Walk into a typical office less than a century ago and one would expect to see long rows of desks with typists clicking away from nine to five all under managerial ethos that borrowed heavily from the military’s command and control structure. But if an army marching in lockstep to tightly arranged military music is a metaphor or yesterday’s workplace, the workplace of the future will be more like a jazz ensemble, where musicians improvise creatively around an agreed key melody and tempo.
Mass collaboration is already transforming the way goods and services are rated and it is becoming a growing force in the workplace.
Much of this is due to a younger generation of workers that embraces new web-based tools in a way that often confound older generations but promises real advantages for companies that adapt their style of working. Smart first understand that harnessing mass collaboration in the workplace is about more than the company blog. They’re getting a jumpstart on the Wiki workplace by leveraging the same brand of self organization that powers some of the web’s most exciting entities.
After all, some 16,000 people are actively been producing Wikipedia. Over a hundred million people collaborate on You Tube. Thousands of programmers contribute to the Linux operating system. While 140,000 independent developers build applications and businesses on Amazon. If these large scale collaborations can transform the marketplace, surely they can revolutionize the workplace too.
One company that understands this is IBM. In September 2006, IBM invited employees from more than 160 countries along with clients, business partners and even family members to join in a massive brainstorming session it called the Innovation Jam. Over the course of two 72 hour session IBM engaged over 100,000 participants in a series of moderated online discussions. Their combined insights surfaced break through innovation that IBM employees expect will transform industries, improve human health and help protect the environment over the coming decades. CEO Sam believes so strongly in the concept that he is committed up to $100 million to develop the ideas with the most social and economic potential.
Meanwhile at Google, employees are required to dedicate 20% of their time to personal projects – projects that interest employees but needn’t slot neatly into Google’s predefined roadmaps. The company tracks these pet projects. Virtually all the product ideas in Google come from the 20% of the time employee work on their own projects.
Where could this go next? Why not try ‘wikifying’ the sales playbook. Sales people in the field have the most knowledge about what does and does not work with customers. Capturing these insights in a wiki would create a living repository of sales knowledge that’s updated on a daily basis.
Loosening organizational hierarchies and giving more power to employees can lead to faster innovation, lower cost structures, greater agility, improved responsiveness to customers, and more authenticity and respect in the marketplace. But companies will have to work hard to realize these advantages. Most companies are led by baby-boomers – a generation who grew up using typewriters, telephones, commuter cars and old styles of collaboration, and will have a difficult time changing its work routine. Technology may open doors, but it can’t force people to walk through them.
Smart firms are getting a jumpstart on the Wiki workplace by leveraging the same brand of self organization that powers some of the web’s most exciting entities.
Mass collaboration is revolutionizing the corporation, the economy and nearly every aspect of management. Today, Web enabled teams numbering in the thousands or even millions are creating encyclopedias, jetliners, operating systems, and many other things that used to be produced by conventional firms. New business that will empower the prepared firm and destroy those that fails to adjust.