Leading Indicators: Creating Enabling Conditions for Convergence Research

Leading versus Lagging Indicators

So far we have collected two snapshots of the team’s social networks: in February and in August. Results from the social network data reveal information on the health of the team, just as results from a person’s annual physical exam reveal information about the person’s physical health. Here is the result in a nutshell: The social connectivity has greatly improved over the course of six months, but still sub-communities tend to cluster around disciplines.

A good doctor not only cares about statistics about your body in the past, which are lagging indicators, but also points you towards pathways to improve those statistics in the future — leading indicators. Similarly, I am much more interested in the question “How might we create enabling conditions for the team to converge?”

Below are two new initiatives we will launch in response to the team consultation on the results from the network data. I would like to thank the whole team for their generous contribution and insightful feedback during our team meeting where we shared the results and had in-depth conversations on how to move forward.

The “Three-Minute Pitch”

Image: Flyer for the Three-Minute Pitch Initiative

The Challenge

This initiative is designed to tackle the following challenges:

Fostering interpersonal relationships across disciplines. The network analysis shows a strong tendency to cluster around disciplinary boundaries. We need special effort to foster relationships across disciplinary lines.

Following up on ideas. The following feedback from one team member stated the challenge. We need a process to help convert ideas to scholarly output.

“We have many different meetings with various themes that lead to good discussions. However, it seems we could do a bit more in terms of following up on those discussions.”

Distributing leadership. Each team member needs to find their agency to act. We need a leadership structure to make it explicit that each team member, including students, has power to initiate new projects.

The Purpose

In addition to fostering interdisciplinary relationships, following up on research ideas, and distributing leadership, this initiative is also aimed to lead a cultural change. One comment by a faculty member on the team went “to make more connections on the network graph requires taking a leap of faith; we should encourage more of such behaviors collectively”. I read this comment as we need to make it a cultural norm for team members to get out of their comfort zone and reach out to each other, even if no immediate research opportunities presented themselves. This is the first aspect of cultural change.

The second aspect of the cultural change comes in the concept of “fail fast and cheaply”, a well-known concept in the innovation world. As Thomas Edison has so famously said:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

It is an acorn dropping season. As I anticipate the sounds of the next acorn dropping, I wonder how many acorns will eventually turn into oak trees. Maybe a better question to ask is: if acorns stop dropping because of the low prospect of turning into oak trees, will there ever be any oak tree? If we take a learning posture, everything we experience counts.

I am reminded of my own experience of learning English as a foreign language. So many times I would raise my hand to answer the teacher’s question, without fully knowing the answers yet. I stumbled, I stuttered, I made mistakes — but I learned fast. Looking back, I would say this “dare to fail” mentality is one of the biggest reasons for my success in acquiring English as a second language.

From a complexity perspective, this is a cultural shift to lean into “Chaos”, into the “uncertainty”, the “unknown”, because that is where the potential is.

Without Order, nothing can exisist.

Without Chaos, nothing can evolve.

The Process

Prerequisite: An idea sponsored by at least three disciplines

Pitch content: Research gap, question, and design

The gradient of agreement (Appendix 1): right after pitch, and after the peer coaching process (Appendix 2), in answer to the question “How do you feel about establishing a project team for this pitch?” This will help gauge the interest in the team.

Peer coaching: this is a way to leverage expertise in the team to quickly evolve the idea pitched. As Matt Ridley populated the concept of “Innovation happens when ideas have sex” in his book The Rational Optimist, we want our ideas to be “promiscuous”.

Innovation happens when ideas have sex.

This Pitch initiative is designed to support early-stage idea development. It provides a stage to give birth to the idea, to make a declaration to the universe, and to start aligning resources to make it happen. More structure and processes are needed to continue to take the idea to presentable scholarly output. The concepts developed in C-Circles might apply.

In the process of emergence, every effort counts. I am curious to see how ideas pitched evolve from here. I am even more curious to see how the team evolve from here.

Cheers to the pioneers who are willing to venture into the unknown, to expand the frontiers of knowledge, and to share the gems of discovery with the team!

Zoom Curiosity Game

One of the biggest surprises we found out from the team consultation is that we like breakout rooms! This idea comes from one of the breakout rooms during our team consultation.

My thought is that this will serve as the alternative to the 3-minute pitch: one week we will have a 3-minute pitch, and the next week we will have a zoom curiosity game.

Purpose: to hold space for interdisciplinary relationship building, driven by inquiry

Set up: I will consult our network findings and pair team members based on their expressed interest. In particular, I will rely on the interdependence network, because it explicitly addresses team members’ interests in learning about each other’s research expertise.

Process: This will be the last item on the agenda, and we will open the zoom breakout room and leave it open for an indefinite amount of time. Pairs can stay for as long as they want. Pairs are welcome to talk about whatever is of concern to them. They can consult the Curiosity Game flow outlined in Appendix 3 for process guidance.

Appendix 1. Gradient of Agreement

Image: Gradients of Agreement; Source: TRG Inc.
  1. Fully support — “I like it”
  2. Endorsement with minor concerns — “Basically I like it.”
  3. Agree with reservations — “I can live with it.”
  4. Abstain — “I have no opinion.”
  5. Stand aside — “I don’t like this, but I don’t want to hold up the group.”
  6. Disagreement, but willing to go with majority — “I want my disagreement noted, but I’ll support the decision.”
  7. Disagreement, with request not to be involved ini implementation — “I don’t want to stop anyone else, but I don’t want to be involved in implementing it.”
  8. Cannot support the proposal

Further reading:

How to Make Collaboration Work: Powerful Ways to Build Consensus, Solve Problems, and Make Decisions, David Straus.
Facilitator’s Guide to participatory Decision-Making, Sam Kaner

Appendix 2. Peer Coaching Process

This process is adapted based on the peer coaching process at Complexity University.

Step 1. One transdisciplinary team takes 3 minutes to pitch

Step 2. Invite clarifying questions (eg. what do you mean by…)

Step 3. Invite helpful questions (eg. did you think about this…)

Step 4. The pitching team writes down each question — NO response

Step 5. Invite the persons who raised the questions to speak (at the team’s discretion)

Step 6. The presenting team answers the questions and engage in generative dialogues.

Appendix 3. Curiosity Game

Introduction: This is a classic game developed by Authentic World. It is a good way to introduce Authentic Relating to new people — it simply and elegantly bypasses the social barriers to connection. Try it out with different timings (3 minutes of being curious, feedback, 2 minutes continued questioning).

Setup: Pairs or more


[This direction is designed for pairs. Easy adaptation can be made to accommodate more people.]

Step 0

Pick if you’re going to be A and the other is B.

Step 1

A has 5 minutes to ask B whatever they want, provided that they feel really, genuinely curious to know the answer to their question.

B can answer or decline to respond to any question.

Step 2

B gets a chance to give a minute of feedback to A on how they felt about the questions, including if there was anything they wished had been asked or anything that really struck them.

Step 3

A resumes questioning for 3 minutes.

B can answer or decline to respond to any question.

Step 4

A gives a gift to B of three-sentence stems:

“My first impression of you was…”; “I felt you the most when…”; “What I really get about you is…”,

Step 5

Partners can then switch roles.



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Gemma Jiang, PhD

Gemma Jiang, PhD


Senior Team Scientist, Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, Colorado State University; Complexity Leadership Scholar and Practitioner