Better Ways to Build on Others’ Ideas

Most of us are called upon frequently to provide feedback during our daily work or personal lives. We give feedback when we interact with co-workers, contractors, students, or project team members. People present their suggestions and others build on those ideas as groups work together to find answers and solutions. With so many of us working remotely, the need has intensified for a robust set of tools to facilitate what was previously enabled through a face-to-face, collaborative process.

The right tool for a given situation is not necessarily the latest cutting-edge technology. Recently I reviewed some legal contracts for our organization — far from my favorite thing to do! There were sections that I disagreed with or had questions about, so I used the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word. This highlighted my feedback using red lines and comments in the margins. When the people on the other side reviewed my comments, they responded with their own red lines. We went back and forth like this several times using a rather traditional process for reviewing legal documents. Microsoft Word has been around for decades, yet remains adequate for this task.

When proper tools are lacking, the feedback loop becomes challenging. Several years ago, my wife and I engaged a gifted architect to help us design our new home. When we sat down with him face-to-face, he was dynamic. He brought out drafting paper, sketched out ideas, and tested his concepts with us. However, there were other periods where we were remote, so he drafted designs on his own and sent those to us. Upon reviewing his concepts, we sometimes had different ideas. It was difficult to resolve these different ideas remotely, as he would not carefully read our emails. He would send designs that were beautifully crafted yet were not what we wanted. There was no mechanism for us to efficiently respond, “We don’t like this; we saw it more like this,” and then sketch something different. Unless we were sitting across from him and talking while he drew, we had no way to effectively communicate our changes.  The process became frustrating without a tool to enable the exchange of ideas.

Working with this architect, I felt somewhat powerless. I’m generally an articulate person, but I can’t always describe what I’m thinking in words. My wife and I ended up drawing what we wanted, and then faxing it to the architect. He understood what we were trying to do; drew images that improved on our idea; and sent them back. It wasn’t until we could put pen to paper that he could even visualize what we were talking about and respond. We finally reached a satisfactory outcome, but it took considerable back and forth because there was no good mechanism to share the changes we visualized.

Today, there are many more tools that allow us to engage in the dialogue necessary to reach alignment and consensus. Yet there are still many endeavors in the business world, at school, and in personal settings where the right tools are not available or widely used. A digital method that allows us to contribute, share, and build on the ideas of others is a powerful platform for allowing real-time or asynchronous feedback sharing and ideation.

Nobody has time to collaborate in today’s world using pencil, paper, and a fax machine like we did with our architect years ago. We need technology that is digital, real-time, safe, and secure. A tool like this should provide a multitude of ways to share ideas. Sometimes people will draw on a virtual whiteboard; others will write their ideas or concepts; and some might add links to other images or documents. 

To speed up the pace of work, giving feedback while working can be enabled with the right digital collaboration tools. Reviewing a legal contract works well because it only requires basic Microsoft Word functionality. However, building architectural blueprints, leading an interactive class, or brainstorming an organization’s strategic plans can be tricky without a flexible, digital platform that enables sharing.

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