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by Jay Fienberg

What does collaboration mean? Are you free to do it?

posted: Feb 5, 2004 8:01:59 PM

I started to post this as a comment to Eugene Kim's OCSI Meeting Synopsis post, but my comment got too long winded and I thought it would go better here.

(Note: see for widely differing definitions of "collaboration".)

At my day job, the way most people talk about collaboration suggests to me something like "a social skill involving working together with two or more persons".

But, at the same time, the specific collaboration system / tools initiative my team at work is developing defines collaboration more like "interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own".

I think there is a big difference in how people perceive the degree of innovation that collaboration implies. In other words, some people see collaboration as a way to ensure that status quo organizational processes are preserved, and others see it as a way to ensure the status quo processes will be disrupted, at least when they need to be.

I tend to see collaboration as what is happening when boundaries to innovation are removed. But, I think others see collaboration as a status quo preserving technique to undermine disruptive individualism—basically in the realm of organizational design: a form of control, really.

In general, I think a lot of the collaboration tools used in the enterprise are designed to control collaboration. And, collaboration software makers, I think, sell to that: use our tools and you will be able to collaborate and keep that collaboration under organizational control. Don't want that collaboration out of control, no siree!

What is interesting, I think, is what happens when collaboration becomes free. What happens when you set people free to collaborate?

Please note: views expressed here, as always, are completely my own and do reflect those of any company, real or implied, especially any, living or dead, that might be, in thought, word or deed, my actual or fictitious, past, present or future employer.

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