Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not collaborating is a power trip or we just don't know how ?

I've been thinking about why people don't collaborate and specifically collaborate in the sense of sharing information. I remember from a research project in the early 80s on the use and value of groupware, that back then we had tools that enabled people to share information just like we do today with wikis, blogs, Twitter or even simple email today. Back in 1983 or so, I was talking with a representative in IT at the Air Force and someone there said that people don't share information because "information is power" and sharing means giving up that power. It means giving up one's perceived competitive advantage. Like -- how can you teach something if everyone knows it or how can you be an analyst if everyone knows about what you are talking about? Nothing new between then and today although perhaps that power means a bit more in the Air Force than elsewhere.

But I think not sharing information is also because people don't know how to and they get no reward for sharing information. At the Air Force in the 80's, there was no pay for performing information sharing...after all, pay is a matter of grade level. And using something like Lotus Notes as a repository was not all that intuitive to use anyway. Today, sharing information still takes time with most of our social media solutions. Simple example: my quilting buddies don't know that they can actually provide a url about how someone does a technique like how to mitre corners and instead will download an entire YouTube video and then send that huge file. Or in my work where to really be an effective collaborator, one should not only share a file that may have valuable information but also explain why it is important to entice people to actually read the file. And, who has the time for that? Or for people to share information in repositories of customer information, they need to report news, site visit notes, conference attendee notes all the time and it it's not easy to do, people just won't do it.

Organizations have to pay in some way to reward people for sharing and make that part of the value system and recognize it in performance reviews. But people too need to realize that sharing information is pretty powerful not just for the organization but for themselves too. It shows you care to help your colleagues, and we all want to be caring individuals. It shows you know enough to realize the value of the information you are sharing and to articulate that value for othrs.

So, I encourage all of us to take the step from the individual's perspective and start sharing just for the value it will bring to you. Learn how to use social media as a collaboration tool. We can work on having organizations pay for collaborative actions later.

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