Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sharing Your Secrets; Is That So Wrong?

So, last month I posed the suggestion that despite ever increasing levels of societal transparency, many organisations will understandably show a reluctance to divulge those trade secrets that make them competitive. Whilst this assertion may seem obvious, even as I was writing this I began to recall the fantastic 'Wikinomics' by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. Tapscott and Williams' insightful book encourages the sharing of knowledge, suggesting that instead of debilitating competition, collaborative efforts actually facilitate the advancement of the industry as a whole. Is the idea really that far fetched? As 'Weapons of Mass Collaboration' increasingly enhance our ability to create content collectively, I would suggest that, on the contrary, the idea begins to sound increasingly feasible.

Pssst; Wanna Hear a Secret?
Whilst the sharing of information that was traditionally kept secret is a dramatic shift from historical business practices, we are living in an era of significant business innovation. Collaboration is fast becoming the norm. The social media, itself often meaningless without the content produced by the communities contained therein, is perhaps the most obvious example of our collaborative culture. Whilst these vast repositories of information are quickly gaining the attention of organisations keen to target us ever more selectively, the question of where the power really lies is quickly raised. Is it within the platforms themselves, hollow without the contributions of members, or is it those communities that come together on a daily basis to build these ever more voluminous databases, that control the situation? The answer seems obvious. Ironically enough, it is perhaps least obvious to those comprising the community, for whilst this power shift is well under well at a societal level, it has yet to truly catch on at the organisational level. Fortunately for us, the community is becoming ever more intelligent. It's only a matter of time before organisations are forced to collaborate.

Bringing Innovation to the Table
Many a post has been written on the absolute necessity for organisations to act transparently in today's era of interconnectivity. This is unlikely to change. Instead of fearing demands for honesty and transparency though, organisations should embrace the possibilities afforded thereby. Were information sharing between organisations to become increasingly commonplace, then success would quickly become a corollary of something other than secrecy; it would become the product of true innovation. Loosely coupled networks, similar to those exemplified by social platforms such as Twitter, would be able to come together as necessary for the purpose of value creation, drifting apart once the task is complete. Recognising this goal is the challenge though, and despite the recognizable benefits highlighted by the authors of Wikinomics, the concept will invariably prove a challenging sell; for now at least.

Tomorrow, I will be looking more closely at how both collaboration and transparency can actually lead to increased levels of competition. Wikinomics, from which I have drawn the inspiration for these posts, is a fantastic book, and I would recommend it to anyone keen to explore the collaborative opportunities afforded by the Internet.


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