Andrea DiMaio

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

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The Essence of Collaboration Is Selfishness

by Andrea Di Maio  |  June 28, 2012  |  16 Comments

The tons of virtual ink that are being used to discuss e-participation, e-democracy, social organizations, enterprise or government 2.0, social media and collaboration seem to assume that everybody is moved by an unstoppable desire to collaborate with others. Vendors, consultants, social media gurus, politicians, communication professionals and amateurs all depict a compelling future where the wisdom of the crowd – be it a project team, a division, a corporation, a cross-section of experts in something, or the population of an entire country – will necessarily replace traditional decision making processes in response to the urge of people of different age, gender, culture, to feel part of something bigger than them.

There is an assumption of selflessness as experts donate their time to communities, developers create free applications for everybody to use, communities  replace individuals, and community-building is rewarded more than individual achievements.

But does this really correspond to who we are? Humans have felt the need to socialize since the dawn of times as a way to survive, to thrive, to win over somebody else. Families, communities, towns, cities, states, countries,corporations all respond to the need of individuals to feel protected, to leverage somebody else’s resources to their advantage, and indeed providing some of their in return.

As we try to understand why so many social media endeavors fail in enterprises, we should remind ourselves that our individual purpose will always prevail over a community one.

Whether about getting more money, or having more fun at what we do, or satisfying our curiosity or our ego, social media is nothing else that one of the personal tools at our disposal to fulfill our purpose.

If our purpose happens to coincide with somebody else’s and our collective purpose aligns or contributes to our organization’s purpose, then we will see sustainable communities, which thrive for the benefits of all parties involved.

On the other hand, if the enterprise tries to force its purpose over ours, we will comply at most, but the community efforts is likely to die down pretty soon.

16 Comments »

Category: social networks in government web 2.0 in government     Tags:

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Erik Jonker   June 28, 2012 at 8:48 am

    This is an old discussion about human nature. I disagree, a lot of people experience a positive feeling or a feeling of well-being by doing something for someone else. Ofcourse you can define this as selfishness but then there should be a lot more of it in the world.
    If i am not mistaken there is a lot of research on the fact that in many experiments humans are NOT driven solely by individual purposes or utility maximalisation and experience behavior which not necessarily maximises their individual benefits.

  • 2 Andrea Di Maio   June 28, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Erik,
    Indeed, but how many cases in a work-related environment? If we keep appealing to altruism, most collaboration endeavors are unlikely to deliver much value.

  • 3 Erwan Moyon   June 28, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I agree with Erik and it seems like an occidental vision. East Asian people are driven by community and so their industry.

  • 4 Andrea Di Maio   June 28, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Erwan, definitely it is a western view. However individuals are rewarded by their own perfromances, or the performances of an organizational unit theyr belong to, it is unlikely they will wholeheartedly participate in a community that crosses those organizational boundaries unless they see some form of personal gain (which does not need to be necessarily or career related, but has to be pèrsonal in nature). Assuming that people are willing to cooperate for the sake of it is slightly naive.

  • 5 The Essence of Collaboration Is Selfishness | Library Collaboration | Scoop.it   June 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    [...] The tons of virtual ink that are being used to discuss e-participation, e-democracy, social organizations, enterprise or government 2.0, social media and collaboration seem to assume that everybody is moved by an …  [...]

  • 6 Pearl Zhu   June 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Interesting and disputable viewpoint, also enjoy different comments above, I think there’s overlap area between selfishness and altruism, humanity means human also like to do things sometimes bigger than self, or you may say life calling, it may go beyond own self-benefit, also not pure altruism, it’s well combination of both, to move up humanity, that said, social may just provide such platform to amplify human capability and solve many big issues facing us today. thanks.

  • 7 Gail Taylor   June 28, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Why is this either/or? Seems like a rather useless argument to me.

  • 8 The Essence of Collaboration Is Selfishness | Teamwork | Scoop.it   June 29, 2012 at 6:20 am

    [...] The tons of virtual ink that are being used to discuss e-participation, e-democracy, social organizations, enterprise or government 2.0, social media and collaboration seem to assume that everybody is moved by an …  [...]

