I’m currently reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).
This blog entry contains: (1) key insights/quotes from the book, that I follow up with (2) key questions of my own and (3) a request for participation in an upcoming research initiative.
“Due to deep changes in technology, demographics, business, the economy, and the world, we are entering a new age where people participate in the economy like never before. This new participation has reached a tipping point where new forms of mass collaboration are changing how goods and services are invented, produced, marketed, and distributed on a global basis. This change represents far-reaching opportunities for every company and for every person who gets connected.” (p. 10)
“In an age where mass collaboration can reshape an industry overnight, the old hierarchical ways of organizing work and innovations do not afford the level of agility, creativity, and connectivity that companies require to remain competitive in today’s environment.” (p. 31)
Tapscott & Williams articulated four defining principles that they feel define how 21st century companies will compete, which are (in some instances) drastically different from old models. These four principles are: (1) openness, (2) peering, (3) sharing, and (4) acting globally.
Regarding the last principle, “acting globally” —
“Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat brought the significance of the new globalization to many. But the quickening pace and deep consequences of globalization for innovation and wealth creation are not yet fully understood.” (p. 28)
“The new globalization is both causing and caused by changes in collaboration and the way firms orchestrate capability to innovate and produce things. Staying globally competitive means monitoring business developments internationally and tapping a much larger global talent pool. Global alliances, human capital marketplaces, and peer production communities will provide access to new markets, ideas, and technologies. People and intellectual assets will need to be managed across cultures, disciplines, and organizational boundaries.” (p. 28-29)
“Winning companies will need to know the world, including its markets, technologies, and peoples. Those that don’t will find themselves handicapped, unable to compete in a business world that is unrecognizable by today’s standards.” (p. 29)
When orchestrating people and intellectual assets “across cultures, disciplines, and organizational boundaries” — what difficulties will arise?
I assume mis-communication, ethnocentrism, and a lack of trust will be just as alive and frustrating as they frequently have been throughout time. Even with a relative absence of malicious motivations, cultural differences alone often make effective communication, trust, and understanding difficult — and generally do so in ways that are initially invisible to ourselves (because of how easy it is to assume that others either are or should think/work/feel/see/be like us).
The truth is that these technological infrastructures will connect people who are coming from very different world-views and expectations regarding relationships and rules around things as simple as when to communicate, to whom to communicate with, what to communicate about, and how long to continue the communications.
Lauzon (1999) made the argument “that one of the main challenges as we enter the new millennium will be ‘learning to live with difference’ (p. 274)” (quoted in Wang and Reeves, 2007, p. 14). Wang and Reeves (2007) further argue that, “both history and the current state of the world affairs indicate that living with difference is easier said than done” (p. 14).
So how can new collaborative technologies and ideologies be framed in a way that mitigates the negatives and maximizes the positives?
How can people from different cultures and disciplines come together in a way that they (1) trust, (2) understand, and (3) collaboratively create with each other?
I will be in Finland at the University of Joensuu this September coordinating a cross-cultural multidisciplinary research project that aims to help get more answers to these and related questions. I will be coordinating a team of PhD students (from China, Africa, Europe, etc…) on an educational technology initiative, where we will study: (a) the dynamics of the multinational multidisciplinary team itself, and (b) cross-cultural implementation issues and implications.
If you either know of a PhD student – or are one yourself – who is interested in participating (either for credit or simply for the experience), please read the attached description of the research and send me the required information.