Collaboration is not just a word, or tool, or outcome. It is a value system, a mindset that we choose to live and work by. It determines whether we see ourselves as the center of our universe, around which everything revolves, or whether We the People are the universe, an interdependent, networked ecosystem.
I’m intrigued, amused even, by the expression “the future isn’t what it used to be” coined by French poet Paul Valery to describe European pessimism after World War I. Understandably, many found it hard to envision a future as they looked out over the devastation of their past. In 2008, journalist Joel Garreau linked what he considered “a decline in American willingness to think hard about the future” with feeling overwhelmed by the pace of technological change. He quoted Danny Hillis,
I don't think people try to imagine the year 2050 the way we imagined 2001 in 1960. Because they can't imagine it. Because technology is happening so fast, we can't extrapolate."
Collaboration is mitigating the technologically-accelerated transformation of our world by making it seem more familiar, more manageable, like a return to the tent-pegs of our past that we hold dear. If hope is the assured expectation of things not beheld (the aspirational aspect of technology and change), then collaboration is its entourage, the devout disciples that guarantee its arrival, interpretation and acceptance into our culture. Collaboration assures we are no longer in isolation, left to ponder our future by ourselves. Together we build and rebuild, together we make sense of things, together we decide what to take and what to leave behind. Together, we are not overwhelmed, because Collaboration is the Mother of Intervention of our time.
I see three major forces in The Collaborative Intervention: the Future of Work, the Collaborative Economy and Global Solutions Networks. Their tenets transcend geography, generation, gender and any other constructs that divide us. They are about how we co-exist, and co-innovate, on the planet as human beings.
The Future of Work
Stowe Boyd explored the Future of Work in his article, “The Fall of Collaboration, The Rise of Cooperation.” Although I disagree with his claim that we should retire the term collaboration, I do agree with his thesis that we are trying to do today's jobs with yesterday's tools. But while Stowe examines collaboration primarily through the lens of tool architecture “based around outmoded structures of control rather than the shape of our work today,” my interest lies with how these traditional models and mindsets continue to define and diminish (intentionally or not) the social business transformation now in its 10 year.
As a social business practitioner, I believed in the potential of collaborative platforms and social communities to create value in the workplace. I believed that when executives invested in social technologies it meant they understood what they were designed to disrupt. I believed they were part of a visionary shift in leadership, moving from hierarchies to wirearchies, from command and control to distributed decision-making, from C-suite preferentiality to the elevation of the employee as the most valued and valuable enterprise asset. I’m here to tell you that no one at the top is giving up his or her purchase any time soon.
If ever the future of collaboration was unevenly distributed, it’s in the Enterprise 2.0 space. Although many companies have achieved positive outcomes in productivity, sales enablement, employee engagement, corporate communications, even process optimization, through these collaborative technologies, they have not succeeded in ushering in a New Order of Things. We need new mindsets and models of leadership, or "Leanership" (to use Stowe’s term) to achieve the workplace transformation we had envisioned. Not surprisingly, tech and start-up companies like Asana, Xiaomi, Dropbox, Airbnb, and FitBit, are leading the lean, mean, business machine charge. To them, “collaboration” is intrinsic and inalienable, and just like the word “social” in social business, it’s irrelevant, because it’s just the way they do business.
The Collaborative Economy
When Lucy Shea of UK firm Futerra used the term “swishing” in 2000 to describe ad hoc clothes swapping between friends, she may not have envisioned the concept extending to highly organized, world-wide exchanges of goods and services between complete strangers. Today, the Collaborative Economy has reached its “swishing point” and is considered one of the Top 5 Trends to Watch in 2014. Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Crowd Companies, describes the Collaborative Economy as “the next phase of social business.” The Collaborative Economy, predicated on trust between people, sharing rather than owning resources, distributed power and sustainability, allows us to believe the world is rotating again on a familiar and precious axis, even if the technologies powering it (like Bitcoin, 3-D printing, and geo-location) make us slightly nervous.