IBM's Wladawsky-Berger on "Foundations of Collaborative Innovation"

By Howard Rheingold, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 27 weeks ago.

IBM's Irving Wladawsky-Berger, blogs about The Economic and Social Foundations of Collaborative Innovation

A question that I still often get asked is why people would work as a community on projects like Linux, Grid and Wikipedia while not getting paid for their efforts. Some people are mistrustful of the motives of individuals who work hard on something that does not include monetary rewards for them personally. Some have gone so far as to suggest that perhaps these open source efforts are aimed at undermining capitalism, the US economy, and their own companies in particular.

Professors Benkler and Weber address the questions of what motivates people to work together as a community for the common good with no direct fiscal gain, as well as how such communities organize and manage themselves. They also point out, though, that these new, collective approaches do create wealth, do create value, and are, in fact, viable business models that can coexist in a fruitful economic way with more traditional business models. We don't yet know all the ways in which this new, dual-track marketplace is going to evolve -- any more than people in the 18th century could foresee the full future impact of industrialization. But I think we have enough evidence already to say with some confidence that open approaches are not a flash in the pan or a flavor of the month.

I have personally thought a lot about this question, and I sometimes wonder if there isn't something deeper going on beyond the rational answers discussed above. I wonder if there isn't something about the human condition that urges us to collaborate, work as a community and solve problems together (as just one example, see the World Community Grid Project). Making money is important to us all. But so is gaining the respect of our families, friends, colleagues, and the community at large -- maybe even more so for most people. Why is that? Allow me to speculate. We are, after all, social animals, and perhaps some of the answers are found in evolutionary biology and our continuing attempt to become alpha members of the group. For many, what brings us together in communities is perhaps something more spiritual. While I do not think of myself as religious, I found a quote from Rabbi Tzvi Marx in Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat" (p 438) particularly moving in this regard: "Collaborating so mankind can achieve its full potential is God's hope." Human beings respond to many things.