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augustus 13, 2012

The end of the 'I' age

This weekend two completely seperate things captured my thoughts and formed a logical combination. I started reading Michael Sampson's brilliant 2nd edition of User Adoption Strategies shifting second wave people to new collaboration technologies. There is a piece in there where he speaks about document co-authoring which I have always experienced to be the hardest of social collaboration tools to be adopted by users. And I watched a dutch tv program called Zomergasten (Summerguests) where the guest of the evening was Lidewij Edelkoort and she briefly spoke about the end of the 'I' age and showed us a beautiful crowd-sourcing project.

Wikis require a different work practice and culture

Usually there are roadblocks to adoption of social software. I am currently reading Michael Sampson's brilliant 2nd edition of User Adoption Strategies shifting second wave people to new collaboration technologies, which deals with these roadblocks among other things.

He is talking about the roadblocks to adoption and as an example he speaks of collaborating in a wiki. Of all the components (tools) that are available to users for collaboration, my experience is that wikis are very hard to grasp for many users. Part of that may be because they're stuck in 20th century ways of working with documents and folders (I wrote an article on that in Dutch). But part of the 'wiki adoption problem' has to do with other factors.

Many times the roadblock to collaborate in a wiki is exactly that what is also the benefit! Wikis are a way of co-authoring documents. Instead of sending around Word documents by email to collaborate, colleagues collaborate in an online web-based document. Each member can work on their own wiki page and later have them grouped together as a whole through linking. Using wikis this way is not that different from creating Word documents, apart from the emailing around. But the true power of a wiki lies in the possibilities to really collaborate on the same wiki page by directly editing the content of the page or by adding comments to it. So a wiki requires members to change their work practice.

Wikis are a different work practice from what most people are used to. And the different work practice requires some cultural change: from individual work to openness and transparency. When everybody is creating at the same time! work is done openly instead of individuals working privately until ready to share their work. There has to be a culture of willigness and trust for people to see eachothers work and to contribute to it so that it may grow to a next level. When everybody is collaborating in a wiki it is also unclear who is the owner. Especially in organisations where ownership is important, the openness of a wiki can be a roadblock.

Trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort at Summerguests

Lidewij Edelkoort is one of the world’s most renowned trend forecasters and she was the guest of the evening at a dutch tv program called Zomergasten (Summerguests). Each year this show has a new host who interviews thought leaders from scientific, artistic or business areas for 3 hours straight. The one-on-one interview is broadcasted live from a studio. The audience is taken on a journey through their life and thoughts through a combination of conversation and a series of videos (tv series, documentaries, art projects, interviews or film fragments) that were picked beforehand by the person being interviewed.

The 'I' age is over

Almost at the end of the inspiring evening (at 2:50) she said something that struck me. Something that means a lot for the future of social collaboration. Freely translated she said this:
"The 'I' age is now over. The whole idea of individualism is already gone. A lot of big companies still believe in individualism.... It is over now. We are reconsidering. People want to do things together, create things together, solve things together. National, regional, international, global, all mixed. That's a fact, you can prove that. But ofcourse you can also feel that. That it is about a group effort. That collaborating in a group makes you less lonely. The working of a familiy: the family business is coming back. That is what people are thinking, saying and feeling now."

From individualism to harnessing the corporate brain

This 'collaborative age' is exactly what we want with social collaboration. Social software for the enterprise is all about unleashing the collective power of employees through collaboration. The 20th century type of working is done. The 21st century business needs to harness the 'corporate brain' to be more agile, nimble and responsive. Collaborating in a wiki is all about unleashing the collective power of employees.

So would that mean that this new collaborative age will make the cultural change easier? It seems so, that if businesses and it's employees are changing their culture it will be a lot easier to change their work practice. If it is not so much about the individual anymore, aspects as ownership and openness will become the common values in the collaborative age. And the goal for any type of collaboration will inevitably be reached by a group rather than an individual.

A communal work to create a living portrait

Towards the end of the show Summerguests, Lidewij shared the Johnny Cash project, which to me is the ultimate display of openness and collaboration and how a collective effort can surpass the individual components. The Johnny Cash Project is an interactive website where participants draw their own portrait of Johnny Cash to be integrated into a collective whole. As people all over the world contribute a drawing to become a part of the new music video for the song “Ain’t No Grave” the project will continue to evolve and grow, one frame at a time.

Be sure to watch the whole (yes almost 6 minutes) video which starts with an explanation of the project and shows contributers and finishes with the music video.

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