We posed a question on LinkedIn last week, “Is LinkedIn good for collaboration?” One of the answers caught us by surprise, “LinkedIn really isn’t good for collaboration because you can’t share files.”
Who said file sharing was collaboration? In today’s cloud storage era and ubiquitous linking, why would we care about file sharing or storage? Isn’t collaboration more about bringing people together to distill or expand on an idea? Maybe we really need to take a look at what collaboration really means. And what it means today.
The more you dig into the topic, the more a pattern emerges that is very different than the expectation: Collaboration is the opposite of the institution. If that statement is true, it the makes today’s plan to, “…get the department to collaborate” into a silly sentence. Collaboration by its new nature, aided by software that connects enormous numbers of people who can give as little or as much as they have to contribute. It lacks defined boundaries and is a different model from the stratified workforce.
The institution is the opposite. An institution is an organization brought together to execute a plan. It is organized around a hierarchy that allows incremental work to be funneled to higher levels where effort is merged into ever larger chunks of value. It is a value factory where contribution is defined and measured. There are strong performers and weak in every organization, and we just work with that, knowing a few will provide most of the value. It is called the 80/20 rule and seems inescapable.
Why give up 20% of the value?
What’s really amazing is that Clay Shirky talked about this back in 2005. He saw collaboration tools as the way to harness 100% of a group’s value and a way to get out of the 80/20 trap. Rather than organize a fixed group to perform fixed work, true collaboration in Shirky’s world is, “Let’s coordinate the group effort and let’s deal with it as we go. We don’t have to take on the problems of deciding in advance what to do.” It can also mean keeping the definition of “group” open.
It’s important to look back at this 8-year-old video because Shirky was laying the foundation for what we today call “social media.” The problem comes from the original question that prompted this article. People take a new concept and apply an old construct like file sharing rather than seeing what it really is. That puts limits on how we take advantage of change and affects our place in the new order. As Shirky says, “Since we can see it in advance and know it’s coming, my argument is we might as well get good at it.“