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 / Autumn 2009 / Issue 56(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Promise (and Perils) of Open Collaboration

The tension between open source values and corporate pay incentives plays out every day at IBM, which remains committed to individualized incentives and evaluations by supervisors. Frye concedes that in open source, more than in the development of proprietary software, companies have to think about personnel management from a longer-term perspective. “A developer with three to five years of experience will carry more weight, more influence,” he notes. As a result, people have to stick with projects longer, and managers need to find ways to keep them interested and motivated. “The care and feeding of these individuals is very important,” Frye says.

Realizing the Potential

As these seven strategies suggest, open collaboration is a complex — indeed, all-embracing — process, requiring genuine commitment from corporate leaders, a willingness to abandon many venerable corporate customs, and an appetite for unleashing and managing disruptive change across the organization. Some companies, notably IBM and P&G, are likely to recognize this, to continue to develop their approach to open collaboration, and to reap the rewards.

But the widespread adoption of open collaboration is not at all a foregone conclusion. Not since the quality movement of the 1980s has a management trend had such potential for widespread transformation of the way companies do business. The biggest obstacle to both movements is that they require deep changes in the way knowledge is controlled and shared — changes that have the potential to alter relationships both within a company and with its outside constituents. With open collaboration, as with the quality movement, an incremental approach is likely to lead to short-lived improvements and eventual failure. But if the experience of the quality movement is any guide, the companies that successfully master open collaboration will command an enormous and lasting edge over rivals that do not.

 Reprint No. 09302

Author Profile:

  • Andrea Gabor is the author of several books, including The Capitalist Philosophers: The Geniuses of Modern Business — Their Lives, Times, and Ideas (Three Rivers Press, 2002). She is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College at the City University of New York.
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