Collaboration is a word that gets used in the business world a lot. We want people to share their thoughts, ideas, and musings in real time in the hopes that we can achieve accelerated performance or innovation. Way before technology came along, people collaborated in person, or maybe even slowly through the mail, so this concept is nothing new. What is fresh are the technology tools the Internet has spawned that help us all collaborate much faster, better and cheaper.
The fact that the Internet connects people instantly, and for free, across the globe, improved the potential of the word collaboration. Yet in many ways, potential is where we still sit. I think we collaborate every day without really trying in that we search the Web for information provided by others who seek to help by providing something to the collective. In that way, we are collaborating on a grand and effective scale. Crowdsourcing is more progressive example of active collaboration in that people choose to chase bounties, or simply help an anonymous user to complete some task like creating a logo, or doing research, or solving a business problem. Yet there is still so much more potential for reaching out to others using the Web to help us with all the many tasks we have in our lives.
Organizations are especially backwards when it comes to collaboration. They are for the most part stuck in an old paradigm where employees must only collaborate with each other, and in most cases, only with those who can be face to face. They talk of virtual teams yet have not developed any processes for assembling them effectively, nor managing them in any way differently than “in person” teams. Think about the progress that could be made with project management if organizations would learn to effectively use the Tuckman model of team development (forming, storming, norming, performing, reforming) and apply it to forming teams of experts regardless of their current employment with the company, or their geography.
We have the technology tools all around us. There are online project management systems, whiteboarding platforms, shared idea harvesting mind maps, etc. The problem is not a lack of tools and capabilities. It is simply a difficulty we have with breaking old paradigms. We still seek to collaborate with those in our clique, or those chosen for us, instead of collaborating with the best options on the Web. We put more weight on current relationships than on skills. We have all the ability to leverage crowd accelerated innovation now, yet we still try to be creative on our own. Worse than this, we have the potential to have crowd accelerated performance levels in the tasks we do, yet most people are not even aware of the exploding amount of high quality crowdsourcing sites available to us.
Think of this… Fiber optics – light through tubes, connects us all on the infrastructure that is the Internet. Much like the paths that neurons take in our own brains, fiber optics connect two billion minds, and the data they have archived, around the world. Think of the distance ideas go on the Web versus the inches they go across your brain. I can search for a piece of the information puzzle I am trying to solve and instantly find it in China. I can ask for help with designing a new graphic and instantly have hundreds of designers from around the world begin helping on the project. When thought of this way, it is hard not admit that we are a few steps down the road in creating the human Hive Mind – the uber version of collaboration. It is a whole additional blog post to kick around whether the Hive Mind will be good or bad for the human race, but the fact is we are headed toward it.
The intriguing thing to me is that our ability to create the infrastructure to support the Hive Mind is clearly in front of most peoples awareness as to reality that we have the beginnings of it now. And those of us that exploit the potential early will be able to prosper from it. As I write my latest book Did God Invent the Internet, I can’t help wonder if this all part of a much bigger plan to bring us together – to collaborate – an a scale we don’t really see at the moment…