Continuing to muse lazily about sharing at work

I spend a lot of time thinking about sharing, and sharing what I’m thinking. Why? I don’t quite know. Maybe it comes from having been born in Calcutta. Or maybe because I was (and still am) part of a large family. Or even maybe it’s because my father was a journalist as was his father, while my other grandfather was a professor.

Around eight months ago I wrote a post headlined Lazily Musing About Sharing. In it, I made the following assertions:

  • For anything to be social, it must be shared
  • Sharing, the act of making social, happens because people are made social
  • Sharing is encouraged by good design
  • When you share physical things like food, sharing reduces waste
  • When you share non-physical things like ideas, sharing increases value

Since I wrote that post, I’ve been spending time observing how people share: my colleagues at, our customers, our partners, my personal and professional networks.

And coming to a number of hypotheses which I intend to share with you over the next few months….. depending, of course, on the kind of feedback I get on this post.

Here’s the first hypothesis:

When the shared purpose at work is itself to do with sharing, collaboration becomes part of the DNA

Why do I say this? For a number of reasons:

When I joined one of the first things I noticed was that there was a culture of sharing, above and beyond the architecture of sharing that services like Chatter provide. People felt comfortable sharing things, it seemed to be in their very spirit. Was it because of something about the way we hired people? Was it because senior management set an example in leadership? Was it because we were still a relatively young company? Was it something in the air?

It seemed to be something deep-seated, something systemic. So I kept looking.

It may have been all of the reasons I stated earlier. I don’t know the precise reason, I’m still learning. But more and more I’m coming to the conclusion that it has to do with the principles the company was founded on, the principles we’ve adhered to since, which involve a new business model (subscriptions), a new technology model (the cloud)…..

….. and a new philanthropy model. 1+1+1.

I’d read about the Salesforce Foundation before I joined the company. I’d seen how people set aside time and effort and money to support the Foundation. I’d been very impressed by how central a role Foundation activities played in corporate life, not just at corporate events. I’d been pleasantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm shown by staff, customers and partners alike when it came to participating in Foundation events and activities.

More recently, I’d been overwhelmed by the support given to an initiative very close to my heart, Byte Night. 20 of my colleagues sleeping out with me. Over 300 individual donors supporting our team. Colleagues, customers, partners, the lot. All underpinned by the advice, guidance, support — and generous matching funds — from the Foundation.

And when I was awake, cold, dripping wet, that night, accompanied by my colleagues, I realised how deep the bonds were between those colleagues. How deep the bonds were between all of us as sleepers that night, regardless of where we worked.

Those shared experiences of altruism, of philanthropy, of giving, matter. They are analogous to the social objects that Jyri Engestrom conceived of, that Hugh MacLeod popularised.

The relationship between the level of collaboration at work and a collaborative worldview is by itself not new:  Howard Rheingold has written about this many times; in his latest book he speaks of what Mimi Ito called “genres of participation”, some interest-driven, some friendship-driven. When people work together on philanthropic activities, I think these two genres come together, dramatically increasing the level of energy in the activity. Amy Jo Kim, in Community Building On The Web, emphasises the importance of giving people tools to build and operate their own subcommunities, to embed rituals in what they do, to have cyclic events. Christopher Locke spoke of the importance of shared pursuits like “organic gardening” in Gonzo Marketing. John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison talk about the importance of shared purpose in The Power of Pull, particularly when it comes to designing “creation spaces” in order to get the increasing-returns value from the “collaboration curve”.

What I didn’t realise deeply enough was this: when the shared purpose is itself about sharing, then collaboration becomes part of the DNA.

Life is never smooth; that holds true at work as much as anywhere else. Historically, reinforced by hierarchical structures, information has been seen as power, and as a consequence collaborative attitudes have been weakened. Often this has been exacerbated by individual rather than team-based incentive systems, opaque performance management systems and, sadly, not infrequently, rampant briefing-blame cultures.

As the saying goes, character is not about the problems you face, but about the responses you make to those problems. The time when problems occur at work is probably the most important time for people to collaborate. But it isn’t easy to do.

Of course it helps if leaders set an example.

Of course it helps if, as Tim O’Reilly stated, there is an “architecture of participation“.

Of course it helps if performance management and reward mechanisms are tuned to recognise and reward collaborative activity.

My gut feel, however, is that these are all necessary-but-insufficient conditions for true collaboration at work.

The economic climate, the pace at which markets move, the consequences of the Big Shift on barriers to entry, competition and margins,  the nature and complexity of the problems we face today as humans, as a society, as humanity — all these militate towards a greater need for collaboration.

But then we have to go beyond the necessary-but-insufficient conditions, towards the kind of model Marc Benioff talks about, where philanthropy becomes a shared value at the heart of the company.

Then and only then will true collaboration take place within and beyond the firm.

That’s what I think. Let me know whether you agree, what needs changing, what I’ve got wrong.

[A coda: Just saw friend Don Thorson of Swipp share a John Maxwell quote that I thought was relevant to this post: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.]

