Install Theme

Posts tagged with ‘cooperation’

Collaboration is where individuals work socially toward a shared goal. Cooperation is where individuals work toward personal goals, while at the same time working with others toward common ends.

- Stowe Boyd

The worse the economic situation, the more cooperative the relationship between political parties. In “normal” times, parties in the Eurozone countries interacted mostly in a conflictual manner. But as economic growth collapsed towards the end of the decade, the relationships between parties in countries most affected by the economic crisis became overwhelmingly cooperative, that is they moved closer together in the latent network space. This finding suggests that just like war or terrorist attacks, a severe economic crisis can lead to a suspension of the regular pattern of political interaction.

The Fall of Collaboration, The Rise of Cooperation - 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.

As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.

Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.

Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.

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.

How many business relationships are soured because we don’t understand each other as PEOPLE? All the business collaboration tools are focused on “productivity” and “file sharing.” What’s more important - a powerpoint or a picture of your cute kid? Or that mountain biking trip you took last weekend? Or an open invitation to lunch? What gets to the heart of collaboration - the business objects or the social objects?

We live in a world where the hours and places we work - even the collaborators we engage are abstracts of what we recently considered normal. In order to succeed, we’ll have to embrace a new form community, a closeness bred by social tools that are truly social - not masking themselves as collaborative enterprise tools. It’s time to bring your identity to work and feel good about it.

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.

In the collaborative business, people affiliate with coworkers around shared business culture and an approved strategic plan to which they subordinate their personal aims. But in a cooperative business, people affiliate with coworkers around a shared business ethos, and each is pursuing their own personal aims to which they subordinate business strategy. So, cooperatives are first and foremost organized around cooperation as a set of principles that circumscribe the nature of loose connection, while collaboratives are organized around belonging to a collective, based on tight connection. Loose, laissez-faire rules like ‘First, do no harm’, ‘Do unto others’, and ‘Hear everyone’s opinion before binding commitments’ are the sort of rules (unsurprisingly) that define the ethos of cooperative work, and which come before the needs and ends of any specific project.
When the mind is employed about a variety of objects it is some how expanded and enlarged.

Adam Smith, 1766

We are losing the skills of cooperation needed to make a complex society work.

Richard Sennett, Together

Cooperative Innovation Trumps Collaborative Innovation

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.

From honeybee swarms we’ve learned that groups can reliably make good decisions in a timely matter as long as they seek diversity of knowledge. By studying termite mounds we’ve seen how even small contributions to a shared project can create something useful. Finally, flocks of starlings have shown us how, without direction from a single leader, members of a group can coordinate their behavior with amazing precision simply by paying attention to their nearest neighbor.

Peter Miller, The Smart Swarm