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The Blind Men and the Elephant: Why Multiple Perspectives in Video Conferences Matter.

An ancient Indian parable tells the story of seven blind men who meet an elephant for the first time. They touch the animal and must understand what they have encountered. 

There are many variations of this story. In this article, we want to apply it to the relationship of organizations to their product development. And we want to explain how this relates to your video conferences.

In today’s world, division of labour is such that you can only make decisions if you integrate the perspectives of different experts. Our reality  is changing at breakneck speed. Under the influence of COVID-19, society is taking giant quantum leaps to entirely new states of being. Technological development is racing. Products that were bestsellers a few years ago are now obsolete. Professions are disappearing; others are emerging in record time. 

To make a product decision in this madness, many people have to examine and validate it from different angles. The team must describe the invisible elephant from different perspectives to understand it because it is too big and incomprehensible for a single person. Multiperspective decision making therefore becomes a success factor for modern-day teams. 

video conferencing app

{The blind men and the elephant parable at a Jain temple}

Async Tools are Better for Gathering Multiple Perspectives

Instruments that invite people to give different perspectives on the same information are becoming more and more important in this collaboration-centric world. And we know that asynchronous tools work very well. For example, the commenting function in cloud documents is a powerful tool for suggesting important corrections to the description of the elephant.

A very important factor in asynchronous work is investigation—taking time to think for yourself before adding your own perspective. With a text in the cloud, you read the text, think about it, and then provide a well-thought-out comment.

With asynchronous tools, you can easily involve multiple people and perspectives in the process, even by simply adding and forwarding precorded statements, and like described in “the Atomisation of Human Communication“. You don’t need to find a common time slot for a meeting in participants’ calendars; a deadline for when the work has to be done is sufficient.

Live Video Conferences are Not Optimal for Multiperspectivity

We’ve developed asynchronous tools for text documents. But we’ve only developed them to a very limited extent for face-to-face conversation. We can send video messages to each other, but commenting on those messages is difficult and quickly devolves into confusion. 

So what remains are live video conferences, but they bring disadvantages that can be unfavorable under the paradigm of multiperspectivity.

  • Mostly, the perspective of the host dominates because he or she has a controlling effect on the conversation (agenda setting)
  • Usually, a few people dominate the conversation, with higher proportions of speaking time
  • Participants have very little time to think through their answers
  • Since participants do not want to break off current topic threads, they often hold back other important perspectives

The bottom line is that synchronous video chats often fail to adequately represent multiple perspectives. But if you want to see the invisible elephant, many of these lost viewpoints are important.

That’s one of the key reasons successful teams with a well developed remote readiness hold asynchronous meetings. Important considerations can be voiced by each member and preserved through recording. At the end the whole team has more profound understanding of a subject. Solutions based on such an understanding have much more competitive advantage compared to solutions created in a top down manner. 

A Growing Web of Knowledge

This creates a growing web of knowledge that, like Wikipedia, is always accessible. 

Synchronous meetings, on the other hand, are like an email inbox where emails disappear after you read them. The most important information evaporates in a short time from the minds of the participants. This is why team members in synchronous video calls have to repeat themselves again and again. 

So, not only are many perspectives missing here but also the efficiency of the meetings suffers. It takes a long time for the team to recognize the invisible elephant as such because they keep forgetting the descriptions. And some of the limbs are not described at all because some team members don’t get a chance to speak.  

In contrast, asynchronous video chats have tremendous advantages:

  • Participants can think in their own time before they speak
  • Anyone can speak at any time
  • Camera-shy people can send audio-only messages or use virtual masks
  • People with important perspectives can be invited afterwards and still access all the information
  • External knowledge providers can be easily integrated
  • Every statement is an asset and doesn’t take away from anyone’s speaking time
  • The knowledge web continuously grows
  • Unimportant statements can be skipped
  • Important statements can be forwarded and emphasized with “likes”
  • The statements do not disappear but remain as long as desired
  • Statements can be rearranged into clusters with new context
asnychronous video meeting in timz.flowers

{A web of knowledge in the timz.flowers application}

"Async First" for Video Chats

The faster the world spins, the more important multiperspective decision-making becomes. Asynchronous video chat can become the tool of choice in this context. The motto “async first” will be the battle cry of successful teams in years to come, especially for video conferences to quickly and accurately describe herds of invisible elephants.

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