Generating Profits from Collaboration

Airbnb.com has used the collaborative consumption model to take a resource that would otherwise go unused (an empty bed) and connected the owner of that resource to someone who is prepared to pay for using that resource (a bed for the night). To make this system work sufficient trust has to be created for the provider and user of the resource to be comfortable in undertaking the transaction. Traditional babysitting clubs have now been extended with substantial online services like findababysitter.com.au, which illustrates how communities can share goods and time that are in surplus of requirements, either for a fee or the reward of giving.

Online collaboration can go beyond production and consumption of goods and services to share using what Clay Shirky has termed ‘cognitive surplus’ in his 2010 book of the same name to create things of community value. That is your surplus brain cycles not applied to earning a living or entertaining yourself can be applied, together with others to create valuable things. Wikipedia is a fine example.

This approach to collaboration and cooperation has not just suddenly appeared it has been evolving over the past couple of decades. In 1995 Acumentum (Web applications), Cambridge Consulting (recruitments), Campaign Palace (advertising), FHA (branding), Geyer Design (interior architects), Invetech (product design), Mann Judd (accounting/advisory), Quantum Market Research and Royce Communications (Public Relations) became part of a business network they named The Australian Retail Solutions Group. At first the aim was to incorporate and establish an entity that would bring together all the capabilities of the members to better market the companies into larger companies and much larger projects. That approach was not successful but what did deliver significant business to the collaborative network was through sharing business intelligence, work in progress and discussing ideas where various combinations of the members won tens of millions of dollars worth of business and the network remained active for almost a decade. It did not lose momentum until the owners of the various businesses began selling their businesses a few years ago.

Similar small trusted networks continue to appear and organisations like The Hub Melbourne http://www.hubmelbourne.com , a professional member community that drives innovation through collaboration and the Creative Performance Exchange http://www.meetup.com/The-CPX/an open community to exchange creative ideas and methods help show the way for applying the new collaborative technologies and inventing new ways of working, learning and living.

The ubiquitous Internet has extended the geographic scope and improved the efficiency of finding the right collaborative partners whilst providing the ‘digital village’ environment where good behaviour can be rewarded and bad behaviour discouraged. Motivation to participate in this digital village is driven by substantial increases in productivity. Having spent three months developing a marketing plan to penetrate the 79 local government councils in Victoria Australia a web design company could be content with the new business they have generated from some of those councils or they could share the ideas, information and knowledge in their marketing plan with a non-competitive collaborator so that with far less investment of money and time than they had to invest, their collaborative partner could also be rewarded with new business from the same 79 councils. In the collaborative digital economy businesses are learning that it is not just their products and services that can be traded online but their trusted relationships, ideas, knowledge and tools developed by them over many years can be traded for valuable consideration which is not always just money.