(This continues thoughts from part 1.)

Brian really got me thinking about the nature of communication.

He lists several examples of how the “conduit metaphor” shows up in the way we speak about communication, and I thought of a really telling one from our field: Alistair Cockburn’s convection currents of information. But then, as I thought about it some more, that led me in some interesting directions.

We tend to tackle communication issues head-on. If we recognize that our communication isn’t working for some reason, we tend to address specific failings. Try to be more precise, or more thorough. Or more organized. Make sure things get disseminated to the right people. Have reviews to verify understanding and point out weak areas. And so on.

Part of the strength of XP and many other agile methods is that they don’t address the communication per se; instead, they address the context in which it occurs. They strive to make communication less formal, more frequent, more concrete, more serendipitous, and (tellingly, I think) more redundant. The key is understanding that people want to communicate, and we’re good at it, if the barriers are low enough.

So, back to Alistair’s metaphor. Although “convection currents of information” is clearly squarely in line with the conduit metaphor, it’s interesting that so much of what Alistair talks about is implicit, serendipitous communication. He talks about information radiators and other explicit channels, but the emphasis is on building a context where information simply flows, implicitly and effortlessly.

Update: Brian wrote a thoughtful response.