Bottom-up collaboration the way of the future

The way chairman of nGenera Insight Don Tapscott sees it, new forms of bottom-up collaboration now rival the hierarchical organization in its capacity to create information-based products and services and, in some cases, to solve the critical challenges facing the world. nGenera Insight is a research and consulting company.

The world, said Tapscott at an event in Asia eariler this year, is becoming more transparent - from customers with unprecedented information about the true value of products and services to employees with access to previously unthinkable knowledge about their firm's strategy, management, and challenges.

Companies and other organizations are being forced to act with integrity, not just by regulators and institutional shareholders, but also because of the forces of this complex networked age, in particular transparency.

Telecom Asia: Many organizations are tapping new media and net tools, such as Facebook, to achieve their goals. What strategies should they consider? 

Don Tapscott: In the book Wikinomics, which I co-authored with Anthony D. Williams, we discuss the fundamental change that is occurring in the way companies orchestrate capability to innovate and create value. Smart multi-billion-dollar firms recognize that innovation often begins at the fringes. 

Increasingly, these hierarchical enterprises are turning to collaborative business models where masses of consumers, employees, suppliers, business partners, and even competitors co-create value in the absence of direct managerial control. This is happening because of the declining cost of collaborating brought about by digital technologies.

Describe the future workplace.

If an army marching in lockstep to tightly arranged military music is a metaphor for 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. 

Employees are developing their own self-organized interconnections and forming cross-functional teams capable of interacting as a global, real-time workforce. 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.

Net Generation employees - those under the age of 30 - are ideally suited for today's new corporation. They are savvy, confident, upbeat, open-minded, creative and independent, which makes them a challenge to manage. To meet their demands for more learning opportunities and responsibility ownership, instant feedback, greater work/life balance and stronger workplace relationships, companies must alter their culture and management approaches, while continuing to respect the needs of older employees. Properly cultivated, this generation's attributes will be a critical source of innovation and competitive advantage to the organization.
What are some of the principles of mass collaboration that organizations should consider to succeed and create more value and compete?

Collaboration used to conjure up images of people working together happily and productively. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said it best: "When you say collaboration,' the average 45-year-old thinks they know what you're talking about - teams sitting down, having a nice conversation with nice objectives and a nice attitude. That's what collaboration means to most people."

But for Google and many other companies, collaboration is now changing from a motherhood term to a profoundly new approach to orchestrating capability to innovate, create goods and services and solve problems. You could say collaborative innovation is now an essential skill, as or more important than budgeting, R&D and planning. 

Companies are realizing that the collective knowledge, capability, and resources embodied within broad horizontal networks of participants can accomplish much more than one organization can acting alone.

What are some tips for collaboration success?

Hierarchies will not disappear from the economy in the foreseeable future. But new forms of bottom-up collaboration now rival the hierarchical organization in its capacity to create information-based products and services. Organizations that make their boundaries porous to external ideas and human capital outperform those that rely solely on their internal resources and capabilities and outmoded ways of working.

This is why for a growing number of organizations, openness is not simply an obligation to report information to an external party like a regulator or an institutional investor; it's a new competitive force and an essential precondition for building productive relationships with potential collaborators.

Sharing is another new principle for success. Sharing is about releasing or handing over of assets - by placing them in "the commons" for others to use or by sharing them with interested users under agreements that may generate license revenue. Firms in electronics, biotechnology and other fields find that maintaining and defending a strict proprietary system of intellectual property often cripples their ability to create value. So, smart firms treat intellectual property like a mutual fund - they manage a balanced portfolio of IP assets; some protected and some shared.
How can enterprises harness the talents of the Generation-Y?

To win the war for talent, companies will have to rethink the way they handle employees, from the first contact to after they leave the company. The old HR model - recruit, train, supervise and retain - should be shelved. Instead, companies should adopt a new model - initiate, engage, collaborate and evolve. 

Companies have many ways to make themselves more attractive to a potential N-Gen employee: they can customize job descriptions, as Deloitte does; use game-based training to train employees for short-term projects; keep in touch with alumnae, the former employees, to find new people and get new ideas. 

Old-style job interviews are out. Two-way dialogues are the way to hire. And the first three months is a time when the employee is evaluating the company, not the other way round. I call it Talent 2.0. Here are some examples.

Re-think authority. Be a good leader (e.g., coach, mentor, facilitator, enabler), but understand that in some areas, you will be the student and the Net Gen employee will be the teacher. Net-Geners need plenty of feedback, but recognition must be authentic. False praise doesn't work.

Re-think recruitment; initiate relationships. Don't waste money on advertising for talent. Use social networks based on trust to influence young people about your company.

Re-think training; engage for lifelong learning. Rather than traditional training programs that are separate from work, look to strengthen the learning component of all jobs. To achieve this, encourage employees to blog.

Instead of banning Facebook or other social networks, enterprises must figure out how to harness them. New tools like wikis, blogs, social networks, jams, telepresence, tags, collaborative filtering, RSS feeds can be the heart of the new high performance workplace, he stressed.

Rethink management processes and design jobs and work for collaboration. Give the Net-Geners a chance to put collaborative tools to good use by joining one of the company's volunteering efforts.