In the two preceding posts, I discussed situated and distributed cognition. In this closing post of the series, I want to talk about social cognition. They’re related, and yet each needs explicit consideration. If we don’t know how we think, work, and learn, we can’t optimally support both performance in the moment and continual innovation over time.
The traditional definition of social cognition is how we think about social interactions. But here I’m emphasizing instead the fact that our thinking isn’t just in our heads or our tools, but also across our partners. That’s partly distributed cognition, but I want to emphasize it. And this is true for formal and informal learning as well as performing.
There are two ways to think about this. For one, we benefit from formal social interactions as ways to get richer interpretations. It works the same way when we are problem-solving: working together (under constraints) increases the likelihood of the best outcome. As I like to say, the room is smarter than the smartest person in the room if you manage the process right. The implications of this are several.
First, we need to make sure we have the right constraints. When we have people working together, it helps if it’s the right people and the right environment. We know that diversity helps, as long as there is overlap in values. Similarly, it needs to be psychologically safe to contribute, the environment helps to be open, and there needs to be time for reflection.
There’re also benefits to mentoring and coaching, helping people in the moment. We want to succeed, and we like to be challenged, and we learn when we are, so having scaffolding helps. Developing coaching and mentoring skills is a good investment in the workplace.
There’re also times when we want help, or someone else does and we can help. That is, we need to support serendipitous inquiry. It helps, by the way, to assist people in learning how to ask questions or answer them in useful ways. There also needs to be the channels to accomplish these goals.
Recognize that there are times when the answer can come from the network, not our own efforts. Particularly if things are changing fast, or the situation’s unique or hard to anticipate. In fact, it frees us up to do more if we take advantage of that as often as possible! It takes nurturing the networks to become a community so that the answer’s likely to be right.
The point being, there are lots of considerations to making the ecosystem sociable as well as effectively distributed and situated. If you want to optimize the environment, it helps to have the latest understanding of the users of that environment. Hope this makes sense, and in the spirit of social, I welcome your thoughts and comments!