  • 9 Diego May   June 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    What an interesting thread. What a great discussion to have face to face and with some good coffee or wine :)

    Even if I think that human beings ‘can’ be moved to do positive things without always thinking just about themselves, it is clear that those tend to be singular events and we cannot count on them (in general) as something that happens on a very frequent basis. Gandhi and Mother Theresa are probably good exceptions to a general way of acting.

    That is why I think that smart and innovative organizations are becoming better at defining the right ‘incentives’ to move people to use their skills to help big initiatives.

    It requires intelligence to get a group of business people and Stanford developers over a weekend to think about ways to improve public services. City of Palo Alto has succeed and will continue doing so.
    It requires the right incentives and rules to attract designers to contribute to solve a problem for a company.
    It requires charisma and the right rewards to get people to donate time for greater good.

    I agree with Andrea on his general assumption. I think that organizations that want to get value from skilled individuals have to be innovative to define compelling programs/platforms. I’ve seen that happening at different levels and by getting those right incentives in place the multiplier effect can happen. If energy and brain power is not put into defining good and sustainable incentives, then those ‘improve the world’ programs do not last long enough to have an impact.

  • 10 Alex Howard   July 3, 2012 at 11:58 am

    I’d certainly dispute that the function of social media can be reduced to “more money, or having more fun at what we do, or satisfying our curiosity or our ego.”

    I’ve found knowledge networks inside and outside of the enterprise to be extremely useful for collaborative discovery, discussion and co-creation of services, products or insights, or the response to natural disasters.

    As Erik and Erwan point out, Andrea, your expressed viewpoint here is decidedly Western. Beyond that stance, however, it appears to me to be ungrounded in research (links? footnotes? citations) or common sense.

    To be frank: this post strikes me as summertime musing from a former engineer and government bureaucrat, as opposed to evidence-based research from a evolutionary biologist, industrial psychologist or a philosopher, all of whom are better situated to opine upon the intrinsic motivations of humanity.

    If “our individual purpose will always prevail over a community one,” how would you explain soldiers sacrificing themselves during wars? Or the actions of firefighters and first responders? Or legislators making compromises?

    Or, to share (get it?) a specific example that is at odds with your contention regarding “selfishness,” consider the communities around open source software or hardware projects, like Linux, the Apache Web server or Arduino. While not all such communities are sustainable, many of them are proving to be so, including new entrants in the space like WordPress or Open Stack.

    Humans have been making decisions based upon altruism and the good of the community for quite some time. Such choices — based upon a sense of personal agency or shared values inculcated by education or parenting (i.e. teaching toddlers to share toys or meals) — are one of the characteristics that distinguish higher order primates and mammals from other creatures, although we can certainly see how hives of insects will sacrifice themselves for the good of the community.

    I’d posit that the “essence of collaboration” lies not in “selfishness” but in shared purpose. Define a common goal, elect leaders to guide the group towards them, agree upon methodologies to achieve that goal, iterate and adjust as needed.

  • 11 Andrea Di Maio   July 3, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Alex,
    it is a bit sad to read your dismissive statements about my background as an engineer and an EU official. You have the luxury of exposing good examples around open government and collaboration: after all, who would give an interview to a journalist to sound negative and cynical about something as noble as openness and collaboration? I may also speculate that the inclination of your employer to push the government-as-a-platform metaphor as well as your political inclinations have had an influence on the positive spin you always gove to this. But I know you are honest and thorough reporter and truly believe this is not the case. The fundamental difference is that I do take inquiries or meet clients who expose their struggles in confidence. I have had CIOs asking how not to oull the plug on open data, others who have spent a lot of money on corporate collaboration platforms that are underutilized, as well as plenty of people who thought that open source communities were sustainable.
    Well, only few open source communities do really thrive, but they are large with sognificant vendor interest and participation. The many open source collaborations among government users, starting from GOCC onward, have all failed or struggled (unlike in education with Sakai for instance).
    As far as my basic argument, soldiers, firefighters and many others do work for the community as part of their job description.They will collaborate if this make them mor effective, including saving their and others’ lives. More in general, case managers, procurement officers, tax agents, and so forth, are compensated for doing their job and measured according to how productive and effective they are. In a work environment, altruism is not a natural trait, and a collaboration endeavor must be connected to a personal purpose. Incidentally this purpose does not need to be necessarily money or career related, but must be personal in nature. We are doing a lot of search also outside the government area that clearly show how sustinable collaboration requires a combination of enterprise, community and individual purpose. I will be presenting about this at our symposium in Orlando in October and I am writing research as we speak about the necessary changes in social media strategies and the nature of the future government workplace.
    I always value your opinion, but I think I can be proud of my experience in the field as a supplier, client and member of a public administration, as well as an analyst. One of the reasons I blog is to share the side of things that journalists like yourself cannot (or won’t) report about and that cannot be found in links to pages written by other journalists, by government users or vendors who support them.

