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How to mobilise a crowd of brilliant people to do something amazing

Starting day 3 of the ‘Ventilator Crowd’ project. I think I am meant to say something like “I have been overwhelmed by the amazing response ..” etc. etc. (I read a lot of blog post). Well, it’s true that we have a had a huge response (whoops, another cliché ) .. but I think we are coping pretty well. For one thing – the technology makes a great contribution .. an excellent collaboration platform to help the squad self-organise and the capture the conversations and rapidly emerging information.


But my immediate concern is how to focus and mobilise a rapidly growing group of brilliant and motivated people? I have shared a proposed ‘Goal and manifesto’ to the team to help align us all .. since I always think it important to get everybody (most people) broadly marching in the same direction. The team has to agree ‘what we are for’.


But then what next? There are a million solutions and hence a million different directions in which to search. So maybe I produce a Mind Map to help understand the problem? Oh, the introvert analyst in me so wants to spend a comfortable morning doing that. But would it move us forward toward the goal of actually putting tools and technology into the hands of the medics? I’m not convinced it would.


Or maybe a Visual Project Map? At least that would help link the Goal to some Strategies ( ‘rapid prototyping’, ‘Copy existing technology where we are able’) and some specific Actions (‘Go find the requirement for air-flow volume, pressure, temperature”). I am more convinced by that and may give it a quick go this morning.


But fundamentally my big idea here is based on learning from the course I teach in Agile Project management at Oxford University with my son Farris Collins. On the first day I teach the Agile tool-set. On the second day we ask participants to build a series of ‘wild and wacky mechanical contrivances’. They have to solve a series of problems we have wrapped up in an end-to-end simulation activity using the Agile tools.


I have learnt, through watching dozens of teams on the course, that the fastest progress towards solutions is gained through rapid experimentation. Test and learn. For this scale of problem, more is gained by trying things out than by excessive discussing, arguing and over-thinking ahead of action. For sure, huge amounts of thinking and discussion happens during the build-test process .. but it is strongly motivated and shaped by the act of building.


So we have now assembled a large team of smart people, and I trust them to find their own direction through this. But my steer is going to be ‘just build it’


Rob Collins





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