Credits: Scott Adam’s Dilbert
In the pre-COVID world, my young son used to fascinate us with his behaviour when in company of other kids. During his evening play time, he would indulge in one activity alone while other kids will play whatever they feel like. Our son would sporadically look at what the other kids are doing but then would continue to do his ‘work’. This real ‘work’ could be any of the following –
- Moving small stones from one part of the park to a small pond in out apartment complex
- Digging into mud and then putting it aside
- Just taking his ball and rolling and picking it up
- or any other such numerous things he used to do
The other kids, especially the old ones, may indulge in some sport like volleyball or cricket or even cycling but our son would focus on what he is doing. He wouldn’t sway. Temporarily, when somebody used to go to him, he would get distracted from the activity but then he would go back to whatever activity he is doing.
At times, he would do what others are doing and if he enjoys doing it, he would continue doing it or he may disregard it completely and go back to what he was doing, as if nothing happened at all. Or as if there is nothing else happening in his surroundings.
This is a common children phenomenon and is popularly known as ‘Parallel Play’.
Its a very important element of human behaviour that can teach us many things both personally and for the companies.
Personally, we should understand the wiring that we get in the very beginning of our life i.e.e the importance of focus. A recent study says that people in UK spend only 2.5 hrs of productive work at their work place. Rest of the time is spent in checking things like –
- What colleagues are doing?
- What is happening with their friends in social media?
- Checking what is happening in the world with news feeds?
- Going through emails randomly etc
All this contributes to significant distraction and so loss of focus. If we go back to the basic human behaviour instilled with ‘Parallel Play’, we should focus more on what we are doing than trying to find out what’s happening somewhere else.
Additionally, within an organisation, this has a lot of relevance in both intra- and inter- departmental synergies.
Within the department, leaders tend to standardise things across the board as it makes it easier for them to monitor and manage. What we lose in the process is the essence of parallel play.
Different departments and different teams within the same department of an organisation of scale have different roles to play and are unique while still united in their own way of operating, and the purpose they serve for the org. Their situation is the one that likely demands so. Trying to standardise and build common sense of ‘doing things’ can lead to losing out the ‘focus’ of the parallel play. It is imperative for the business managers to assess the utility of standardisation before destroying the creative and relevance element of parallel play in attempts to generalise or standardise things.
Parallel plays inherently help in enriching the ideas from multiple teams as one team borrows the ideas from the others. And then they test the idea till they adopt it fully.
Generalising while important, at times, diminishes the organisational strength somewhere.
Having the context right is one of the best tools before ignoring the parallel plays of the individual teams.
In software development, we see multiple teams adopting different standard methodologies like Agile or SAFe etc but with their own set of tailoring. To that extent, generalisation and building commonness makes a lot of sense. However, individual teams should be allowed to perform parallel plays beyond that.
At the same time, newer intrapreneurially -driven or entrepreneurial initiatives need to be seen from a different lens altogether. In general, these initiatives are chasing a larger purpose but at the same time have to continuously adapt to the speed of change of the market dynamics.
Attempting to force-fit the same rules of generalised approach may prove to be counter productive for such initiatives. However, parallel plays can keep the things in the right perspective and keeps them alive.
To understand this, lets take example of 2 startups – Uber and Lyft. Both the companies started off with catering to last mile commute using the cab service. Uber started with the ‘Uber Black’ service as its first offering. Lyft started with its name as “Sidecar’ and used to have non-pro drivers using their own cars more for peer to peer cab service. Uber watched Lyft for sometime before finally launching its own similar service by the name UberX. Uber did not pivot from the Uber Black but added UberX as an add-on service.
So, before we see at ways to standardise things, we should reflect and ponder on the degree of implementation of this, to ensure that the parallel play stays in the team, to the extent it is required to meet the overall objective.
Unknowingly, TikTok and other short-video sharing apps are at the cusp of a similar thing. After few recent government announcements, TikTok is looking at ways to stay relevant in its largest serving markets. However, there are a whole bunch of its ‘parallel play’ buddies, who have growing attention from the markets.. Some of them are listed below –
All these wanna-be TikTok are similar platforms that had indulged in a similar but a parallel play to TikTok. TikTok went miles ahead with its recommendation engine that differentiates it from practically all other platforms.
With the new dynamics, a standardised approach or a common strategy by the other competing platforms to TikTok may not have given them the advantage of building an enhanced experience for the users if they didn’t continue their parallel play.
Who will win the battle to be the next TikTok? Or whether TikTok will survive this storm? Only time will tell. At the moment, the only thing that’s ticking is the deadline for some changes in this space.
Before we conclude, here is the pick of the week. Its a nice ‘All Avengers Stars’ video singing the song ‘We didn’t start the fire’. Enjoy your Sunday 🙂