Stories and examples of mass collaboration – A brief summary
Whether you are looking to hear and read the story of online collaboration that happened at the Goldcorp Inc. in Canada or the Collaborative distributed computing power that was shared for the SETI@home project, the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence project launched by the University of California, Berkeley, collective intelligence and the “Power of crowds” in online collaboration is here to stay on earth.
The story at Goldcorp Inc. was pretty amazing and it went straight into the records of history on how online mass collaboration can happen and turnaround an ailing company. This story will be told many times over. This story happened in the year 1997, when much of the world was still grappling with the inadequacies of the internet in terms of its network speed, reach and penetration.
More to come on this, but before that we will explore a bit on this book called the “Wikinomics” written by Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams. The book talks eloquently on the subject of “Mass Collaboration” and its effects on the way we work, our collaboration with others and the future of the industrial economy itself.
Such examples like Goldcorp is happening around the world and is no longer a blip anymore in the present day. Now we are seeing them all the more commonly happening in all the sectors of the Industry. In the coming few paragraphs we will explore them through the following collaborative approaches that happens in the online world. They are
- Collaborative openness
- Collaborative co-production or peer production
- Collaborative free sharing.
- Being a Collaborative citizen of the world.
It is well known fact that throughout history we have companies who operated around strict hierarchical lines of authority. It happened that everyone was reporting to someone else. Employees were answerable to their Managers, Managers in-turn to their Stakeholders and they in turn to their Customers. The argument is that this type of hierarchical model is not vanishing but then with the onset of new online global communities they are giving rise to new models business based on a community of online collaboration and self-organization.
There are millions who use wikis, chats and online forums for speaking out and voicing their opinion on the internet. This is the new “Blogosphere” so to speak. Even in major corporations, it is proved that employees perform better when they collaborate with each other. The supply chains are no different. They work better when the rewards and capabilities are spread across and outsourced to other networks and partners.
It is increasingly, seen that companies are willingly participating in huge online communities and are reaping the benefits of mass online collaboration. A good example is Dell’s “Ideastorm”. Ideastorm was an online collaborative platform used by Dell to source ideas and solutions for all kinds of in-house problems and challenges. Though idea storm was used within employee network many such similar online collaboration platforms opened up in recent years across many companies.
There is also word that such online collaboration and self-organizing will eventually replace the hierarchical models of corporations. We are already seeing it some big corporations like IBM where this a matrix like structure for employees to freely move laterally across functions for performing similar work. Then there is also the ‘Lattice structure” recently talked about in HR circles. There was a recent article where a project manager would be directly able to meet the CEO of the company to get instant inputs. This is possible with the lattice structure.
Then there are the open source projects like “Linux and “Wiki” which have seen phenomenal success. Others that followed this route are the likes of YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and Innocentive and so on. All these organizations have been breathing mass collaboration and harnessing collective intelligence ever since their inception in the online world and all of them have enjoyed great success.
Many established companies like Proctor and Gamble have grabbed the opportunities created by mass collaboration and organized themselves to leverage these levers for cost cutting and building efficiency within their business processes, partners and customers.
Don Tapscott and Anthony D Williams wrote in their book “Wikinomics” that various studies have been conducted to understand the benefits and how these online networked collaborative communities contribute to the Economy, Wealth creation and Innovation. The results have been astounding.
Masses of people can now collaborate and can now collectively advance the arts, culture and education and economy. The results indicate that it is not just about open source or social networking or Collective intelligence or Wisdom of Crowds rather it is about profound changes in the way companies operate, in terms of their organizational structure, business units and the mode of conducting business with their customers and how mass collaboration has created new digital economies. Each of the collaborative approach would outline how these changes would be brought forward.
We all have varied images of when we think about “Collaboration”. In our everyday lives, we collaborate with our colleagues to get the job done. We see images of people working together and setting objectives to-gether in a meeting room. We collaborate with our partners in the supply chain. We collaborate with our neighbors and work together for a community cause.
Let’s hear from Google CEO “Eric Schmidt”. Eric says, when you say Collaboration, the average “45 year old thinks they know what they are talking about- A team sitting down, having a nice collaboration and nice objectives and nice attitude. That’s what collaboration means to most people”.
With the advent of mass collaboration there is a new promise. The promise of harnessing peer production, utilizing the skills, ingenuity and intelligence of everyone involved much more effectively than before.
The new collaboration can then be defined as “Groups of people acting together, moving together, thinking together to accomplish a common unified goal”
This is akin to another concept called the “Collective intelligence” where groups move as one, act as one and compute as one. There is a whole lot of intuition that comes into play here.
The collective knowledge and capabilities are all embedded in horizontal networks spread across the world. Now the question is “What do we do to leverage this?” One small mention about the old web. The old web was all about websites, clicks and scrolls. The new web paradigm is all about communities, interaction and Peer production.
The collaborative approaches outlined increasingly determine how the next generation of companies would compete and they would be very different from the hierarchical models discussed earlier.
Co-innovation would be the way how new companies would operate in the future. It would be no longer the approach of think globally and act locally or any of the conventional wisdom of innovation through differentiation and protecting IP (Intellectual property).
Scenarios of collaborative approach
1. Collaborative openness
Many corporate functions like the Human resources and Innovation have made their first move towards openness and flexibility. Others are following suite. Companies are making themselves open to external ideas and they do not rely on internal resources alone. The technology has made possible for companies to open their doors for external talent.
Good examples of such collaborative approach and openness are the development of Open source technologies and platforms like Apache for web servers, Linux for Operating system, MySQL for databases and Firefox for web browsers have all been developed by collaborative community having an open culture of working together, pooling abilities and capabilities for a common cause.
An open platform for sharing engineering curriculum content at the undergraduate and graduate level from a World’s leading university.
2. Collaborative Co-production or Peer production:
Let’s look at what is meant by Peer-production. The wiki defines “Peer production” as “A way of producing goods and services that relies on self-organization of individuals and communities”. The entire effort and labor is organized towards a shared outcome.
This type of collaborative approach works very well on horizontal networks and critics say it works more effectively than the hierarchical models. So far, this collaborative approach had a great impact on the production of software, music, entertainment and popular culture. The examples that are already happening are the “Open source Hardware” like PCB boards and Layouts and “Open source software”.
There is general criticism as well as encouragement in the open market on this collaborative approach. The co-production or Peer production models resemble being Utopian in nature and as such are very informal. Though this collaborative approach is good for individuals, experts feel that there may be quality problems. Many experts vouch that there would be more in the coming years. Where automobiles, airplanes and other high value commercial goods will be produced through this mode.
3.Collaborative free sharing.
Sharing your resources freely and openly on the internet is widespread. People share from music files, office documents to video downloads.
It is only through sharing and giving can innovation happen. This helps in building knowledge communities for growth and development. This Collaborative approach of free sharing also happens in “Sharing computing power” and internet bandwidth
An excellent example is the SETI@home project. SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial intelligence) project is a collaborative volunteering program of distributed computing. This project was launched by the University of California, Berkeley in 1999. Individuals can volunteer to take part in this program and download a special software. The software program (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC)) runs in the background and makes use of the idle computer power. Excellent in the way it was conceived. As of June, 2009 there were 180,000 active participants volunteering over 290,000 computers.
4.Being a collaborative citizen of the world.
Global citizenship for both individuals and companies operating in the online world, is the boon that is bestowed. Individuals and companies have to leverage this in the way they conduct business, innovate and organize themselves for growth is the new paradigm for this collaborative approach.
Companies can tap global talent pool, they have access to new markets and technologies. Being wise and being connected is the next big thing and the world is teeming with immense possibilities.
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