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April 8, 2007 » 10:03 am

The Fractal Nature of Large-Scale Collaboration

Collaboration is a meta-discipline. It is usually the means, not the end. You don’t collaborate for collaboration’s sake; you collaborate to accomplish some bounded goal. Making the means the end is tricky business. When you eliminate the context, it’s easy to shift from thoughtful practice to ivory tower jibber jabber and suffer the consequences of Professionalization. All communities and networks centered around meta-disciplines are vulnerable to this, including Blue Oxen Associates. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is my foremost challenge as a social entrepreneur and as a scholar-practitioner.    (M65)

Being meta also has its benefits, however. Over the past few years, I have been helping more and more groups with the conundrum of being a top-down, command-and-control organization in a heavily network-centric world. Sometimes, this takes the form of coaching, where I talk the organization through principles and provide encouragement through what can be a painful and frustrating process. My approach is to tap into the existing organizational instinct and experience as much as possible while challenging assumptions by identifying and asking deep, underlying questions.    (M66)

Other times, it takes the form of designing a convening. These convenings play the same role as my coaching does, except it accelerates Shared Understanding among the stakeholders and it leverages Wisdom of Crowds.    (M67)

Here’s where the meta-ness of the collaboration business becomes useful. The act of co-designing a highly interactive convening, then experiencing it first-hand is a smaller-scale representation of the steps an organization would go through to transform itself into something more network-oriented and collaborative. Even though these convenings are smaller than the large-scale challenges that these organizations face, the principles are the same, whether you’re dealing with 20 or 20,000 people.    (M68)

These convenings are never meta. They are always about something concrete that is directly relevant to the organization.    (M69)

They start with the principle that everyone has different worldviews, but shares strong values. They facilitate interactivity, artifact generation, and continuous resynthesis of knowledge.    (M6A)

They don’t try to control participants. Instead, they let the right path emerge. They allow subgroups to form, to be creative, and to explore their own ideas and interests, without losing The Red Thread of the network as a whole.    (M6B)

By helping organizations design, then experience these convenings, I am indirectly helping them understand how to transform their organization in an experiential way. That’s a direct result of both the fractal nature of large-scale collaboration and the meta-ness of being in the collaboration business.    (M6C)

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