"Four Concluding Observations
• Structured Socialization
We see from this example that people, even very smart people, are unable to anticipate the benefits of in-depth interaction with colleagues until they have experienced it for themselves. Before Researcher’s Square, the researchers at NIWL daily saw their colleagues coming in and out of the building, passed them on the staircase, or nodded to them in the hall, but they learned very little from one another. Moreover, when I asked them to anticipate how they might use Researcher’s Square, they could not envision a benefit beyond coffee and food. But when NIWL created a place for structured socialization* they not only learned from each other, the whole organization became more aligned and collaborative - in a word, more effective. Structured socialization named by my colleague, Robert Dalton, is the intentional design of processes and space that bring people together in conversational formats to create and share knowledge.
• Connection before Content
Before people can learn from each other or collaborate on issues, they need to build connections – that is, gain some understanding of who the other person is, including their skills, depth of knowledge, experience, and attitude toward others. People are unlikely to ask each other questions or ask for assistance, until they have built a connection that allows them to learn that the other person is knowledgeable enough and respectful enough to engage. In Researcher’s Square, the coffee, food, and small tables for chats, all provided an atmosphere in which the researchers were able to build the connections that then allowed content to flow.
• Cognitive Diversity
The researchers proved to be more interested in others’ projects than they thought they would be. They assumed that what others were doing would be of little interest to them and likewise that others would have little interest in what they are doing, after all the projects they were engaged in were greatly varied and appeared to have little in common with each other. However, in Researcher’s Square these differences also brought with them an attribute that boosts creativity and innovation within a group, cognitive diversity. When people are cognitively diverse they bring to any problem, a larger set of tools derived from multiple perspectives, problem solving tactics, heuristics and interpretations.
• Conversation Rather Than Presentation
The learning that occurred in Researcher’s Square did not come from presentations, rather the knowledge gained was through conversation. When we think about learning from others our first thought is to have someone make a presentation. But as ubiquitous as presentations are, they are a poor way to learn from peers. Typically, a presenter offers what happened in his or her own situation, but that is not what learners need to hear. Learners are interested in knowing how to adapt the lessons to their situation and for that they need to have a conversation so that the other person can understand their context, and they also can understand the context of the other.
NIWL created a Hallway of Learning that changed the organizational culture."