by C.G. Lynch

Five Things Alph Bingham Has Learned About Collaboration

Jun 22, 20073 mins
Collaboration SoftwareSmall and Medium Business

Innocentive cofounder's thoughts on problem solving and collaborating online

Alph Bingham is the cofounder of Innocentive, an online marketplace that brings clients with complex research problems together with scientists and other problem-solvers.

You can’t corner the market on smarts. Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige once said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” It’s been my experience that if you want to talk to smart people, you have to reach outside your core circle and your corporation. And what better way to reach other smart people than on the Web? Its characteristics of high bandwidth (lots of information per second) and “always on” are two key features that make it the globe’s first truly useful collaboration tool.

Many heads are better than one. Two people have a greater diversity of thought processes, training and experiences than one does. And three beats two. This is something I experienced during my days as a graduate student in organic chemistry, working with others in a research group to solve a problem. The Web is simply the only way to expose a challenge in a format that lets the challenge be found, mulled and solved. Not by one, two or even dozens of minds, but by hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of problem-solvers.

Diversity of thought matters. Many of us have a tendency to seek answers to our challenges by confining our search to established expert resources, whether in business or academia. The result is that everyone seeks and receives the same “solutions” from the same sources. Paradoxically, qualifications can act as constraints to creativity. On the Web, novel answers frequently come from the fringes where there aren’t accepted views on how to do things.

Openness on the Web is risky but necessary. Effectively enabling others to solve a problem often requires some disclosure. And disclosed information can be employed by competitors. But at the same time, companies that develop cultures based on secrecy may ultimately hamper the all-important ability to collect new ideas outside of their environments. New tools in IT for exchanging and gathering information often seem riskier because they aren’t familiar. While many of us may panic at the thought of sharing a credit card number online, we usually think nothing of giving that card to a perfect stranger and allowing them to disappear to some other part of the restaurant for several minutes at a time.

Open collaboration is here to stay. New companies are being founded on the basis of sharing knowledge and power. These models often use Internet exchange as a global platform to attract and engage critical talent in a more efficient and timely manner irrespective of distance, time and even language. I believe online collaboration is becoming a business-critical practice for research and development. Move to open global collaboration or face the possibility of extinction.