  • 12 The Unbearable Lightness of Openness   July 4, 2012 at 7:04 am

    [...] Andrea Di Maio is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, where he focuses on the public sector, with particular reference to e-government strategies, Web 2.0, the business value of IT, open-source software… Read Full Bio Coverage Areas: ← The Essence of Collaboration Is Selfishness [...]

  • 13 Alex Howard   July 4, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Andrea,

    I apologize if my statements could and were read to be dismissive. What I meant to convey was not that I did not value your background (I have great affection for engineers and respect for public servants) but rather that neither experience id dedicated (to my understanding) to developing empirical knowledge about human nature nor collects research upon its expression in industry.

    I believe you should be proud of your experience and did not intend to diminish it, nor your work as an analyst. Despite a regrettable tendency to write incendiary headlines for your posts, I’m glad to count you amongst my friends on Facebook and it was not my intention to take a less than cordial tone — or bitter one, as you tweeted.

    That said, my point about the topic of this post stands. If I were to write about a given issue, I would either acknowledge that my assessment was personal and anecdotal (and therefore limited by my expertise) or consult experts in the field, either by reading and citing their research or calling them directly. That isn’t “links to pages written by other journalists, by government users or vendors” — it’s footnotes to and quotes from academics and subject matter experts.

    Now, it’s perfectly reasonable that someone might say that YOU are a subject matter expert, in this context, and that challenging your opinion here is questionable. What I’m asking for is a bit different: it’s to *show your work* and the data or research behind the statements made.

    Putting the topic of collaboration or community aside for the moment, which bears more discussion (your responses may elicit more comments from readers) I’d like to address two additional points you make that are….interesting.

    1) You say you blog about “the side of things that journalists like yourself cannot (or won’t) report about”

    I must have missed a key aspect of the media in the 21st century! The “side of things” that I know that journalists “cannot (or won’t) report about are things that would and do get them killed: writing about the drug cartels in Mexico, for instance, or organized crime elsewhere (I believe your home country has some experience with the mafia) or stories that their editors (or corporate owners of networks or papers) don’t want to run.

    While such selective coverage choices does happen, most journalists I know don’t limit themselves in their reporting nor publication, and some of them go TO warzones or dangerous hotspots, or report on the mistakes of the powerful and influential in society. If you have examples of topics that journalists won’t cover — or can’t cover, other than those from which they are limited by access (wars, space, corporate boards) I’m all ears.

    2) “The fundamental difference is that I do take inquiries or meet clients who expose their struggles in confidence.”

    Many journalists — including myself — can and do meet with anonymous sources. (I’m certain you and your readers are familiar with whistleblowers?) The difference is that I don’t like to ever publish articles or posts, particularly about open government, that cite anonymous sources. But this is the fundamental difference you posit.

    3) “who would give an interview to a journalist to sound negative and cynical about something as noble as openness and collaboration?”

