Book Review: The Collaborative Organization

Posted · Add Comment

The Collaborative Organization book coverI recently finished reviewing The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Emerging Social & Collaborative Tools by Jacob Morgan. As I read it, I kept thinking about the following idea: Emerging social networks and collaboration tools are the digital water cooler in the virtual office.

The author states early in the book that collaboration isn’t new. If anything, collaboration has been around since… well, since there was more than one person who needed help pushing a boulder across the threshold of the cave. What is new is the technology that enables a digital form of collaboration that can feed into everything from co-creation of products, new innovations, customer collaboration, social innovation, and more.

So much more that if your organization has not geared up to use these emerging social and collaboration tools, you will find your organizational IQ falling and your ability to compete diminishing in a hypercompetitve global marketplace in which customer collaboration and co-creation have become Standard Operating Procedure.

According to Jacob Morgan, there are four critical drivers that make modern digital technological collaboration more important to your business than ever before:

  • Knowledge sharing and transfer
  • New opportunities and ideation
  • Thinking out loud
  • Collective intelligence and memory

Of the four, guess which one jumped off the pages for me as the hallmark of a truly modern collaborative organization? I’ll tell you in a minute…

Most of us who have worked in an organization have experienced sharing and transferring knowledge. We’ve known for a long time that there are two types of information that are shared in an organization: formal and informal. Formal is characterized by the fact that it is explicit and captured. Written, recorded, taped, filmed, emailed, copied, powerpointed, one way or another, it is captured and made explicit for others to review.

Informal knowledge is implicit; it flies about like memes on wings, spoken in short conversations. It used to be the more innovative and creative type of information. The one that could actually help a company move forward, be more competitive, increase efficiency and improve productivity. It was also harder to capture in order to make it explicit.

Now, thanks to a variety of social networking platforms, implicit knowledge sharing and transfer is simple and easy. You learn something, you share it, and other people learn it and even improve it if they can. Knowledge, explicit and implicit, flows through the corporate mind. We often pass around new and interesting opportunities and ideas. I’ve been doing this in organizations for years.

Again, it’s the new technology that creates communities of learners and communities of practice that facilitate this like never before. One of the nicer elements of the new sharing technology is that you can be a quiet introvert and still get your ideas — and your thoughts about other people’s ideas — out there. The technology opens the whole community and creates a group mind unlike other forums in the past.

As for collective intelligence — and what I call “tribal” memory, the tribe in this case being the organization — Morgan sums it up best:

Lew Platt, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, once said, ‘If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.’ Collective intelligence refers to the ability of an organization to use the wisdom of its employees to make business decisions.

Being able to leverage the knowledge of a collective, to co-create, to have open and continuous collaborations, is always more accurate and far more powerful than leveraging the knowledge of just a few. In a time when the shelf life of knowledge has decreased from years to months, no one has the time to become The Expert anymore, the cycles of learning, forgetting, relearning happen too fast. The group has now become the expert.

So, the answer to which of the four drivers surprised me the most? Thinking out loud. Listen as the author thinks out loud about thinking out loud:

One of the ways people learn from themselves and from others is by thinking out loud. This allows coworkers and colleagues to see the thought process around how certain decisions are made within organizations. I know many of us have that little internal voice we hear when working on something, especially if it’s an exciting project. I’m sure many of you often talk to yourselves out loud. You are not the only one who can benefit from that little voice inside your head. I guarantee that you have several colleagues who could learn from you by tapping into your thought process, and you could learn from them. For example, let’s say you want to develop a business model for something you are working on. You can share your thought processes publicly as you begin to crank out ideas. Other employees will then be able to provide you with feedback and their own ideas, which you may be able to incorporate into your model. This ability to think out loud was never possible before.

It’s also the newest one on my list of technologies for social innovation, co-creation, and collaboration. And you can even do it when you’re in the library.

Source: The Collaborative Organization, Jacob Morgan, 06/05/12