There’s lots of talk about collaborative technologies in the news. Products like Google Wave, Skype, Cisco’s teleconferencing, and GoToMeeting all highlight the zeitgeist of businesses today: collaboration. Everyone believes that the success of their company can be improved if just more people in their organization collaborated. However, there’s a lot more to this than just providing an avenue for collaboration.
A recent piece in The New York Times shows how Microsoft has failed to innovate, mainly due to a competitive culture that has been fostered there. Innovation happens within, but it gets quashed by internal competition. While it’s easy to look at the dysfunction at Microsoft, it’s much more difficult to confront the issues within your own organization.
This story reminds me of anecdote from Franklin Covey, where he discusses a company that’s charging its employees to cooperate, but offering individual incentives to the highest performer. You’ve got to first organize the company to collaborate before the services really matter.
Collaborators have a strong interest in their personal beliefs and in the personal beliefs of others, whereas competitors only focus on their own benefits. We all dealt with kids like that on a sports team at some point, and it turns out they grow up. Being able to align the interest of competitors with the goals of the group or company becomes essential to get them on board.
There’s certainly a place for competition between organizations, but within organizations, it’s trickier. Do you really want your gaming and television departments competing against each other instead of working together (Sony)? Do you want different car lines working against each other instead of collaborating (any car manufacturer)? Before getting people to compete, think about what you’re trying to achieve. If there’s any benefits from them working together, it’s essential that any rewards are designed that way.
What we think of as value has gone a fundamental shift in the last couple of decades. Traditional “Blue-Chip” stocks have always been companies the produced something physical or offered a clear service. However, that notion is changing.
Google gets most of its value from information. It offers services for free in order to get more information from consumers. Then all it does is sell ads. Well, it’s got a few other income streams, but a large majority is derived from ad sales. It’s just extremely accurate in the ads it sells. Is it strange that one of the most innovative companies in the world that offers great technologies to everyone for free is really just a large ad sales company?
Well, that could be derived from anthropological reasons. Historically, people only sold physical objects. Songs and stories couldn’t be copyrighted because they belonged to everybody. Intellectual property was a difficult concept to wrap your head around. If you sold a chair, why couldn’t someone else make a chair with the same design?
This really isn’t so different from other business models that offer something free in hopes of being able to make money of you later. CD and book clubs used to offer the first few items at an extreme discount to get people onboard, and then charge much more. Food producers often give the first item free in hopes that you’ll buy more. Restaurants offer happy hour specials to get you in the door and then hopefully sell you some appetizers or full meals.
What’s different today is that it’s intangible. Free services in hopes that you’ll click on ads that are targeted right at you. It seems like a great way to go broke. But Google made it work. Additional information is always useful, and can give quite an advantage to people. However, we still aren’t used to thinking of it as an asset that you can make billions of dollars from. There’s a reason libraries don’t sustain themselves, right?
In this information age, we have to recalibrate how we view value. If a company is able to take existing information and create insights into it, then it’s got an asset. If it can make money off said insights then they’ve got a good asset. It’s a bit unnatural to view companies this way, but it’s something to begin to think about as our economy continues to advance.
One of the most interesting trends emerging is that technology is coming around to do a better job of connecting people in real life. Social networking sites started this by gathering information on people and then letting you connect the dots of who is your friend and who isn’t. Now there’s an emergence of sites like Gowalla, Foursquare, and Loopt that are enabling you to catch up with people in real life. Not only that, but with Gowalla and Foursquare, there’s a gaming aspect as well. Games are no longer just mobile, they’re location aware.
One of the biggest capabilities of this is how you can much more easily organize a group of people for going out. You can find people you know nearby and catch up with them. You can see price specials and suggestions about where you are. You’re no longer just recreating your social network (your real one) online, you’re enhancing your real world interactions. While previously we had focused on connecting to each other online, now we’re in the infancy of using location based networks to connect us in real life.
This is certainly going to be an interesting trend to watch. As the online networks become increasingly interconnected, it’ll be interesting to see how companies are able to synthesize that information and make recommendations based off of it. Maybe we’ll see friend recommendations based on location (which is actually a good predictor of friendship) and other synthesized information. We’re also finally witnessing networks that actually pull people together in real life. While previously everyone marveled at the capability to connect with people around the world (and that is a great feature), maybe it’s about time we thought about how to better connect to our friends right around the corner.