    Good question. The answer is almost certainly no one. But many people might well — and do — talk to a journalist about how well a project went or is going, or how effective a given installation of enterprise collaboration software had proven to be. (For instance, when I did user research for building a new, more collaborative intranet years ago, believe me: I heard a lot of stories from all levels of organizations about Sharepoint, Jive, Socialtext, Yammer, MediaWiki, Newsgator, etc.) Those conversations then offer insight into how or whether open workspaces, virtual and offices, lead to collaboration or productivity. Or not.

    A few recent reports suggest to me that for some kinds of creative or productive worker, there’s benefit from a closed, quiet workspace — but again, I believe that to be reasonably credible, such reports need footnotes, citations, links or quotations from researchers.

    4) “I may also speculate that the inclination of your employer to push the government-as-a-platform metaphor as well as your political inclinations have had an influence on the positive spin you always give to this. I know you are [an] honest and thorough reporter and truly believe this is not the case.”

    Now that’s an interesting speculation, for sure! I’m deeply grateful for the compliment and trust you express here. Thank you. I began tech writing professionally in the beginning of 2006. I have always tried to be fair, accurate, intellectually honest and, sometimes to a fault, thorough.

    That said, I can and do make mistakes and, while I have endeavored to acknowledge and correct them as I go, I am certain that more will come. To your point about positivity, I think readers will find that I’ve been (constructively) critical of many subjects, well beyond the worlds of open government and open data, but certainly acknowledging issues within them as well.

    I can assure you and others that neither my publisher nor my editor are reviewing every post, update to Facebook or Google+, tweet or public comment. (Indeed, to do so would be a full-time job!) I enjoy considerable editorial independence and am proud to work at an organization that gives me such trust and latitude to speak freely online. Like, say, in blog comments.

    Cheers.

  • 14 Andrea Di Maio   July 4, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Thank you Alex for your reply. First of all let me wish you a great Independence Day: this is a part of your history that I am particularly envious of, since over here we did never really get independent (although we like to believe we did).

    As far as your points:

    (1) “cannot or won’t report about” goes back to your point about anonymous sources. As a blogger-analyst I walk on a tightrope, trying to leverage the content of conversations with clients, who speak to me in confidence, and yet face struggles that many others – clients and non-clients – do face as well. I would love to provide names and places, but I just can’t. Should I then stop writing what I do? I asked myself this question, but then when I discuss with a client during an inquiry, I do make reference to other conversations, keeping sources anonymous all the time. I guess it boils down to a matter of trust: luckily enough clients know I do not make this up.

    (2) Same story here, but I would argue that one of the differences between journalists and analysts is that the former hunt for the story (and the interview), while the latter have clients who want to talk to them about their issues. When people want to give an interview (and issue a press release) it is usually for something worthwhile saying and – in the government context – rather positive. On the other hand if the journalist is onto something and wants an interview, the subject can always decline, Some other time we may discuss about cultural nuances here, because not all clients behave the same and, in some countries, they would never admit with an analyst that they have a problem, even in a private conversation.

    (3) The same applies to us to a certain extent. If I find an interesting case where something went wrong and there could be great lessons for everybody to learn, I have a hard time – and I almost never succeed – at convincing the client to let me write a research note about that. The anonymous examples in a post or a research note is the only way to bring that point across.

    (4) I was not assuming that you are under any sort of “censorship”, of course. On the other hand, I think it is fair to say that the line of the vast majority of your posts is to show how “open” is progressing and, whereas you have indeed posted about problems, the overall tone remains positive and in sync with O’Reilly’s “government-as-a-platform”. There is nothing wrong with that, on the contrary,. as it gives me plenty of opportunities to play the devil’s advocate and entertain enriching conversations.

    Have a great day

  • 15 Djebar Hammouche   July 6, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    IMO
    The Essence of Collaboration Is not Selfishness
    instead
    The Essence of Collaboration Is self-esteem : you share and cooperate to improve it

  • 16 The Essence of Collaboration Is Selfishness | The Information Specialist's Scoop | Scoop.it   July 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    [...] The tons of virtual ink that are being used to discuss e-participation, e-democracy, social organizations, enterprise or government 2.0, social media and collaboration seem to assume that everybody is moved by an …  [...]