31 thoughts on “Continuing to muse lazily about sharing at work”

  1. JP,

    Here are other quotes that are relevant to the subject matter of your post:

    “The Web was originally conceived as a tool for researchers who trusted one another implicitly. We have been living with the consequences ever since.” Sir Tim Berners-Lee

    “When it is impossible to provide an explicit contract that rewards those who create and maintain data, ‘ownership’ will be the best way to provide incentives.” Why Not One Big Database? Ownership Principles for Database Design by Marshall Van Alstyne, Erik Brynjolfsson, and Stuart Madnick (MIT Sloan School, 1993).

    “Perhaps ironically, social transparency does not always lead to the most efficient market mechanisms. By extension, one might surmise that information also can only travel efficiently when users have control over who has access to that information.” Ed H. Chi, Research Scientist at Google Research (personal communication).

    Best regards,


  2. Maybe it was your link to the foundation that made me of this post on Trusteeship.

    ‘Some of the key tenets of trusteeship that I believe are applicable today are:

    Surplus Wealth needs to be kept in trust for the common good and the welfare of others.
    To fully adapt the concept of trusteeship a non violent approach needs to be adopted.
    Everything that we do must be economically viable as well as ethical at the same time making sure that we build sustainable livelihoods for all.
    Economic equality through trusteeship will thus ensure an equitable distribution of wealth amongst all.
    Absolute trusteeship is unattainable – but if people behave as trustees then we can develop institutions that are economically viable yet benign.’

    Does the principle of Trusteeship help in our understanding of Sharing at work?

  3. At the risk of making it look as though I am stalking you, here are my thoughts.

    People who “get” the win-win mindset of sharing knowledge are a joy to work with. Unfortunately, millions still seem deeply scripted in a Knowledge is Power and Scarcity is Value mindset, translating to a highly competitive attitude, keeping important info to themselves and so on.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that many ambitious people seem to love those aspects of the workplace that don’t sit at all well with sharing and trust: they love winning (which means others have to visibly lose), they love getting the upper hand and then making sure everyone knows they’ve done so. I don’t see a culture of sharing and trust effacing these “hunt and kill” instincts any time soon!

    On the other hand, I have noticed that after about 45, the bloodthirstiest and most ambitious types calm down a bit. As one of my friends put it, “No one really becomes capable of compassion until they are over 40.” So I am not as hopeful as you are!

  4. Hi JP,

    I’m sure these thoughts are not entirely coherent but here we go:

    – Role Power: there were in every organisation “key people” who knew how a certain thing worked, and nobody else knew. That knowledge could be how a machine worked, or how a financial instrument worked. These sources of power are in decay because they are “stable stocks of knowledge”;

    – Positional Power: based on time horizons and hierarchy. Enough said. They had their place for co-ordination and communication in a word where there was less change, and more stable planning horizons;

    – Networked Power: the more connections you had, the more unofficial influence you had. Great CEO’s had boundary spanning networks, etc. etc. So the more networked you were the more influence you could wield;

    So I’ve said Power a lot right? I think that it’s actually pretty core to your thesis. How are people rewarded; what behaviour; who gets promoted; who gets respect? who gets stories and songs (sic) made up about them? So what is your organisations conception of “Power”?

  5. The point of the John Maxwell is my favourite part of this post – implying as it does that the most passionate people are wont to sharing their stories and this passion is what inspires those around to want to hear more, and indeed share in return. It’s an incredible thing to see what it manifests itself at work. It’s not pervasive where I work, but the pockets where it does exist are beacons.

  6. Altruism is innate. (It may seem that in-group/out-group dynamics over-rule it, but group boundaries have been shown to be permeable and subject to resetting.) Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune can obviate that tendency, but it remains the default starting point.
    Sharing at work has a history. “Engineering journals will be left accessible and open” was a basic rule in the Skunk Works. Far from pathological! But other dynamics can swamp that set of processes.

    I’ve always felt that the social vampires (or “pirates”, in Fuller’s depiction) have succeeded by co-opting those dynamics. (Psychopaths are not sadistically inspired; they’re driven by pure ego.) Typically these offer a more tantalizing depiction of possible futures; our better angels always face stiff competition! Charism works like magic … or voodoo.

    “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” And yet “the best lack all conviction”. Strong, confident leaders inspire a following with little regard for real ends or real consequences.

    I distrust A-list because I distrust “great man” theories of history. We are typically recruited to projects that minimally progress “the emancipation project”.
    FWIW I’m fond of “Chatham House rule”, where the source of individual contributions are not identified.

    late Friday night … apologies for any wandering :-)

  7. JP, In the seminal paper which proposed the concept of a people-centered form of economcs, the final paragraph points out:

    ‘It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.’

    His fundamental predicate was that no human being can be considered disposable

    Writing later after a decade of practical application he asked “what is social enterprise?”!

    ‘The term “social enterprise” in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don’t address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven’t enough money to be of concern or interest. Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks. Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.” Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not.’

    After he died last year I began to examine the influences on his 1996 paper, listed in the bibliography. One was Erich Fromm who’d said:

    “Love of the helpless, the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love ones flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, does love begin to unfold. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and identification. “

    There’s a great distance between talking and walking it.

