Had a fascinating talk yesterday with Deb Louison Lavoy as a part of my work on a new book, The Business Of Social Business (I hope to be done in June). Deb mentioned a term that she’d read in a David Brooks column, of all places. He reels off a bunch of terms that he thinks are critical skills for the new world we are entering (I leave the others for other posts, perhaps). One was not like the others, in that he attempts to repurpose a term that is in common everyday use, but cast into a new meaning: sympathy.
The New Humanism - David Brooks via NYTimes.com
Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.
First, I think that we do need a term to represent the ability to share a tempo with others. I think it *is* a key skill, or trait.
However, I don’t think it is easy to extend the meaning of existing and commonly used terms, and to basically shoulder aside their established meanings.
So I am proposing tympathy for this purpose (‘tym’ for time (sort of), and ‘pathy’ for sensing). (Note that I considered and rejected ‘tempothy’.)
Tympathetic people can naturally get into a groove with an established group, they find the natural rhythms of cooperation, and seem to sense the right time to ask a question, offer some insight, or shift course. And when this scales up to those connected in some shared activity, coordination feels frictionless, and collaboration seems less strained.
Effective groups will move toward a shared pace, either organically, or by following the tempo of a leader, or because of the explicit actions of some sort of metronome. They are also attuned to the tempo of the larger work context in which their work is embedded.
Work media tools — like Yammer, Chatter, IBM Connections, Podio, and Jive — are being rapidly adopted in the work context for a wide variety of reasons, but one major benefit is that they lay down a beat for people to build their work tempo around: they engender tympathy, which we all want.
My sense is that the very best work media solutions will support a polyrhythmic work environment. They will work at different tempos for different layers of work, ranging from the fast twitch pace of posting updates on today’s to do list, to the slower, deeper cycles in the business, like long-range strategic planning.
I also believe that organizations that are moving toward greater autonomy and distributed leadership will put a high premium on tympathy as an personal attribute. My bet is that tympathy has been important forever, but we just didn’t have a name for it and it has gone unexamined in the workplace.