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Institutions vs. Collaboration

Every once in a while I find myself going through TED’s video archive looking for some inspiration. For those of you who don’t know what it is, TED is a not-for-profit organization aimed at supporting the spreading of innovative ideas in the areas of technology, entertainment, and design. Through its numerous conferences and events—and of course its website, YouTube, and other online video services—TED is able to spread the ideas of experts, opinion makers, and scholars worldwide.

During my last TED expedition, I came across a video of a lecture given by Clay Shirky. Shirky is truly a jack of all trades; however, his current focus of interest is consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. During TedGlobal 2005, he gave a talk titled “Institution vs. Collaboration.”

What caught my attention about the points Shirky made is that even though he brought them up almost eight years ago, they are still considered innovative today. Another thing that sparked my interest in this lecture was the fact that concepts shared in it are at the core of what PlanetSoho does and represents. I thought I’d share two of the points he made that I found the most relevant.

Shirky uses the example of Flickr, a photo-sharing service that allows you to use pictures other people posted online. He shows how the power law, also known as the 80/20 law, reflects in Flickr; while some people upload numerous pictures related to a certain area of interest, the lion’s share of the pictures are “owned” by users who only upload one. Hence, there’s a “long tail” of users who only uploaded one picture. How is this relevant to small businesses using the PlanetSoho platform? Well, Flickr and PlanetSoho—just like many other services and companies that are based on the ideas of the sharing economy and the long tail—prove that in the business world as well as in society, sharing means greater efficiency. We are lucky enough to live in a world where technology enables us to collaborate with each other in a dynamic and somewhat spontaneous way and allows SMBs to utilize their comparative advantage to benefit each other and themselves.

Another point I found refreshing in its simplicity and clarity is the idea that collaboration will slowly but surely replace institutions. The planning and coordination that were once required to perform the simplest business projects are becoming unnecessary in the era of advanced technology. If in the past institutions were formed to arrange and manage all the resources needed for a business to function, today business tasks can be done through flexible collaborations. The structured and excluding nature of institutions is making room for business cooperation and virtuality. Through collaboration, individuals and firms can play an active role in the business environment; being a part of an institution is no longer a requirement.

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