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How social networking is moving us from competition to collaboration

My new e-book, “Collaborative Intelligence” is now available for download through Scribd at this address:

Collaborative Intelligence

I wrote the book as a companion piece to my recent doctoral thesis on collaborative innovation through online social networks. The book presents a set of interviews that share the findings of my research in easy-to-digest, bite sized pieces.  In short, people are using online social networks in very interesting and collaborative ways, and smart organizations and their leaders are learning how to harness this power.

My doctoral research among 500+ LinkedIn users and a dozen CEO-level executives yielded some very interesting findings. Over six in ten users said they use LinkedIn to exchange ideas and expertise, which confirms that LinkedIn is far more than just a prospecting tool or online contact manager. Most users indicated that they had more connections with people in other organizations than before they started using LinkedIn and that they are now much more connected to both customers and competitors. Six in ten users rely on their LinkedIn network to help them answer questions and solve problems, and say that their network has allowed them to be more innovative in their work.

Through my research, I learned several lessons that I think are very useful to people in all kinds of organizations, for-profit and non-profit alike. Here are some of those lessons:

Keep the secret sauce, but share the rest

We have grown used to operating environments where it is extremely important to guard competitive advantages by keeping secrets. The widespread adoption of social media means that there are fewer and fewer secrets. My research has shown that the vast majority of LinkedIn users I surveyed are connected to people in other organizations, and they rely on these inter-firm networks to share information, come up with new ideas and jointly solve problems. Lines have been blurred between competitors, and between customers and the organizations they buy from. Smart organizations understand this, and are attempting to harness this increased interconnectedness, rather than trying to restrict it. Imagine a world without secrets. It is coming rapidly due to social media. Organizations can focus on protection, and fighting infringement in every jurisdiction around the world, or they can prepare for a post-secrets landscape, and find better and more innovative ways to keep customers.

The more minds on the problem, the better

Teamwork and social networks are nothing new. Guilds, for example, have existed since pre-industrial times. More recently we have seen communities of practice and knowledge management as attempts to gather and share expertise. Guilds have been described as groups that are drawn together through similar interests and shared passion for a topic. Sounds like a LinkedIn Group, doesn’t it? Similarly, there is nothing new about social networks, as they have always existed. You only have to watch the HBO series “Rome” to see the power of alliances and connectedness in a historical sense. In recent decades, research on social networking has pointed out the importance of weak ties; that someone who is weakly connected to you may actually be more helpful to you than someone who is strongly connected to you. How perfect is that for social media, where we may never have met someone we are connected to?

Online social networks: way more of a good thing

So the key with online social networking is not that it is a new concept, but that the technology is now freely available to build networks on a massive scale with minimal effort. Unlike communities of practice that tended to focus around a specialized job area, and attracted people of a similar profile, today’s social networks can contain vastly different individuals, from CEOs to artists, allowing a radically greater knowledge base and sources of new ideas and innovation. How do you consciously make use of this pool of talent though?

How to be a collaborative player

We all win when we share our knowledge and expertise with others. Being a good collaborative player online often involves a shift of mindset from “What can I get?” to “What can I give?” By freely sharing our accumulated wisdom and knowledge through various online groups, blogs and social networks we all gain by learning more about how we look at problems and solutions. Ultimately, the more we share, the more we become innovative, elevate our professions, and most importantly, improve the service we provide to our clients, customers and each other!


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