Collaboration isn’t file sharing

WorkersWe 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.

Two models

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.


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Categories: Social / Collaboration

Author:Jeanne Roué-Taylor

I'm fascinated by disruptive technology and its impact on our world. I manage sales operations for an excellent startup with a unique team of highly experienced data scientists.

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One Comment on “Collaboration isn’t file sharing”

  1. January 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    When people collaborate, almost always there is a focus.

    Unless a collaborator has a singular focus, the person is likely to be collaborating with different people re different topics at any point in time. The level of intensity of work and collaboration will vary over time unless a team is working on a project and the members are at different locations and need to collaborate daily.

    If I have 5 projects I am working on, I need to be able to plan, track and control progress toward each of these projects. Typically, there will be other people working on the same projects, performing different steps or tasks. And, supervisors will want to be able to track workload across all projects and level and balance the workload.

    At any step or task I may need/want to collaborate and the form of collaboration may vary from a phone call, instant message, e-mail, live video session, document exchange. In the normal course of events, I will want a record of these interactions to be at each project.

    So, here we get to the notion of “Case”.

    The key IMO is to facilitate collaboration at Cases, which, really are nothing more than “buckets” where you can store/find data relating to “interventions” and view the results of searches in reverse chronological order, with filtering.

    In healthcare, for example, it is not appropriate to have information relating to individual patients all over the place. The best approach is to consolidate and protect the information at the Patient EMR (or Case).

    Researchers working on topics that are not related to any individual patient can define Cases that reflect a particular non-patient focus.

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