January 9, 2012

Interlocutor: The Word of 2012


If 2011 was about quid-pro-quo … or reciprocity as I deemed it, it’s my wish for the year 2012 to be about the interlocutor.

Let’s first start with the definition.

An interlocutor is:

An individual that actively takes part in a conversation with other individuals; someone who speaks or facilitates a conversation.

Let’s face it, the shift to a virtual operating model is on. Corporations are altering (and allowing) their employees to work from home, a coffee shop, the road as well as the office even with dwindling square footage footprints, per the Wall Street Journal . In my opinion, this is a healthy piece of organizational evolution.

Academic institutions are also shifting to a virtual operating model, albeit slower than their corporate cousins. Students are clamouring for more choice in the way they learn and, thankfully, institutions are beginning to provide more collaborative and virtual learning options. Check out the excellent advances both Stanford and MIT now provide for starters. There is of course the ‘mother of all MOOC’s‘ put forward by George, Stephen and Dave too.

But, as we shift — dramatically some might say — to a more virtual way of being, it provides a dilemma for all of us.

How do we ensure everyone is actively taking part in the conversation?

Whatever the conversation is.

Which brings me to the interlocutor.

The goal for 2012? We all need to become better interlocutors in an increasingly digital, virtual and physically disparate world. Managers of employees cannot let distance or virtual voids become the norm. They must encourage, perhaps enforce, their teammates to participate, to contribute and to facilitate online dialogue with each other. Professors, instructors and teachers must encourage, perhaps enforce, their students to participate, to contribute and to facilitate online dialogue with each other as well.

Time must be provided to coach and teach people how to actively participate.

Time must also be given to actually participate in the first place.

In an environment where, with increased frequency, we begin relationships online or virtually, we lose the opportunity to understand body language, inside jokes, facial expressions or the simple touch of a handshake. This is at least partially why all members of a team, regardless of size and location, need to become true interlocutors. We need everyone to be active in the dialogue to ensure full participation can overcome the gap from any emotional and social intelligence normally gained from in person experiences.

The consequence of not doing so may be a team or class that sees only the digitally loud succeed.

Remember that goof in grade 10 math class who put his hand up for every question simultaneously chirping “oh oh oh oh”? That, but digitally.

According to Forrester Research, some interesting trends are beginning to surface, not the least of which is evidence that people (at least the Western world) can now be defined as passive voyeurs in the social media space.

For example, the study indicates that roughly only 33% of North Americans and 25% of Europeans will take the time to update their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. statuses every week. In emerging markets, however, roughly 66% of users add a status update on a weekly basis. In major cities in China and India, it climbs to 75%.

Sure, it is but one study and it focuses only on status updates, but imagine that type of contribution or participation level in the context of a North American or European based team in a corporation with lofty goals, or a team of students trying to attain an MBA in a cohort model. If there is only partial participation, is it only the loud that will succeed?

Is that even success?

And has India and China already figured this out, thus cementing their place as the new Western world?

The message is not the medium.

The network is the medium.

And if the network is stunted or ambivalent to actively participate, we run the risk not of a digital divide but of a competence divide.

Let 2012 be about the interlocutor.

I post, therefore I am.

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