Rewarding the good better than punishing the bad

On the Origin of Cooperation, by Elizabeth Pennisi
Science 4 September 2009: 1196-1199.
How did cooperation evolve when cheaters—those who benefit without making sacrifices—can threaten its stability? In the ninth essay in Science‘s series in honor of the Year of Darwin, Elizabeth Pennisi discusses the genetic nuts and bolts of cooperation in systems from microbes to humans.

Positive Interactions Promote Public Cooperation, by David G. Rand, Anna Dreber, Tore Ellingsen, Drew Fudenberg, and Martin A. Nowak
Science 4 September 2009: 1272-1275.
Reward is as good as punishment to promote cooperation, costs less, and increases the share out of resources up for grabs.

For those who read German, I found this on Silke Helfrich’s CommonsBlog.

What can we learn from religious practices?

Quaker practices are a great starting point to create an environment, in which true collaboration can thrive:

I have many experiences of sustained decision making in which, in my judgement, collective wisdom prevailed . I shall now examine the practice that supported this and consider whether its preconditions have general application. The practice in question is the Quaker practice of decision making. The fact that it is approached as “a meeting for worship for business,” in particular, raises the question of its more general applicability. Let me anticipate and say that, approached as a meeting for discerning the common good, the practice stands up well in secular contexts.

via Collective Intelligence and Quaker Practice.

Using Social Media to connect organizations

I am involved in an exciting new initiative that works to overcome collaboration problems. This new initiative (that emerged from ParticipationCamp) is called OpenKollab and we set out to providing a space where projects can get support for answering these questions. OpenKollab is both a community and a platform, with a mix of technologist and process oriented people driving it. Check out the wiki and tune into the IRC channel #openkollab and get involved if you believe in openness and want to experiment with new forms of collaboration.

Questions we should ask: How do our projects share data? How do our projects share users? How do our projects share impact? How do our projects connect with other projects? Should we be collaborating on another project rather than inventing another wheel?


Can social and collaborative networks be combined?

Here are a couple of posts, which I think help thinking through what tools are needed within an organization to make workflows more open and transparent and most of all more efficient and effective.

In The Future of Collaborative Networks, Aaron Fulkerson from Mindtouch shares his definition of a collaborative network:

This information fabric is a federation of content from the multiplicity of data and application silos utilized on a daily basis; such as, ERP, CRM, file servers, email, databases, web-services infrastructures, etc. When you make this information fabric easy to edit between groups of individuals in a dynamic, secure, governed and real-time manner, it creates a Collaborative Network.

He argues that social media applications are not good tools to solve organizational problems, but often add another layer of disconnected data and application silos. Oliver Marks agrees that there is a “need for flexibility and interoperability with existing applications and [that there are] crucial differences between consumer oriented social life networking and business focused collaboration networks.”

Patti Anklam goes so far as to talk about a tension between connection and collaboration and argues that there is a need to balance both in an organization. Her lesson:

[Y]ou can develop a good social network inside the organization to satisfy the needs for connecting, but when you want to collaborate, you need a tool that provides more rigor for content and task management.

So the solution is to have two separate applications? How will they interact or will they be two silos? What happened to interoperability? Can’t there be tools that can fulfill both needs?

We are cooperative animals

[P]eople systematically and predictably behave in ways that are much more cooperative than would be predicted by the game theoretical impact. [original post]

I discovered this quote by Yochai Benkler on People and Place, a (relatively) new online magazine. The first issue was on Resilience Thinking and the current one is on “One Person, One Share” of the Atmosphere.

Lessons from RTVC: Realtime Virtual Collaboration Workshop

I just realized that I never posted a summary and the lessons learned from the Realtime Virtual Collaboration Workshop I helped organize.

Here is the main summary in form of a presentation we prepared.

Important to note that the organizing group is continuing to work together and will soon give birth to a new enterprise called Radical Inclusion. Radical Inclusion focuses on inter- and intraorganizational collaboration as well as online conference and seminar services to bridge online and offline conversations to create value for organizations and communities.

Read more about Radical Inclusion at and follow us on twitter.

Blogging for a cause: Don’t forget the small less visible non-profits

This blog post is part of Zemanta’s Blogging For a Cause campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

I know, I am too late for the campaign (it ended on June 6), but I still want to talk about a small NGO here in Belo Horizonte. It exemplifies a lot of small projects and programs that have an enormously positive impact on people’s lives but that are not visible global campaigns or may not even have a web presence.

