Bottom-up collaboration

Emily Chia
22 Nov 2010

The way chairman of nGenera Insight Don Tapscott sees it, new forms of bottom-up collaboration now rival the hierarchical organization in its capacity to create information-based products and services and, in some cases, to solve the critical challenges facing the world. nGenera Insight is a research and consulting company.

The world, said Tapscott at an event in Asia eariler this year, is becoming more transparent - from customers with unprecedented information about the true value of products and services to employees with access to previously unthinkable knowledge about their firm's strategy, management, and challenges.

Companies and other organizations are being forced to act with integrity, not just by regulators and institutional shareholders, but also because of the forces of this complex networked age, in particular transparency.

Telecom Asia: Many organizations are tapping new media and net tools, such as Facebook, to achieve their goals. What strategies should they consider?

Don Tapscott: In the book Wikinomics, which I co-authored with Anthony D. Williams, we discuss the fundamental change that is occurring in the way companies orchestrate capability to innovate and create value. Smart multi-billion-dollar firms recognize that innovation often begins at the fringes.

Increasingly, these hierarchical enterprises are turning to collaborative business models where masses of consumers, employees, suppliers, business partners, and even competitors co-create value in the absence of direct managerial control. This is happening because of the declining cost of collaborating brought about by digital technologies.

Describe the future workplace.

If an army marching in lockstep to tightly arranged military music is a metaphor for yesterday's workplace, the workplace of the future will be more like a jazz ensemble - where musicians improvise creatively around an agreed key, melody and tempo.

Employees are developing their own self-organized interconnections and forming cross-functional teams capable of interacting as a global, real-time workforce. Loosening organizational hierarchies and giving more power to employees can lead to faster innovation, lower cost structures, greater agility, improved responsiveness to customers, and more authenticity and respect in the marketplace.

Net Generation employees - those under the age of 30 - are ideally suited for today's new corporation. They are savvy, confident, upbeat, open-minded, creative and independent, which makes them a challenge to manage. To meet their demands for more learning opportunities and responsibility ownership, instant feedback, greater work/life balance and stronger workplace relationships, companies must alter their culture and management approaches, while continuing to respect the needs of older employees. Properly cultivated, this generation's attributes will be a critical source of innovation and competitive advantage to the organization.

What are some of the principles of mass collaboration that organizations should consider to succeed and create more value and compete?

Collaboration used to conjure up images of people working together happily and productively. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said it best: "When you say collaboration,' the average 45-year-old thinks they know what you're talking about - teams sitting down, having a nice conversation with nice objectives and a nice attitude. That's what collaboration means to most people."

But for Google and many other companies, collaboration is now changing from a motherhood term to a profoundly new approach to orchestrating capability to innovate, create goods and services and solve problems. You could say collaborative innovation is now an essential skill, as or more important than budgeting, R&D and planning.

Companies are realizing that the collective knowledge, capability, and resources embodied within broad horizontal networks of participants can accomplish much more than one organization can acting alone.

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