The summer of the Collaboration Love Fest is coming to an end, and none too soon. (Yes, or winter to you sub-equatorials – all four of you who might read this.) Nothing, it seems, can be accomplished without collaboration, scream the headlines from some of the most respected business journals. Your reaction to this novel ‘discovery’ should be akin to what a Native American must have felt when Christopher Columbus discoveredAmerica. Had the locals understood what the Genoan explorer, working for the Spanish Imperialists, said about “discovering” as new what they had called home for the past thousand years, their response would have been: ‘and what are we, chopped liver?’
And that captures the ‘new’ discovery of Collaborative Culture. The first time I was taught about the collaborative nature of discovery, research and development was in the Sixth Grade by my Science teacher. Let’s say that this was over thirty years ago, just to be safe. Ms. Haight was talking about Newton and gravity and then she jumped to electrodynamics. The concepts around Quantum Electrodynamics, she said as our eyes glazed, were discovered by a team of really smart people working in teams with other smart people. (Full disclosure – I looked this up and wow, what a team! Freeman Dyson, Richard Feynman, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and others). She was telling us that the way that our parents worked, as factory workers, office workers, accountants, fireman – was going to be augmented in our lifetimes by a whole new type of work in science and physics and applied to air, rail, communications and space travel. No kidding. She also said it would take 20 years to convert to metrics in the United States.
Flash forward to 1992, when a team I was a part of won a fairly coveted technology prize in the area of digital technology. We had worked for years in a tight group of five, interacting with several other groups of four or five or eight, spread across a high tech R&D facility. We understood the mission of the various hardware, software, manufacturing, Q/A, Testing and Beta groups, and we understood the roles and expectations, and how to create a Gaant Chart and were rewarded for innovation. Not a lot of extraneous chatter. Team members were very highly specialized, and not burdened with tons of overhead like explaining everything to everyone outside of the team about things that were not relevant to success, or blogging what you ate for lunch or what so-and-so said at the All Company Retreat. That was over 20 years ago, and even then it was not considered an innovative concept that collaboration is critical to innovation.
What seems different now is that collaboration is the new media and software buzz term. Companies have products to sell, and consulting services to offer, and IPOs to manage. For a great number of IT and business leaders who read the endless schpielson collaborative leadership and crowdsourcing, there is a mild groan that translates as: yes, that is how we operate.
Collaboration is not new. The wonderful new tools are better than ever before for sharing in ways no one could ever have imagined (OK, yes, except for Gilder and Metcalfe), and for analyzing, and catalyzing teams and engaging the cooperation of others. We are immature in our understanding of the new rules of collaboration and what constitutes proper participation. Forcing everyone to share everything about everything always is exhausting and counter-productive. We think we understand the new mechanisms for collaboration being suggested, and often think that their value is unambiguous. Observation is indicating that much remains to be done before many organizations set out to change the nature of collaboration in the enterprise. Let us know what you are experiencing.