by Curt Finch

“Here Comes Everybody” Gives Insight to the Power of the Group

Aug 23, 2011
CIO Consumer Electronics CTO

Companies Need to Be Aware of Collective Action -- Also Known As Power of the People

Here Comes Everybody:  The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky explores how people now group together via the web and mobile technology.  Shirky goes through three stages of group interaction; sharing, collaborating, and collective action. 


The web has changed how we operate.  Instead of gathering and then sharing, the web allows us to share and then gather around a common interest.  Shirky identifies Flickr as an example of easy sharing.  Flickr allows users to not only share photos, but identify their photos through tags.  This results in increased sharing abilities.  For example, all the attendees of a certain event can share photos with each other.  Since sharing now precedes gathering, groups form around common interests much more easily.  As Shirky says, “Sharing creates the fewest demands on the participants.” 


The second tier is collaboration. Shirky explains in his book about the increased difficulty of collaboration:           

“Collaborative production can be valuable, but it is harder to get right than sharing because anything that has to be negotiated about, like a Wikipedia article, takes more energy than things that can just be accreted, like a group of photos.”

Before the success of Wikipedia, many scholars thought that a group-created and group-edited encyclopedia would never work.  But “groups of people who want to collaborate also tend to trust one another.”  Because of this trust, no formal management or process was needed to make Wikipedia a success. 

Collective action:

The third tier is collective action, which is the rarest type of group action.  In an environment of high freedom like the United States, collective action is usually represented through fun flash mobs or entertainment purposes. (Obviously, flash mobs are sometimes also used for nefarious purposes such as the recent robbing of the 7-Eleven store.) 

But in low-freedom environments, collective action is usually political.  In his book, Shirky uses the ice cream flash mobs in Belarus’ Oktyabrskaya Square as an example of how a flash mob can create attention for political matters, such as dictatorship ruling their country.  As Shirky says, “nothing says ‘police state’ like detaining kids for eating ice cream.”

So how can Shirky’s book enlighten you on the consumerization of IT?  In the workplace, easy sharing can increase the skill of your knowledge workers.  For example, one of your departments can share articles about the industry through Digg and learn new skills.  When people form groups centered on common interest, niche innovation can evolve from these groups around that interest.  Businesses need to have a niche or competitive advantage in order to be successful.  Why not let your employees communicate and share their interests with each other?  If employees are allowed to collaborate with each other over common interests, amazing developments can occur.

Shirky’s book does issue a warning for businesses who think they will not be caught if they do something evil.  Collective action shows how consumers can shine a light on immoral business practices.  As Shirky says, “consumers now talk back to businesses and speak out to the general public, and they can do so en masse and in coordinated ways.”  This can simply be a bad rating on Yelp or your business could find itself facing a negative movement large enough that it requires you to make major changes. 

For instance, the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights came about because one passenger, a woman stuck on a delayed American Airlines flight, formed an online group for outraged airline passengers. Since this includes so many people, it exploded in size and created a sense of public outrage, which led to Congress getting involved, and the airlines were forced to revamp their standards for what happens to passengers on delayed planes. 

Companies have to be more responsible to their customers in order to stay in business and keep good face.  This is new.  Forming groups with the intent of collective action is much easier now and it is biting the companies who choose to ignore the trend.

So let’s all behave out there.

Have you read Shirky’s book?