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.
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):Â 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,Â 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:Â 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.