How can thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of people possibly produce something meaningful when thrown under one umbrella? This is an unanswered question for a lot of companies that remain opposed to Social Business, so I thought I'd take a look at the inner-workings of collaboration with the help of the authors of The Social Organization

"Behind the vast and expanding array of social technologies and applications now available sits a metacycle of activity more or less common to all mass collaboration," write Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald, who name four basic actions/stages in The Social Organization

Contributions

Point A in our collaboration adventure is quite modest: a thought, an idea, an opinion. A simple piece of raw material gets the ball rolling. One question can spawn a dozen others, or surface more than one answer. One suggestion can help hundreds. 

In other words, a solid foundation can be built from what many still consider to be just noise. 

Feedback

Most of us don't have to wonder about the value of a contribution because worth is often measured by the amount of feedback. Options to rate and comment on contributions serve to enhance them with the collective opinion of the community.

Moreover, because people are also likely to respond to ideas that don't gel with their workflow, feedback also reveals when a suggestion is totally out of whack-- which leads us to: 

Judgment 

A community asses contributions on fairly constant basis, resulting in the status and reputation of both good contributors and bad contributors. 

"In short, through feedback that's aggregated into some sort of judgment, the community separates the worthwhile from the worthless, the useful from the useless. Through a collective evaluation process, contriubtions considered most valuable by the community will float to the surface," explain Bradley and McDonald. 

It's a good point, though I wouldn't necessarily use the word "worthless" here. I think highlighting impractical ideas can be useful in determining which areas or teams within an organization may need to be refreshed. A team meeting, perhaps? 

Bradley and McDonald close this section on a constructive note: "If a community has no transparent means to judge through voting, leader boards, or some other device, there will be no mass collaboration--just a giant unmanageable suggestion box."

Change

If you've got smart employees -- as we're sure you do -- they will take note of the most valued contributions and emulate them their own work. Most of the time this is just a natural result. After all, who sees a good idea getting lots of positive attention and chooses to ignore it and do the opposite?

You can kind of think of this pool of positive contributions as the "popular" clique that all kids try to copy, except nobody grows up to be deluded by early-onset favoritism. 

The Keys to Success

According to Bradley and McDonald, successful social organizations do what they can the promote this cycle and keep it healthy, and they don't hide the fact that it takes some real work: 

We've made the cycle look neat when, in fact, it will most often seem chaotic in practice, especially in the early stages of a community's life. 

Thoughts? I'd love it if you'd drop them in the comment box below, especially those concerning this last bit. While contributions, feedback, judgment and change won't be new to us in favor of social business and collaboration, it would be really great to hear examples of how sticking with the madness eventually turned out a manageable method.