Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is it copying or collaborating?

Copying or collaborating?

In school, it’s called copying, and it’s wrong. In business, it’s called collaborating, and it’s expected and rewarded. When two people work together to submit the same work product, how should it be received? It depends on the 1) assignment, 2) agreement between the parties, and 3) recipient's expectations.

Individuals are moving more and more toward collaboration, especially in the business community. We’ve seen team-building become almost an art form in business, and the focus on forming short-term business teams appears to be a foregone conclusion during negotiations. So where do we draw the line?

If we can’t monetize it and ensure we get our share, we aren’t likely to go for it!

Knowledge in organizations is (rightfully) treated like it has value. But, as with other things of value, the usefulness of knowledge depends on how we process it. There are apparently two perspectives, or schools of thought, on the handling of knowledge in organizations.

One perspective is that knowledge consists of objects that can be created, collected, stored, retrieved and reused. This model suggests that knowledge needs to be codified in order to be effectively managed. This model can be understood using a "conduit" model of communication (Heo & Yoo, 2002).

The second perspective is that knowledge in organizations is socially constructed and collectively held. It is malleable, uncertain, and embedded in work practices and social relationships. This model is more in line with the “communities of practice” model (Heo & Yoo, 2002).

Many organizations are still concerned about getting an immediate return on investment for the knowledge they create, maintain, and share. The Relationship Economy won’t work that way, so now would be a great time for us to learn to get over this antiquated business practice. We may all agree in the importance of fostering a collaborative culture within our organization, but just how do we go about doing so?

Tapscott and Williams, in their book Wikinomics, identified four steps we can take.

•Encourage and reward openness in networking for all members of the organization.

•Create peering environments that foster self-organizing human connections for collaboration and innovation.

•Allow radical sharing to expand markets and create new opportunities.

•Think and Act globally as an individual, team and organization.

(Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

To achieve Openness means ensuring a culture of candor, flexibility, transparency and access. How many of today’s workplaces can accurately be described by these words? Openness means making your organization’s boundaries porous to external ideas and human capital. It means being open to the talent pool that lies outside your walls and sharing access to corporate performance. Moreover, it means seriously participating in the global knowledge economy (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

Peering is also important in the establishment of a collaborative culture. Peering results in the creation of a horizontal organization that is often unrivaled by hierarchical organizations in speed of solution deployment. Looking at some examples of peering may give us an indication of how it can be accomplished.

Marketocracy is an organization that uses collective intelligence on virtual stock portfolios. Marketocracy is a research company whose mission is to find the best investors in the world and then track, analyze, and evaluate their trading activity. They claim to have beaten the S&P 500 Index in 8 of the 11 quarters since inception

Wikipedia is a free multi-contributor online encyclopedia. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. Unlike a paper reference source, Wikipedia is continually updated, with the creation or updating of articles on topical events within seconds, minutes or hours, rather than months or years for printed encyclopedias.

Linux is a Unix-based operating system with shared infrastructure and resources. It was originally created starting in 1991 by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers from around the globe. Linux runs on a wide variety of hardware platforms, from huge mainframes to desktop PCs to cell phones.

Peering succeeds because it leverages self-organization. The natural self-organizing behavior of humans suggests that self-organization should be expected in our society. Self-organization can provide a platform for a decentralized, distributed, self-healing system, protecting the security of the actors in the network by limiting the scope of knowledge of the entire system held by each individual actor (Self-organization, 2008). Usually the growth of such networks is fueled by an ideology or sociological force that is adhered to or shared by all participants in the network.

Radically sharing Expanding markets

As any business model demonstrates, expanding markets create new opportunities. These opportunities are beneficial, and often require insight into the local business culture. They are also likely to require the sharing of duties among people who haven’t worked together before. In order for these relationships to work, there has to be an agreed upon comfort level between the participants.

Technology has brought us a couple of excellent examples of sharing that we (as humans) might try to replicate in our endeavor to “get radical.”

Computing power sharing allows companies to harness the processing power in a multitude of computers and combine that power to accomplish tasks that before required expensive supercomputers (Kessler, 2003). Shared computing also lets companies, or researchers, shift computing power via a network to where it's needed, cutting costs and increasing computing productivity.

Sharing bandwidth (neighbors or neighboring companies) can also keep costs down. Talk to any (honest) telecom sales representative and they’ll tell you it’s rare (like with streaming media) that all the bandwidth is needed all at one time. Those office buildings who treat bandwidth like electricity or water and pick up the tab for their average tenants have the right idea.

Content sharing is becoming more and more useful on the Internet. Many of the once-stagnant websites we mentioned previously are now dynamic because of shared content.

The sharing of scientific and medical knowledge is how both communities got to where they are. The research may go on behind closed doors, but the results are only useful when they are shared with the community. How many other communities do you know that freely share their findings?

Thinking and Acting globally

Thomas Friedman was right - The World Is Flat. The only way that today’s companies will be able to maintain a healthy balance sheet tomorrow is if they focus on staying globally competitive. That means they need to devote time to monitoring international developments. They will have to begin (or continue) tapping the global talent pool. They will have to get to know the world.

The International Labor Office provides us with Eight Dimensions of Knowledge Sharing. Contemplate these as you decide whether you are prepared to engage:

  • Create a supportive culture
  • Gather internal experience
  • Access external learning
  • Expand communication systems
  • Use creative mechanisms for drawing conclusions
  • Develop an organizational memory
  • Integrate learning into strategy and policy
  • Apply the learning

(ILO, 2007)

Examine your tradition of knowledge sharing to see how many of these dimensions you use.

Tomorrow’s successful companies will need to find ways to Think and Act globally, even if their budget and management has them stuck with legacy systems and processes. They will need to become true global companies, with no physical or regional boundaries. They will have to learn to treat the world as if it was one company, run by truly global individuals. They will need to see remote as if it were local, and realize that we don’t need to be in the same room to collaborate (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

Michael Powell, then Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said that change is inevitable. He made this statement after using Skype (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

What do you think?


Heo, D. & Yoo, Y. (2002). Knowledge Sharing in Post Merger Integration. Case Western Reserve University

ILO (International Labour Office), (2007). Results-based management. Available at

Kessler, M. (2003, January 8). High tech's latest bright idea: Shared computing. USA TODAY. Available at

Self-organization. (2008, February 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:43, February 5, 2008, from

Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. D. (2006). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. New York: Portfolio

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