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The Dawning Age of Mass Collaboration

by Anthony J. Bradley  |  January 8, 2013  |  3 Comments

Mass collaboration is the future of competitive advantage in business. See Gartner’s infographic on the evolution of business.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter may be all the rage today. But they’re only the beginning of something really big. Their true impact is that they’re spurring a new era of mass collaboration.

Hundreds, thousands, even millions of people can effectively collaborate – like never before – to achieve unprecedented results. Yes, the marquee social web successes like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook are great examples of mass collaboration in general. But what’s more profound is the impact mass collaboration is beginning to exert on the business world. Just like mass production, mass distribution and mass marketing before it, mass collaboration is the next big evolution in expanding business impact. We now have hundreds of examples of organizations that have substantially magnified their capabilities by tapping into the power of the masses.  For example, CEMEX employees as part of their SHIFT initiative collaborated across organizations and geographies to overcome sales challenges in target regions by collectively identifying successes from other regions where the challenges were similar. Or, consider a health care organization that’s using social and mobile technologies to rally their field workers, government social workers, community volunteers, and local church groups to collaborate in helping low income customers to overcome the basic needs hardships like housing, utilities and transportation that keep them from continuing their healthcare plans. Or, there’s the European auto parts manufacturer that uses a social software platform to quickly bring all of their engineers to bear against critical product performance challenges.    

The business potential of mass collaboration is enormous. It can turn your customers into an extension of your sales force. It can bring all of your engineers together on your biggest design challenges. It can rally your managers to formulate and drive critical change.  The possibilities are endless.

And yet, the vast majority of business leaders don’t understand or recognize mass collaboration as a means to better business performance.  Leaders must upgrade their understanding of collaboration, which is evolving from an amorphous, all-encompassing, but little-understood concept to an “engineered” sets of human behaviors. For example, in researching our book, The Social Organization, we discovered that underneath just about every successful implementation of mass collaboration are four major collaborative behaviors; participant contributions, social feedback, collective judgment, and change propagation. And within each of these four higher-level activities are lower-level and more specific collaborative behavioral patterns. We are now seeing this “engineering” trend embedded in new types of collaborative applications and tools such as Answerhub, Rollstream and Spigit that businesses use to address horizontal challenges such as sales force effectiveness, supply chain management, and idea generation with well designed mass collaborative behaviors. In concert with this trend, we’re seeing more and more companies adopting gamification (the application of game mechanics to non-gaming activities) as a catalyst for collaborative behaviors. For example, Spigit applies sophisticated game mechanics with a virtual currency and idea “exchange” where ideas can be traded like stocks. People gain reputation and placement on leader boards as they accumulating “wealth” by initiating, investing in and supporting successful ideas. This is definitely not old school collaboration.

Organizations are also starting to inject mass collaboration into their business processes, which we call social BPM (business process management). Using social collaboration, the marketing organization of a consumer goods company is empowering their marketing professionals to collectively identify and outright eliminate low value processes to ease the process burden and allow room for more creativity.  Another organization is extending their process for identifying and eliminating product counterfeiting to include all employees and customers. And hotel managers of a European chain used social collaboration wiki technology to formulate and propagate a new towel life cycle management process involving a new towel, different detergents and a new laundering protocol that saved the chain almost a million Euros in the first year. 

This portends a future where mass collaboration permeates business operations. After all, who’s better at illuminating, optimizing and evolving your most dynamic and critical business processes than the people who are doing it or experiencing it every day? If they own a way to formulate change, then adopting the change becomes a natural progression. And that’s saying something since human resistance is a primary impediment to organizational change.  Successful social BPM will help organizations respond and adapt to change more easily. 

This is just the dawn of the age of mass collaboration. Leading organizations are driving transformation now, and mass collaboration is on the fast track. Leaders who seek competitive advantage through mass collaboration must actively drive change— and fast, as the window of opportunity for competitive advantage is closing. The next two to three years will be critical, and how you, as business leaders, respond today to the mass collaboration movement may determine, in the not too distant future, whether your business thrives, survives, or disappears.

Are you experiencing the new age of mass collaboration in your company? What are you doing about it?

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Anthony J. Bradley
13 years at Gartner
30 years in IT

Anthony J. Bradley is a Group Vice President in Gartner Research. In this role he leads global teams of analysts who research the emerging technologies and trends that are changing today's world and shaping the future. Mr. Bradley's group strives to provide technology product and service leaders (Tech CEOs, General Managers, Chief Product Officers, Practice Leads, Product Managers and Product Marketers) with unique, high-value research and indispensable advice on leveraging emerging technologies and trends to create and deliver highly successful products and services. Information technology now impacts pretty much every business function in all companies, all industries, and all geographies. Technology providers are critical to the technology and business innovation that will define the world of tomorrow. Innovation depends on technology providers. By helping them, we help the world.

Thoughts on The Dawning Age of Mass Collaboration

  1. Nigel Baker says:

    Excellent article & a topic that is all over the web right now. Mass collaboration has the potential to reduce new product development cycles & costs, make quantum leaps in the breakthrough of new drug therapies, reduce waste by linking up (both upstream & downstream) companies that compliment not duplicate… but there are 2 overriding problems; the fear of sharing (who owns the information as for now, it would have to rest on someone’s server) & lack of a global collaboration portal. However both these problems have been solved by a as yet unknown start up, due to launch in the next couple of months.

  2. Shelby Khan says:

    This is a great article! I work at HP and we are trying our own form of mass collaboration… a socially collaborated eBook about the future of the Enterprise. In this project, we write an opinion about what the Enterprise will look like in the year 2020 and we open it up to the community. Community members can agree, disagree, and comment on what we said or what we missed. After a few months, we take those comments and we re-write the chapter to include the thoughts of the community.

    Check out our project at, I would love to hear what you think.

  3. […] role of mass collaboration is more than noting what benefits mass collaboration brings to it. The implications for business alone epitomize the great potential of involving the masses. Instead, we ask, why is this […]

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