Maybe it’s because I’m a Calcuttan…..

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I love London so.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go.
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up and down.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London Town.

Hubert Gregg, 1946 

I’m consistently bemused by some of the things I see happening in large organisations; bemused sometimes to a point of morbid fascination. Over the last few years, one of the things that has captured my attention is the enterprise approach to “collaboration”. Now, before I begin….

Cambridge Dictionaries Online (selected by me as at random from the Google results) has the following definition:

collaborate (verb): to work with someone else for a special purpose

collaboration (noun):  when two or more people work together to create or achieve the same thing

It’s one of those words that means many things to many people, with the capacity to create vast emotional and even political overtones and undercurrents. Before I go any further, let me share with you what I mean by collaboration.

To me, collaboration is more than just “working together” (in fact, far too often, colleagues who “work together” can be seen working against each other, not everyone has grasped the concept that the competition is best kept on the outside); collaboration implies that multiple people produce something that the individuals involved could not have produced acting on their own. In its simplest sense, a collaborative act is a bit like making a baby. It takes two people with somewhat different characteristics and abilities to produce one. Neither is capable of producing the output without the assistance of the other. Technology advances have meant that some level of time-shifting and place-shifting is now possible, reducing the simultaneity inherent in the original scenario.

An aside: When I went to look up “collaborate”, the dictionary actually had two entries. One pointing to the phrase “work with”, the other pointing to “support an enemy”. How true that can be, albeit inadvertently,  in the petty politics that characterise many large organisations.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Calcuttan, but for some reason or the other I’ve tended to feel that there’s a very thin line separating collaboration from group or collective action. And I’ve been fascinated by both. If anything, my exposure to people like Howard Rheingold and his thinking in Smart Mobs (the site and the book) have served to enhance that fascination.

Collaboration (and its cater-cousin, collective action) depends on a shared concept and vision and a willingness to share per se. In many enterprises the concept of collaboration breaks down when the traditional barriers are met, the barriers of tribalism (don’t you dare help anyone who works for him!) of departmentalism (not my job), of selfishness and greed (I’m all right Jack).

Not surprisingly, most examples of social software tended to fail in the past, because there was more effort expended on creating and maintaining the complex barriers and walls that exemplified the guts and innards of the institution.

As is my wont of late, I intend to write a more detailed post about this, mentioning the F-work. So, Facebook and the Enterprise, Part 9:  will focus on collaboration.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this story in today’s Times, subtitled:

Banking giant scraps plans to charge interest on graduate overdrafts, bowing to campaign launched on social networking site

Yes, the site was Facebook. Collaboration or collective action? Your call.

There is a social revolution taking place, and it’s coming your way. In schools and colleges; in public service institutions; and now, even in the vast and august bastions of private enterprise.

We’ve been talking a good story for some time now, about how human beings are our most important asset, how knowledge management is important, how teamwork and collaboration are core values. Now, with the assistance of social software, these terms have the opportunity to start meaning something outside of textbooks and the hallowed halls of academe.

11 thoughts on “Maybe it’s because I’m a Calcuttan…..”

  1. I noticed the following very telling comment in a follow up story today in the Times.

    Joe Garner, the general manager of HSBC UK Bank, said: “We would love to go on Facebook and we have been having a discussion around that, but its uncharted territory.”

  2. Nice to hear from you, Andrew. Of course I will take a look. Filter on the way out, not on the way in. Use trusted friends and recommendations to prioritise the firehose….

  3. Dear JP.

    It is a pleasure to read you.

    I wonder how many times you thought about your concept of collaboration: do you say making a kid or making love.

    I would rather to think collaboration as making love. Doing it selfless with pleasure to give light life.

    Social networks are getting to the point to makes us feel like virtually making love.

    Mario Ruiz

  4. JP, I HOPE it has nothing to do your your being Calcuttan. I think it has more to do with your embracing those who indulge in superficial anecdotes (without naming names!) in the face of so much more substantive material out there (that also happens to be enjoyable to read) about social structures and the ways in which people act within those structures:

    Meanwhile, you may have noticed the announcement of my take on the latest “move” (to invoke Goffman-speak) in the HSBC affair:

  5. Stephen, I am bemused by the sheer volume of comments you make, often exceeding the number of posts I make; help me out here, please…what would have happened if you did that at a Usenet site?

  6. JP, subscribing to a Usenet site often had much of the spontaneity that we would later see in Instant Messaging. However, the “conversations” were threaded by topic; and the more technical ones were moderated. Furthermore, before Usenet succumbed to the lowest common denominator of mass participation, the content was pretty rich (often rich enough to get me thinking about the next paper I would publish). However, these conversations were more academic than market-based!

    Speaking of volume, I was pretty awe-struck by the amount of stuff you put out while you were claiming to be on vacation!

  7. :-) to me this is a passion, not a profession, so for sure it’s what I like doing in my free time. In between spending time with the family, going to plays and concerts and musicals and sports events, reading and listening to music.

    Ubiquitous computing and connectivity help. Otherwise I am sure my output would be trivial.

    I guess the other thing is that while you may think my posts are short, they’re probably n times the blogosphere average already.

    For a person who doesn’t like Cluetrain, you spend an awful lot of time on a Cluetrained site (which this is). Moth to a flame?

  8. JP,

    I agree. Collaboration calls for a lot of maturity from the people involved and also some upfront and clear communication from those in the leadership position. This is majorly lacking in most of the large enterprises today though we have several initiatives and so called mechanisms for collaboration. We do end up getting beaten by petty politics.

  9. JP, my feeling about writing closely parallels my earlier citation of what Lennie Tristano said about making jazz: If you are serious about it, you better have an alternative source of income:

    I think of it less as a passion than as an obligation, even if I am not quite sure to whom I am obliged!

    The 95 Cluetrain “theses” are little more than 95 fortune cookies; but, if you open 95 fortune cookies, you will probably find a few that are memorable! Think of me as always looking for the antitheses as part of a quest for synthesis! Ultimately, the only thing that REALLY bugs me is the sloppy thinking that lies beneath the veneer of sloppy writing!

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.