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The Future is Collaborative

By Gerry McGovern

The network rewards collaborators and punishes hoarders. The Web rewards those who are generous and punishes those who are mean.  The future belongs to those who can combine the strength of community with the openness of globalization.

If the Web were a film, its plot would be much more like that of Lord of the Rings and much less like Terminator, Dirty Harry or Die Hard. It would be much more about a cooperative group of friends striving together to achieve a shared goal. It would disdain the idea of one man (or machine) saving the world against all odds.

When the lone rider travels on the Web, he quickly rides off over the horizon and into isolation. The lone, disconnected voice is rarely heard on the Web. I heard it said that blogging is the art of linking; that to blog is to share, to connect, to be generous.

Many organizations I deal with recognize at a senior management level that collaboration is a strategic imperative. "We've collaborated with outside partners for generations - but the importance of these alliances to P&G has never been greater," states A.G. Laffey, President of Proctor & Gamble.

"Our vision is simple," Mr Laffey continues. "We want P&G to be known as the company that collaborates - inside and out - better than any other company in the world."

Proctor & Gamble is one of the world's largest, most successful organizations. Doesn't it have enough talent in-house? In a fast-changing, complex world, you can never have enough of the right talent.

"I want us to be the absolute best at spotting, developing and leveraging relationships with best-in-class partners in every part of our business," Mr Laffey states. "In fact, I want P&G to be a magnet for the best-in-class. The company you most want to work with because you know a partnership with P&G will be more rewarding than any other option available to you."

The Web is becoming The Organization, and even the largest physical organizations are small fish in the big pond of the Web. The mighty P&G is courting us, saying that if we have a good idea, please, please consider them.

Mr Laffey stresses that he is not just talking about external collaboration. He also wants P&G to collaborate better internally. This is where the intranet can play a vital role.

Many organizations face the challenge of a silo mentality. There is lots of internal rivalry, with more loyalty to the department or division than to the organization as a whole. Even where there is strong loyalty to the larger organization, it's hard to focus on the big picture and easy to get caught up in the culture of the particular section you work for.

For the intranet to play its part in breaking down the silo mentality and instead encouraging and facilitating cross-departmental collaboration, it needs an information architecture that is commonly understood. It needs an architecture that is staff-centered, rather than organization-centered. It needs a task-based information architecture.

The first task that must be focused on is finding people. You will generally not turn to the intranet to find people who are sitting in the same office as you. Rather, you will use the intranet to find people in other departments. If you can't find the right person, how can you collaborate?

Scandinavia is an amazing place. You would think its high taxes would discourage entrepreneurship, yet it produces some of the most innovative companies in the world. Every time I visit Denmark Iím struck by the cooperative and collaborative nature of its people. They are constantly sharing ideas, constantly trying to learn new and better ways of doing things.

I come from Ireland, a country which has been going through a massive transformation both socially and economically. Many people worry today that Ireland is losing its sense of community.

Community is a very powerful force. It gives people identity, roots, comfort, a sense of place. Community is about the common good, about the family, about rising above individual needs and thinking of the needs of others. Many people believe that globalization is the enemy of community.

Community has its dark side however. Community can encourage suspicion and even hatred of the stranger. Community can be closed to the outside. Tradition is wonderful. It is a source of strength and comfort. But it can strangle innovation and hold the future back. It doesnít have to be that way. The thing that impresses me most about Scandinavia is that it is open to community and open to the world. It has got the balance right. This is a vital balance.

When Ireland gained independence in the 1920s it sought to become totally self-sufficient. It embraced everything traditional and shunned all things foreign. This was an utterly disastrous strategy that impoverished the country in every way. When Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, things began to change. The more Ireland opened up-the more it embraced globalization-the more prosperous the country became.

As Ireland modernized, tradition became a source of ideas. The traditional Irish pub and Riverdance became global success stories.

To trade we must trust. Primitive societies will only trust members of their own community. Sophisticated societies will trust the stranger as well. Success today is about keeping one foot in our communities and one foot in the globalized world. We need to break away from the primitive idea that for a community to thrive it needs something to hate. We can love our communities and respect the stranger. Itís not a contradiction.

We can embrace tradition and innovation. We can share and collaborate. In the global network of the Internet, these are things that will make us stronger and more prosperous.

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