Social Business Design: Coaction as an impelling force


I was thinking about the word ‘collaboration’ this morning.

We often talk about collaboration being poorly defined; others argue that collaboration doesn’t encompass fully the way in which people work together – for example, co-operation and co-ordination. It is certainly true that these days we can qualify – from a technology perspective – the differences between document-centric collaboration through to an appreciation of different values and process of conversational collaboration. We can also think about degrees of collaboration – between people working together closely as a team, collaboration that cuts across organisational groups and collaboration that extends beyond the organisational boundaries, with customers, business partners, industry and community representatives, and even professional peers.

However, collaboration isn’t always seen as something useful or beneficial. In times of war collaboration can also be a crime; likewise in organisational life collaboration can also be seen as risky – intellectual property or corporate secrets might be lost, a company’s competitive edge could be jeopardised or it could even result in breaches of trades practices laws. However, it is possible to think positively about collaboration even between competitors – industry clusters are a prime example.

An interesting and related work to collaboration is ‘coaction’. The Free Online Dictionary lists three meanings for the word coaction:
  1. An impelling or restraining force; a compulsion.
  2. Joint action.
  3. Ecology Any of the reciprocal actions or effects, such as symbiosis, that can occur in a community.
If we reorder these meanings slightly, I can see a nice progression from the simplistic idea of collaboration as joint action, to the more complex view of collaboration within an ecology (which fits more modern views that organisations are complex systems) and then finally to something more directed and powerful. This concept of collaboration as an impelling or restraining force is more than just a semantic idea to think about, as we can see this at work in social networks all the time.

I think this is why Social Business (in the sense of Headshift/Dachis Group’s Social Business Design concept) is such a powerful idea, as it is about taking advantage of new organisational designs made possible by the capabilities of social technologies so we can take advantage of coaction as a purposeful, impelling force.

Photo credit: Shunting