Have you ever seen the film, “Let me in”? A “perma-teen” vampire girl befriends a young social misfit boy. Both are outsiders – he is the target male teen bullying; she is the result of malevolence and circumstance. While the young boy is not accepted by the peer group, the young vampire girl finds him a much needed companion. Not a “dinner” friend, but someone close to her maturity level she can talk to. As the ultimate “outsider”, she fears closeness with any mortal. Slowly, she changes this opinion while observing and interacting with him. Risking all, she wants to be “let in”. Not surprisingly, he is fearful and she must win him over. After she demonstrates her absolute trust in him, he eventually relents. With mutual trust established, the two become life-long companions. Well, a bit gruesome companions and she certainly will live longer than him, but life-long nonetheless.
Have you been told the Barbie doll back story? In the 1950s, a toy company executive wife observed her daughter playing with paper dolls. She noticed the daughter role playing adult situations with these paper dolls. “Wife makes husband breakfast.” “Wife warmly greets husband upon his return home from work.” Remember, this was the 1950s! Watching these scenes, the mother wondered if the daughter might enjoy playing with dolls modeled after adults. At the time, all dolls were modeled after infants. Again, being the 1950s, all little girls were assumed to be aspiring mothers so only baby dolls were made.
The wife approached her toy company executive husband with the idea. Not surprisingly, he rejected this idea. After all, she was not a toy executive. She was outside her expertise with such an idea. Later, during a vacation in Germany, the woman noticed an 8” female adult doll in a couple gift shops. Being a tourist in Germany, she did not know these gift shops were selling the dolls for reasons unknown to her. She only saw the doll as the 3 dimensional model she thought suitable for her daughter. As an outsider, she saw the doll with very different eyes and attitude compared to the local doll purchasers.
Returning stateside, the mother again pressed the husband with her concept. Armed with the doll, she demonstrated her theory was correct. Little girls did want to play with adult dolls. This time, the toy executives observed young girls using the adult dolls in the role playing originally observed by the outsider mother. Convinced, the Mattel company launched the iconic Barbie doll. Mattel’s insider expertise never saw what the outsider mother discovered for them.
Why are these two very disparate stories important for social collaboration? We should not fear “outsiders”. We should embrace them for a variety of reasons. The “outsiders” can often possess insights and expertise never imagined by those “inside”. “Outsiders” also may provide us support we would not get elsewhere. More importantly, research indicates more effective teams are created from a mix of people with previous experience together and others from outside the familiar work groups. A great example is research by Brian Uzzi demonstrating successful Broadway productions are a blend of “insiders” and “outsiders”.
Uzzi’s researched thousands of Broadway musicals to observe the collaborative teams behind each production. He found a “Q” score existed. The “Q” score indicated how often a team of people had worked before on other productions. If a production was made from several people who had no previous collaboration, there was a low “Q” score. A high “Q” score meant the collaborative team had often worked together on previous productions. Low “Q” teams were effectively all outsiders. High “Q” teams were all insiders. Based upon box office receipts, awards and highly positive reviews, Uzzi judged that the most successful teams were medium “Q” score teams. These teams were an equal mix of people new to a team and others with previous collaborative experience. Too many outsiders or too many insiders were a bad mix for Broadway success.
A social collaboration community can be very similar to the Broadway production example. If everyone in the community has the same ideas and experiences, the “high Q” community is unlikely to be vibrant. Allow a few “outsiders” to join and we have a lower “Q” with maybe more, different conversations. There may be more disagreement. All of which can lead to alternate ideas and solutions never considered. Inviting the “outsider” in is essential for an effective social collaboration community. Don’t be afraid to “Let them in”. Let’s all celebrate our “VAMPIRE BARBIE”
In fact, Ryan Rutan how about creating some of those hash tag stickers you like to pass out. Hopefully, at JW, you can get people to wear the soon to be much desired.