Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Where the Physical & Virtual Worlds Meet

Interactive client forum

On November 2nd 2010, we will hold an interactive client forum. Shippers who utilize our technology and managed services will meet at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center to network, discuss our industry and the development of best practices, and over the course of the day look to answer the question: How can we harness the power of community? 

At the heart of this question is a powerful of concept: “We are Smarter than Me.”

The explosive growth in the number of on-line communities and technologies that virtualize our communications allows us to limit the number of face-to-face interactions we have. But in my view, (and I’m a big believer in social media) these advancements actually heighten the value of face-to-face discussion and interpersonal relationships. When we communicate today, we have so many choices; phone, e-mail, text, web meetings, and video conferences just to name a few. Increasingly, we need to think about which communications medium to use and when the selected channel is appropriate.

One of the main reasons for joining a business group or association is to find better and quicker ways to reach your organization’s commercial goals. In a recent blog (A New Fast Lane for Freight, October 14, 2010), I framed this as a “Get There Faster” aspiration, a phrase TMC has adopted as its tag line.

As I explained in the blog, getting there faster means leveraging your corporate resources to the max by “using outside expertise to accelerate the development trajectory and capture the benefits of technology, core process and expertise more effectively.” In this case “outside expertise” can mean a community of peers where members learn from the exchange of ideas and experiences.

What better way to join such a forum than to sign up with one of the many virtual sites dedicated to the freight business, you might say. This is indeed a powerful route to new knowledge. But the very existence of these sites makes the value proposition of real world meetings even more compelling. Here’s why.

The sheer number of information sources and communications channels available in cyberspace is mind-boggling. But the downside of this ubiquity is that individuals are bombarded with information. Rather than try to drink from a fire hose, people filter the flood of facts and figures. In fact, by necessity they become mercenary about what messages they allow to pass through their banks of censors. The problem is that when we limit the stream of incoming traffic in this way we also run the risk of filtering out the pearls of wisdom; the ideas that unlock efficiencies and speed up the development trajectory.

Also, this defensive posture can exacerbate a problem that I see more and more nowadays: the tendency for companies to be inward-looking, to fixate on internal goals. It is almost as if some people are adopting a siege mentality because they feel overwhelmed by the outside world. They become less open-minded about the many external sources of expertise that they can tap into.

In contrast, preordained, in person encounters are focused and pertinent to particular business needs. Moreover, the participants are usually prequalified and expect to make a contribution to the proceedings. Even more importantly, social discourse enables people to explore ideas deeply and pick up nuances that are very difficult to convey in an on-line setting. How often have you come up with a brilliant idea during a conversation that involves the sharing of professional confidences?

Does this mean that we should avoid social media and other on-line channels and return to more traditional ways of communicating? In my view, the answer is no. Rather, it’s about finding ways to make the two spaces complementary. For example, using a virtual site to maintain a dialogue with other professionals is easier and often more rewarding if you have met these folks and are able to develop your on-line interactions at occasional gatherings.

The challenge is to find a communications formula that enables people to harness the power of physical and virtual communities.

TMC is trying to do just that. Attendees of our November forum will explore how we can take events like this forward, particularly in relation to the use of social media and associated tools to stay connected outside of these critical face-to-face discussions.

I am looking forward to engaging with these thought leaders, and hope that, if you are not among them this year, we’ll see you at a future event. And, of course, the TMC Connect social media site will continue to provide a platform for the sharing of views and insights. That’2013-05-22 19:24:15’s the power of community!

- President, Managed Services
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