THOUGHTstream – When great ideas have sex

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What happens when you put a couple of great ideas together in one bed? In this case they produced a brand new bouncing baby called THOUGHTstream.

Recently I watched Matt Ridley’s TEDTalks  When ideas have sex and as often happens, was almost immediately introduced to a perfect example of what he was describing. Take James Surowiecki theories from The Wisdom of Crowds and Aleco Christakis’ ideas around Structured Dialogic Design and embed them into an online platform, the resulting child is ThoughtStream.

So lets take a look at the theories. Surowiecki theorizes that there are four critical elements found in wise crowds. First you need to ensure diversity of opinion and second you need independence. People need the space to hold their own perspective without it being overly influenced by the judgments of others. Human nature is such that we are influenced, especially in a face to face environment, by the ideas and the real or imagined, negative or positive feedback from other people. It’s just how we’re built.  ThoughtStream has the space for both independent and diverse opinions. It also has the room for more individuals that one usually brings together in one physical space.

The third and fourth criteria are decentralization and aggregation. People need to be able to both specialize and use local knowledge and all that knowing has to be at some point brought together collaboratively. Again, ThoughtStream creates an environment that does exactly that. Surowiecki also identifies blocks to the effective use of collective intelligence. Imitation and emotionality are two such barriers and because ThoughtStream is set up to first mine individual ideas and because it does so online both the risk of imitation and the influence of other’s emotions are kept at a safe distance.

The second body of theories or perhaps more accurately, practices, are around Structured Dialogue. There is a difference between dialogue and discussion. Both have their strengths and their place in decision making and solution finding. Often however discussion takes over and dialogue, an art form in it’s own right, is squeezed out of the process. Dialogue is the process of deep listening and structured responding. Where discussion is often like a tennis match, dialogue is like an intricate dance where the people involved follow choreographed steps and take turns leading and following. William Issacs’ Dialogic Leadership article provides and excellent introduction to structured dialogue and the differences between the two ways of communicating. Again, ThoughtStream successfully integrates space for dialogue and discussion into it’s online environment.

In short, ThoughtStream is a facilitated online process that uses the theories behind Crowd Sourcing and Structured Dialogue to help leaders, teams and groups collaboratively answer questions and find solutions. The technology replicates the process  that is often used to reach decisions and find solutions in an expertly facilitated face to face meeting. The difference is that the process, when moved online, removes many of the barriers that can block effective and timely outcomes. It’s the offspring of several great ideas joined together via technology and it’s ready to make it’s mark on the world.

For a detailed review of how THOUGHstream works go to my THOUGHTstream page or go to the THOUGHTteam blog for case studies, theories and other cool stuff.

For another view and more thorough history of ThoughtStream development see Dave MacLeod’s blog. And of course there is the THOUGHTstream site itself.

References and Influences

Matt Ridley,  TEDTalks  When ideas have sex

Crowd Sourcing definition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing

Structured Dialogue definition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialogue

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

William Issacs, The Systems Thinker, Dialogic Leadership http://www.dialogos.com/resources/files/systhink.pdf

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