people together, to attract colleagues to the work, to create the critical mass for research.”

Creating the opportunity for creativity is a creative process in and of itself. Thus, creative people must be creatively managed¿social intelligence becomes a most important aspect of any creative project. Brown adds, “Power in management is the ability to make things happen. It takes what amounts to organizational judo¿being able to read the situation, the human currents, and move accordingly.”

In venturing a skateboarding analogy, I can’t help but to suggest to Mr. Brown and his fellow Xerox scientists that his world is going switch, and they just don’t recognize it yet. That is, for decades most skateboarders and surfers were either goofy or <regular. There was a tendency to allow one direction to dominate, but now, in today’s switch-stance limitless world, the direction seems to be every direction. Once again skateboarding redefines new cultural guidelines. Is it possible that our multi-tiered omni-directional culture ends up as an icon for every culture?

If so, then what do we do about it? As Brown claims, “We traffic in human capital; ideas don’t come from a lone head, but from collaboration.” So, we collaborate. We work together so we can work together more successfully. To that end, in these weeks following the ASR Trade Expo, IASC members will be gathering to discuss the sharing of specific market information in order to provide more accurate analysis of our successes and our challenges. Our collaborative efforts will assist IASC members in planning and preparing their individual efforts. From within the viewpoint emerging from Xerox Corp.’s legendary Silicon Valley R&D facility, IASC members will capitalize (literally) upon their social intelligence. The collaborative effort of IASC companies will provide a reference tool distinct from any outsider’s analysis of what is particular to the skateboard marketplace.

Thus, IASC will be able to provide its member companies specific market-analysis information not available to those outside the collaborative effort. Those of you who are part of this association, part of this collaborative effort, will play a vital role in the development of a new form of accurate information¿the genesis of The Group Mind.

Strangely, wonderfully, the social intelligence of this collaborative effort will benefit not only those participating, but the sport of skateboarding itself will be the ultimate beneficiary. It’s our collaborative future. It’s what we can do¿create creative creators. Ahh …

Jim Fitzpatrick is executive director of the International Association of Skateboard Companies, a non-profit trade association promoting skateboarding and the skateboard business. Contact IASC at: P.O. Box 37, Santa Barbara, CA 93116; (805) 683-5676; www.skateboard.com/iasc.