Thanks to Advancing Insights for pointing me to some interesting new reports from The Institute for the Future.
The first report, Toward a New Literacy of Cooperation in Business (link for pdf file download), by Howard Rheingold, Andrea Saveri, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and Kathi Vian, observes that "cooperation is one partner in a pair of strategic choices; its constant companion is competition. The two go hand-in-hand, posing a choice at every juncture . . ." It focuses on two key business questions:
- How can new insights about the dynamics of cooperation help us to identify new and lucrative models for organizing production and wealth creation that leverage win-win dynamics?
- How can organizations enhance their creativity and grow potential innovation with cooperation-based strategic models?
This report is a helpful review of the emerging inter-disciplinary field having to do with cooperation and cooperative strategy (the bibliography alone makes the report worthwhile). The authors develop a map of the relevant disciplines comprised of seven lenses and seven levers, creating a very rich terrain to survey. In fact, at times it becomes too rich - I began to hunger for the classic two by two matrix that is the foundation of consulting.
More broadly, the report ultimately disappoints in terms of delivering on the two questions framed at the outset. The raw materials are there, but the synthesis into actionable recommendations for business executives remains to be done. The final section outlining five key areas of potential innovation and disruption is suggestive, but the implications need to be developed more explicitly.
The second report, Technologies of Cooperation (link for pdf file download), by the same authors minus Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, is more satisfying, perhaps because it stays closer to the technologies that are reshaping the business landscape. The authors focus on eight key clusters of cooperation-amplifying technologies:
- Self-organizing mesh networks
- Community computing grids
- Peer production networks
- Social mobile computing
- Group-forming networks
- Social software
- Social accounting tools
- Knowledge collectives
This report has an even richer map for the reader to navigate, combining the eight clusters of technologies with the seven key dimensions of cooperative systems discussed in the earlier report. The authors observe that
. . . each example of a cooperative technology is also a model for thinking about future social forms as well as future tools; each example embodies principles that can help us think more strategically about cooperation.
The report concludes by outlining seven guidelines for learning from cooperative technologies. Each guideline has value, but the first one, for my money, is by far the most important: "shift focus from designing systems to providing platforms". Understanding the profound implications of this one principle is challenging in itself. But it is also a huge mindset shift for most executives, even those in relatively enlightened technology companies as most recently (and repeatedly) illustrated by Steve Jobs at Apple.
At the end of this report, the authors come back to where they started in the first report:
One clear lesson from this research is that cooperative strategy does not replace competitive strategy: the two are inter-related and co-evolve. A key challenge is learning to understand the dance between the two strategies, their respective range of choices, and the conditions that urge an organization to follow one or the other at a particular time period and environmental context.
This is the crux of the matter. These two reports do a great job of surveying the landscape and even creating some interesting maps to orient us. What we need now is a more prescriptive view of the paths that are most promising through this landscape - constrained by the awareness that the landscape continues to evolve and that individual context does matter.
I should mention that the bibliography in the first report rightfully highlights the work of Elinor Ostrom, especially her book Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. For anyone interested in understanding the governance mechanisms that help to foster cooperation, her book is an essential read.