Volunteered Wikinomics


I am reading a nice book … Wikinomics … they even have a website now. Its quite an interesting read … and, gives you a convincing view of the way things are shaping up … and, not just in the trendy hi-tech, or publishing, media, or entertainment industries … but, something as “old world” as mining … read the Barrick Challenge. I am currently reading the chapter on Peer Production. Quite an interesting reading. The key word here is collaboration, as we know by now … Another word which stands out in the discussion, but doesnt really get discussed too often is voluntary.

And, this has some interesting connotations. If a large part of the changing landscape is based on voluntary work (no, this is not in the sense of social service, but rather, the individuals also stand to gain a lot by participation in the effort … think Linux?), then this raises a few thoughts on two different levels.

1. This has massive implications on the future of business. While this means that there is a lot of value that can be realized by bringing on the power of collaboration. While this is a very nice thing, I am trying to understand the implications of this in the current organizational scenario. Lets face it … How many folks would volunteer for an open source project on-the-job? In the organizational context, there are not many volunteers. Which means, that this entire idea of collaborating to the extent of creating an operating system is probably not going to happen within the organizational context, skunkworks notwithstanding.

2. If this model sustains … There is the usual set of detractors of the model (lots of folks tout IBM‘s success with open source … but, not many who mention that IBM doesnt create open source … they create business models to make money from there … and, end of the day, IBM is a corporate, much like a lot of others). This is the part which we need to watch out for … Something I have written about earlier. What this implies is that there is a fundamental friction between the form of the organization as we see it today, and the form of the organization which is emerging. One school of thought believes that if you are able to show value to managers, they would embrace this change. After all, its a more efficient way of doing business. But, managers are not such rational beings. Which is why, this friction is here to stay, at least in the near to medium term.

Putting these two thoughts together … unless the contradictions of both these thoughts are resolved, I dont think the power of collaboration can be harnessed to a large degree within today’s organizations. Its still early days yet, and organizations do evolve, and this is where I agree with Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams is that this wave of collaboration is going to grow … and, those companies who try to resist this, would not be right there, at the forefront of business.

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