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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
- Stowe Boyd
CMSwire asked me to participate in the January topic of the future of collaboration, and in my usual fashion, I suggested it was time to move past collaboration to cooperation:
It’s the year 2014, and we are trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.
As we move into a new way of work — one based on more fluid and looser connections, grounded in freethinking, humanist and scientific approaches to the social contract — it’s becoming clear that the traditional model of ‘collaboration tools’ is based around outmoded structures of control rather than the shape of our work today, or the nature of networked sociality. We need a different take on the tools we are using to get work done, one based on open cooperation at the core of our work instead of closed collaboration running alongside it.
Perhaps most important is one fact that isn’t immediately obvious when looking at collaboration tools: their tool architecture features were devised when using such tools was an occasional activity, like reading and writing email. However, in today’s economy, people are always on, and our work tools sit at the center of our work, where we are always engaged. Paradoxically, it is this place — where we see the greatest flow of messages and information — that comes to feel like the “still point of a turning world,” to borrow from T.S. Eliot.
In recent years, enterprise social networks have been developed that attempt to fuse the cooperative following and interaction a la Twitter with the collaborative controls of older work tools, and they haven’t led to some new explosion of productivity. And I think that is because they fail to take into account the shape of our work today, or the nature of networked sociality. A different take on social tools is needed, one based more on open cooperation at the core of our work instead of closed collaboration running alongside our work.
Go read the whole thing.
William McKnight, president 3M, 1948
The McKnight Principles are astonishingly contemporary, embodying the laissez-faire principles that animate the cooperative, fast-and-loose organization that I believe will dominate in the postnormal future.
As I wrote the other day,
The coming cooperative organization is scary, because it places ambiguity and uncertainty at the center of organization dynamics. It is based on not knowing exactly what to do, in a world increasingly difficult to read. It values experimentation over execution, places agility above process, and puts learning ahead of knowing. It asks more questions than it can answer, and it may not even know how to answer them.
Sol Lipman, Bob Gurwin
The obsessive fixation on productivity that seems to dominate social tools in the business context can be ramped down by balancing the utility of coordinating cowork with the aspirational side of cooperation.
We are doing our work as an outgrowth of our deepest drives: to find meaning and purpose through mastery of our craft and connection with those we respect. The files and tasks and comment threads are artifacts, props, like the backdrops and fake swords at the opera, or the punctuation marks in a great work of fiction. The experience is what matters, not the gizmos.
Yes, Sol is right. We need to embrace — or actually create — a new form of community, one that is undergirded by our propensity for cooperation, and social tools that move past the rigidity and inflexibility of 20th Century ‘collaboration’. We need cooperative tools, where human connection and Maslow’s transpersonal — putting the safety, strivings, and happiness of others first — is placed at the center of our ethos. As Maslow said,
The fully developed (and very fortunate) human being working under the best conditions tends to be motivated by values which transcend himself.
This is the identity that I think Sol is talking about.
Adam Smith, 1766
Richard Sennett, Together
Matt McAlister makes a distinction between leading and managing in this examination of Chinese motorcycle supply chain dynamics:
Matt McAlister, Leadership lessons from China
John Seely Brown and John Hagel examine how a network of motorcycle parts assemblers in China break traditional centralized management tactics to optimize for innovation in a paper called “Innovation blowback: Disruptive management practices from Asia.”
In the Chinese city Chongquing a supplier-driven network of parts developers work together under the loose guidance of their customers rather than under the orders of assemply-line management:
In contrast to more traditional, top-down approaches, the assemblers succeed not by preparing detailed design drawings of components and subsystems for their suppliers but by defining only a product’s key modules in rough design blueprints and specifying broad performance parameters, such as weight and size. The suppliers take collective responsibility for the detailed design of components and subsystems. Since they are free to improvise within broad limits, they have rapidly cut their costs and improved the quality of their products.
As a manager, when you define what is to be done and how it is to be done, then you are setting the exact expectation of what is to be delivered. There is no room for exceeding expectations, only for failing to meet expectations. Your best-case scenario is that you will get what you asked for.
Peter Miller, The Smart Swarm