In which some experimentation with Siri got me where I needed to go.

Yesterday afternoon was a typical one for me in many ways. At 2:30 or so I jumped in the car for the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Lake Macquarie City Council to run an intro to collaboration workshop for new and returning Councillors. I have done that drive so many times that I have long suspected that my car could drive itself.

If only.

Turns out there had been an accident on the M1 Motorway and traffic was backed up to a hopeless degree. Soon Siri was telling me I was going to miss my workshop start time by 60 minutes. I needed an alternative!

I had no idea if any alternatives would be better. I didn’t yet know what the problem was, where or how bad. I was trapped in the limitless traffic snarl that was Northwestern Sydney. Yet I couldn’t afford to sit where I was, so I recruited the ever faithful Siri into a process of experimenting the way forward together. That means, I developed some quick hypotheses about alternative routes and tested them. Importantly, I needed to try only those ideas that were safe to fail, that is, that were likely to be no worse than the current scenario. And as the current scenario had me arriving way too late to deliver my workshop, I had some scope to try other ideas, even if they didn’t feel quite right.

So, I picked an alternative destination along my route and Siri plotted the course. She directed me to some odd places but at least we were moving. And then I turned on the radio to check the traffic reports and I quickly gathered some data that Siri didn’t have, about the specific accident and likelihood of clearing up. This gave me some other ideas, and with Siri’s help we tested some new alternatives. One seemed likely to be better so we tried it.

Stop…start…stop…start…stop…. This wasn’t looking good and my goal seemed unachievable. Then more data came via the radio. It seemed that the accident had been cleared up. Siri was directing me to turn left but based on the new data I developed a new hypothesis and went right instead. Good old Siri stuck with me even though I ignored her ideas and, as fortune would have it, the traffic began to move and we were on our way.

The workshop was scheduled to begin at 7:10 and I pulled into Council’s carpark at 7:09. Job done, though I was feeling a little frayed around the edges after close to five hours of traffic jam. But when we collaborate through complex, uncertain and challenging problems it’s not unusual to feel a little exhausted.

Siri and I got where we wanted to go through a process of testing and learning the way forward together. At no time could I be sure that my choices were going to work, but I didn’t let that paralyse me. Instead I embraced the uncertainty and experimented creatively. By good luck and good management we found a solution in a very dynamic and unknowable situation.

I learned two things on my journey to Lake Mac last night. Firstly, this experimentation thing really works. And secondly, Siri could teach us all a thing or two about collaboration.