Programa Pólos Reprodutores de Citadania is a small non-profit managed by the legal faculty of the Federal University of Minas Gerais and allows students to help favela (shanty town) inhabitants in Belo Horizonte and poor communities in the North of the state of Minas Gerais through action research. The work includes conflict mediation, psychological support for victims of violence, land tenure regularization and more building bridges between the different social strata that are very divided in Brazil.

If you know Portuguese you can find out more reading the initial project document.

Can we direct slow unconscious change processes?

In his TED talk, Seth Godin defines change leaders as heretics looking at the status quo and deciding that it is not for them. He is talking about consciously choosing to change something and doing it.

There is also another type of change that happens without realizing it, sometimes without wanting it.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Inhotim, a contemporary art museum and beautiful garden. If you ever are near Belo Horizonte, do visit this small park, it is amazing!

To be honest I am not a big fan of contemporary art, but one of the art pieces there that spoke to me was Samson (1985) by Chris Burden.

Samson (1985) by Chris Burden

Samson (1985) by Chris Burden

From the explanatory sign:

Samson (1985) consists of a 100 ton jack connected to a gear box and a turnstile. The jack pushes two large timbers against the walls of the gallery. Each visitor to the exhibition must pass through the turnstile and each input on the turnstile ever so slightly expands the jack, and ultimately, if enough people visit the exhibition, Samson (1985) could, theoretically, destroy the building. (…) The institutional critique in Samson (1985) is brutal and subtle simultaneously: by forcing spectators to pass through the turnstile in order to satisfy their curiosity, Burden assigns them equal culpability in the potential destruction of the gallery space.

A couple of parallels from life outside the museum come to mind immediately: we are slowly destroying our basis of living. It is not the single act of driving 500 meters to get milk or buying a new cellphone every 6 months, but the sum of all these small things that add up to destroy the natural resources we depend on.

Another example is social media: Tweet by tweet, share by share, wall comment by wall comment, digg by digg, we are changing the way we communicate and work with each other and this already has profound implications for the way organizations and governments work, hire, and communicate.

Can Seth’s heretics give this unconscious change direction so we create value for each other instead of destroying it? What do you think?

Is decentralized collaboration possible for all types of work?

This post captures a couple of quotes from an interview with Tim O’Reilly about leadership and effective collaboration that I found intriguing. My take-aways in summary: recognize that you have to set a context, which entices people to contribute to; know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members; and create a (decentralized) system that allows every member to realize their own vision, while still contributing to the whole.

On defining leadership:

Harold Geneen (…) said, “The skill of management is achieving your objectives through the efforts of others.”  (…) While I completely subscribe to the concept, because the skill of management is indeed achieving your objectives through the effort of others, I have always worked with the framing of another quote, which is actually about writing (…) from Edwin Schlossberg, who (…) said, “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”

On being a team leader:

It’s a kind of pattern recognition, which is going back to how I think about the process of editing. It’s a little bit like what Michelangelo used to say about making a statue; that it’s about finding the image that’s hidden in the stone. I think editing a book is like that. Leading a project is like that. (…) I think that leading your team is like that also. How do you get a group of people to achieve their potential? By seeing who they are, and what they can accomplish.

On the architecture of participation:

I think one of the reasons why certain projects fail is because they’re mixing and matching from the wrong systems. We have to have a system that has a fundamental characteristic that there are small pieces that people can work on independently. I think this is why, for example, people have said that they’ll do books as Wikis, and it hasn’t really taken off. Why not? Because a book is a fairly large, complex thing with a single narrative thread. Wikipedia is a set of pages, and the atomic unit of content is something that a single individual can make a plausible promise at, and other people can update and tweak. And the whole is the sum of many, many such small parts. I think, for example, that there are certain types of works that lend themselves to that kind of collaborative activity–being more free-form precisely because they’re designed in such a way that the pieces fit together.

Especially the last quote, the reasoning why wiki books have not taken off, makes me wonder if real collaboration with complex team processes can be designed to work beyond organizational contexts where someone can set the right incentives (e.g. through compensation) to have everyone pull in the same direction.