  8. JP, thanks a lot for your inspiring and and always worth reading thoughts.

    About sharing: Just came back from this morning church service and the word was Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

    Best Regards


  9. Jeff, thanks for those references and for those sentiments. I will continue to read and reflect and learn.

  10. @ben I hope that the Great Leveller of the internet helps us get away from thinking about A, B or Z lists. If such lists, and the behaviour implicit in such lists, persist, then we have allowed something beautiful to decay into something else.

  11. Paul, I don’t tend to focus on power that much. Not sure why. Not a word that comes to mind when I think about these things. Influence, yes. Guidance, yes. But power? No.

  12. Thanks Steve. Decades ago, probably around the time TimBL was writing his papers about what was to become the Web, I came across Erik B’s work on incomplete contracts. I’ve tracked him ever since..

  13. Syamant, I tend to use words like Stewardship more than Trusteeship, but I think they are used in similar contexts when I read your references. I have always thought that it is important to be a good steward at home and at work, in life and in death. I haven’t always succeeded in being that good steward, but I want to be one.

  14. Hi JP, yes, I know you don’t focus on power and it doesn’t feature in many of your “musings” :) but that’s the very reason I raised it. I read a lot about Trust and Power back in the day. Also, worth a thought, is the idea of relinguishing (traditional sources of) Power.

  15. @Paul / JP – I happened to come across this little snippet in an otherwise unremarkable paper concerning Habermas’ “discourse ethics”:
    ” in discourse the unforced force of the better argument prevails. Or to put it in the words of hermeneutic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, who gives this a popular turn: “What the Others are saying could be right”.”


  16. p.s. I came across “give up power over others” long before I discovered Habermas. To me conventional transactions swamp dialectic with the rhetoric of convince, compel, coerce, and conquer.

  17. Paul, I see where you’re coming from. Let me think about it and I am sure it will get touched upon in a later post, about giving up traditional sources of power

  18. Yes, I recall that from you.
    Do please give him regards from a Buddhist Gael in N’n Alberta!
    (ATM watching a Persian movie of the life of Solomon. Fascinatin’ in any number of ways!)

  19. @JP – Do tell him that he’s fed symbiosis. I can only speak for myself.
    Dec2003 3rd floor Killam Library, yet again seated at a table with a heap of book, yet again pondering glasperlenspiel and the need for a wooden stake to deal with the psychopath of iniquity and imperialism … himself and Dr. John Willinsky (#OpenAccess) staring me in the face …
    … and Exhibitum arose.

    My single eureka moment? Ok. Let’s say my one and only. ;-)

    As sure as night follows day … as real as complimentary proteins… as actually as signs being yellow, not green. As certain as cognitive ergonomics. We can prime insight.
    That was DEC03. It took me 27yrs. (Ah ain’t stuhpud, but ah shurr am slow!)

    Protension … pro-tension … tensegrity. That’s how it works: once a person decides I’m a peasant, they stop listening. So I can speak honestly. Because they aren’t listening. So I don’t have to be guarded. An old security concept from the Land of Snow .. part of “mandala theory” … “self-secrecy” is a rough translation.
    If means that those who have nae ears to hear, don’t. heh :-)

    p.s. now, if a person hasn’t bothered to learn namaste, it’s not likely that they would appreciate mangalam. Okie dokie. (Chö is my first name, and Chöd is my practice. HeyHo, thus it is to be Martian. Stranger in a stranger land, n’est-ce pas?) So fine … Tashi delek! will always serve. heh :-)

  20. /*cough*/ 06:45 MDT … after a long Friday of drinking. (Edmonton lost yet again to Calgary, this time in their last game of the regular season.)
    I look at what I wrote, above (Did I mention I’ve been drinking? Oh. I’ve been drinking for 14hrs now.) and thing … with a Persian version of the life of Solomon cued and waiting for me in another tab … I’m supposed to prove what? to whom? for what purpose? to what end? when?

    I respect officers. That doesn’t mean I trust them. I salute the uniform, not the man. That tells officers absolutely nothing about my world-view. Which suits me just fine. Cuz (see above) I don’t trust officers.

    Some folk get rich talking. Some folk GTD. Contradiction? pfffffffft … see how yuppie thinking comes in? Now I’m going to go back to Solomon’s battle against the root of evil. ciao ciao, good sir.

  21. It’s been my privilege during the last 10 years of working at the Salesforce Foundation to enable sharing … particularly people sharing things they care about that they wouldn’t normally expect to share in a workplace. It’s incredibly empowering and creates a strong community bond, as you experienced JP with the support you got during Byte Night. Sharing is the only way to make the world a better place: sharing the things we’ve got be that money, time, technology, connections and whatever else, with people and communities who don’t have those things. When we share, the magic starts to happen. Thanks for your commitment to sharing JP. It makes a difference.

  22. Thank you Isabel. The work that people like you do for the Foundarion helps ensure that our DNA has that sharing strand deeply intertwined.

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