5. Leadership development 2.0: Emergent collaboration

Open Source Leadership Development – or development using ‘emergent collaboration’ - is an adaptation of the principle underlying Open Source Science, which itself borrows from the Open Source software movement. The principle is collaborative development. Open source software isn‘t created privately and published to an audience. It is created by its own audience. It emerges. The users have taken over the system. Linux is perhaps the best- known open source software developed collaboratively by its users.

Open source science

Borrowing a practice that is common in the open source software community, Harvard Business School professor Karim R. Lakhani and colleagues decided to see how “broadcasting” might work among scientists trying to solve scientific problems. Instead of working on issues and problems in isolation, scientists broadcast them to a community of peers and ask for their input.

What he and his co-authors discovered was that “broadcasting” or introducing problems to outsiders yields effective solutions. Indeed, it was outsiders—those with expertise at the periphery of a problem’s eld—who were most likely to find answers and do so quickly.

The study and its findings are described in his paper The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving, co-authored with Lars Bo Jeppesen, Peter A. Lohse, and Jill A. Panetta. It describes how broadcast search was used with 166 distinct scientific problems from the research laboratories of twenty-six firms from ten countries over a four-and-a-half year period. Problems involved everything from biotech to consumer products and agrochemicals.

Thanks to broadcasting, nearly one-third of the previously unsolved problems found successful solutions.

“Innovations happen at the intersection of disciplines. People have talked about that a lot and I think we’re providing some systematic evidence now with this study,” Lakhani reported. “The insight is that what you want to do is open up your problem to other people - not just to serendipity, but in some systematic way.” Source: Karim Lakhani, HBS Working Knowledge. November 2006

Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams describe this example of Open Source science:

“At InnoCentive, companies - or “seekers” - anonymously post R&D problems on the InnoCentive website, while “solvers” submit their solutions... InnoCentive Chairman Darren Carroll says, “We‘re breaking down traditional laboratory doors and opening up an exciting new frontier where solution seekers - well-respected global corporations - can reach beyond their traditional R&D facilities and tap into more of the brightest scientific minds in the world.”

They go on to conclude that working together and sharing knowledge across organizational boundaries - in much the same way that the Net Generation swaps songs and videos over the Internet - is increasingly ‘normal’ and needs to be adopted in the way organizations communicate internally and with others. ‘Organizations’ leaders and their HR departments need to wake up to today’s new forms of mass collaboration, and explore a more self- organizing approach...” Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams

What are these new collaborative tools

Andrew McAfee perhaps best described the sea-change in web and intranet tools with a Spring 2006 paper in the MIT Sloan Management Review titled Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration.

McAfee described how a new wave of business communication tools including blogs, wikis and group messaging software - which the author dubbed, collectively, Enterprise 2.0 - allow for more spontaneous, knowledge-based collaboration.

These new tools may well supplant other communication and knowledge management systems, because of their superior ability to capture tacit knowledge, best practices and relevant experiences from throughout a company and make them readily available to more users.

The resulting organizational communication patterns can lead to highly productive and highly collaborative environments by making both the practices of knowledge work and its outputs more visible. Drawing on case studies and survey data, McAfee offered managers a set of ground rules for implementing the new technologies.

  • First, it is necessary to create a receptive culture in order to prepare the way for new practices.
  • Second, a common platform must be created to allow for a collaboration infrastructure.
  • Third, an informal rollout of the technologies may be preferred to a more formal procedural change.
  • And fourth, managerial support and leadership is crucial.

What McAfee fails to emphasize enough, perhaps, is that the very act of collaborating through sharing and challenging thinking, insights, experiences, feelings, assumptions, methods and practices with peers – not just sharing knowledge – is a powerful learning and development experience, not just a mechanism for producing solutions and outcomes.


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