Thursday, July 2, 2009

Institution Vs. Collaboration

Clay Shirky, in this wonderful presentation at Oxford University in 2005, illustrates how traditional organizations/institutions fail to take advantage of full collaboration through modern technology. What I wish he'd talk about more -- and what he skirts in this presentation -- is how institutions can organize and adapt to this new way of thinking and working together collaboratively.

Institutions, as he frames them, aren't likely to go away; there always has to be some kind of command and control, some kind of framework on which hierarchical decisions can be made, even when those decisions are breaking institutionalized rules and taking advantage of the kind of collaboration he sees in Flickr and the development of Linux (here's how Mozilla does it). I'd like to see some thought on how instututions can adapt to the kind of collaborative efforts that are going on around us. It would be a good model for Uncharted to do some thinking on, I have no doubt.

I've seen the disasters that can come from too much institutionalism. I worked for a paper that ran two offices, and they were basically set up as two institutions. I, in my inexperience, contributed to that institutionalization, but it would have been nice to have been aware of Shirky's thoughts, or to have had more experienced people at the paper helping me to break those institutional walls. Even within papers themselves, there are institutions that do not cooperate, or at least cooperate only minimally. I have in mind here the newsroom and advertising. Nary a word was said between the two departments at the papers I've worked at.

I see, in some ways, that Uncharted is suffering from the same kind of institutionalism. We have departments that have become institutionalized and are not cooperating or collaborating well, because of turf wars, what have you. It's hurting our progress a bit. Heck, I've even seen this kind of behavior in families, in my own marriage. Institution Dad and Institution Mom sometimes butt heads, and Institution Kids works counter to what IM and ID want.

And like Shirky, I feel I've come to the point where I have to offer a solution. I ahve to say like him: I don't know.

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