Collective Wisdom

Collective Wisdom

The thinking goes if two heads are better than one imagine the power of many minds collaborating. The knowledge is there for unleashing and so are the tools, but the obstacles include the line-up of usual suspects: silos, aversion to change, mistrust, corporate vision and culture

Effective collaboration should be about innovation, employee empowerment and the achieving of vastly improved services through the drawing on of what James Surowiecki calls The Wisdom of Crowds. Aggregating the collective knowledge of a team can lead to new and better ways of operating because on the whole, large groups - comprising individuals with their myriad individual perspectives, knowledge and experience - do better than small ones at solving problems, anticipating future challenges and fostering innovation.

You can pull out every stop to draw the very best available minds together, but that does not mean they will want to talk to each other

As CIO magazine noted in March, the best ideas for your business might come from someone who doesn't even work for you. In his newest book, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, author and consultant Don Tapscott, along with co-author Anthony D Williams, forecasts that the pervasiveness of the Internet will usher in an era where companies will lower their proprietary barriers and collaborate to foster greater innovation. As people employ instant messaging (IM), blogs, wikis and other Web-based applications to communicate and develop ideas, Tapscott believes the Internet will become a platform on which companies will be forced to seek external talent in order to solve their greatest challenges.

However, as even the most successful leaders in business collaboration will tell you, if the decision-making environment is hostile to the crowd, the best suite of collaborative technologies in the world will not make the collaboration work. It seems willingness to collaborate is, as much as anything, a state of mind: You can pull out every stop to draw the very best available minds together, but that does not mean they will want to talk to each other.

It is all very well for business to be repeatedly told that this is the era for drawing ideas from a wider gene pool and for empowering workers, but achieving effective collaboration can be much harder than it looks. It can be muddled, messy, maddening and mind-numbing, and raise concerns about security, privacy and intellectual property.

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