Monday, March 14, 2011

Culture and work ethics

In a previous post I cogitated about how to sell the "open" idea to my partners, who are very talented and resourceful, and can add value to the enterprise, but are not necessarily tuned with the new economical paradigm. In this post I expose another fundamental problem that needs to be solved before our new group can become creative and productive. Even if my partners accept to go open, suppose that they are now convinced of the economical viability of the open enterprise, it doesn't mean that they know how to behave in order to sustain good relations that foster creative and productive collaboration, within the context of a Discovery Network, of an open enterprise, of a decentralized community based on value relations, rather than power relations.

Working together requires social skills. Moreover, every environment has its specificity. We need to read the underlying norms and to adapt to them, to adjust our behavior in order to maintain the harmony within the group. An open collaborative group is built on a specific culture and work ethics, which members need to integrate in order to act accordingly, to stabilize the group, to make it functional. This becomes crucial as the mass of the group increases.

Let's put culture and work ethics in more concrete terms. It is better to talk about rules and norms, explicit or implicit, which people follow when engaging one another. In normal situations individuals join groups with some positive goals in their minds. To achieve these goals the individual must gain acceptance within the group and must act to preserve the group's integrity. Suppose you walk into a club and you join a bunch of friends, for the first few minutes you are in observation mode, you are trying to read everybody, and to understand the rules of engagement, these norms which regulate personal interaction. If your friends discuss about hockey and everyone is loud, even swearing from time to time, you will most probably adopt the same attitude. Your behavior would be very different in other circumstances, if you were joining an academic group for example, discussing politics and economics. We adapt to the group. We try hard to preserve its harmony. We mimic/pace others, we laugh when we are supposed to, we dose our criticism, we chose our jocks, we act accordingly to our position within the hierarchy of the group, etc.

We all possess the skills to adapt to different social environments. Our brains are wired for a social life. Some of us adapt faster, others can take more time. But our case now is a bit more complex. We don't have an established culture and work ethics. We are not just adapting to a new social environment, we are building one at the same time... I found a lot of literature prescribing rules and norms, but non of us have actually experienced them all at once.

I am already involved in different open collaborative projects and I can confidently say that I am the most experienced person in our group. I believe I should take the initiative to propose a way forward. I am going to take it baby steps. The first thing I am going to introduce is a concept proposed by the Coalition of the Willing, "open stewardship" (we are still refining it). I'll also try to cultivate what I believe are the two most important individual qualities in the open (new) economy, autonomy and initiative.

See an old article I wrote "The myth of autonomy debunked, what about the myth of initiative?"

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