Collaborate to Compete

I’ve been reading Collaborate to Compete: Driving profitability in the knowledge economy, by Robert Logan and Louis Stokes (ISBN: 0470833009). The book’s main premise is that the Internet is the medium by which collaboration has become an essential business process. Collaboration is the key to actually making use of knowledge management. I was initially intrigued by this book because I had read one of Logan’s previous works, The Fifth Language: Learning a living in the computer age, and was interested by the references to McLuhan’s work on communications theory and Toffler’s books, such as The Third Wave and PowerShift.

This book puts together a lot of knowledge management theory and models in an easy-to-read manner. The introductory chapters are a good review of writings on the subject over the past decade. As the authors build on the concept of collaboration and what it means for the Knowledge Age, they use the example of the scientific community. Scientists were some of the early adopters of the Internet and have been collaborating (and competing) within communities of practice for some time. There are no leaders and everyone is rated by peers on the value of his/her ideas. Logan and Stokes believe that large organisations, especially corporations, can create similar collaborative environments, and they provide examples of collaboration using Intranets and IT systems such as Vignette and LiveLink. I think that many of their premises have value. For instance, using the techniques of Marshall McLuhan, the authors state that there are five collaborative messages of the Internet:

  • The two-way flow of information,
  • The ease of access to information enhanced by information design,
  • Continuous learning,
  • Alignment,
  • The creation of community.

However, they fail to show in a convincing manner how collaborative communities can be created and sustained within command and control enterprises. One could take their practical steps in building a collaborative organisation, and have a good chance at success. The problem would arise when the enlightened despot who has allowed this initiative, decides to leave, or is replaced. Scientific communities have succeeded because no one is in charge, and people can come and go without destroying the community.

I believe that the Logan/Stokes model has much more potential outside their suggested areas. Their formula for measuring collaboration quotient could be used when micro-companies decide to get together for a project – a model that they don’t discuss. This book mentions a lot of technologies, especially technology brand names, but fails to mention web logs, wikis, RSS or aggregators – and it was published this year. These are the best collaboration tools on the net in my opinion.

Despite these perceived [by me] limitations, I think that this book would be a valuable asset for anyone working in the field of knowledge management, communities of practice or virtual teams. I will try to apply some of the models and tools and see how they work. Perhaps the best aspect of this book is that it is NOT about technology, but understanding technology.

In closing, we remind the reader that an IT tool like a collaborative knowledge network will not by itself create a collaborative organization. The human side of the equation, in which attention is paid to vision, trust and leadership, is at the heart of a collaborative organization.

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