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Friday 29 August 2014

The more others take the more we gain, and the less the cost the more the value: key questions to ask

Novartis, the global drug company, made a genomic analysis of Type 2 Diabetes (the fruits of its collaboration with several academic institutions) freely available on the Internet. A great number of scientists and researchers took advantage of this data to further their work. Many of them subsequently contacted Novartis to share their research and associated ideas and insights. This added to Novartis's pool of knowledge and provided it with additional avenues for the research and development of drug products. Also, because many of the scientists and researchers were keen to collaborate with Novartis, this research and development was done that much more quickly than otherwise. 

By giving up exclusive ownership of information and encouraging as many people as possible to take and use it, Novartis increased its knowledge, quickened the process of research and development, increased and enhanced its links with leading researchers, and gained additional options for research that could lead to new and potentially lucrative drug products.

Perhaps the most obvious example of 'the less the cost the more the value' is Wikipedia's exploitation of the seemingly infinite amount of free information available on the Internet. 

Wikipedia has taken this mass of free virtual information and combined it with the knowledge and expertise of a multitude of human volunteers: people who are willing and able, free of charge, to contribute to the categorising, editing and developing of Wikipedia's information. This process of combining human knowledge and expertise with virtual information often leads to knowledge, expertise and information being applied in innovative and/or useful new ways, so adding significantly to their value. A good example is Wikipedia's system of Regional Notice Boards, which enables local and global information, knowledge and expertise to be focused quickly and easily upon regional needs and interests. This regionalisation of knowledge, expertise and information would not have been so easy before the Internet and the collaboration it enables, simply because the costs of making it happen would have been significantly increased, so bringing into question the value that such efforts could achieve.
Moreover, as Wikipedia grows and gains ever more information and volunteers the already minimal costs continue to reduce as the potential to add value grows exponentially (what Dan Bricklin calls the Cornucopia of the Commons - also known as the Comedy_of_the_Commons).

Key questions:

  • Are we willing, at the very least initially, to give freely of what we value rather than always insisting upon exchange? (Novartis's sharing of its Type 2 Diabetes data was not conditional upon any kind of exchange. The fact that so many researchers from around the world voluntarily reciprocated with their own information and research shows the wisdom of such an approach.)     
  • Are we doing enough to search out, provide access to and combine freely available information, knowledge, expertise and other resources, and are we doing enough to exploit their value? (As the example of Wikipedia shows, searching out freely available information and knowledge, etc., and exploiting their value is crucial to a collaboration's effectiveness.)     
  • Are we doing all that we can to search out, combine and exploit differing perspectives on freely available information, knowledge, expertise and other resources? (Both Wikipedia and Novartis did not only search out, join up and connect freely available information and knowledge, etc., but also encouraged collaborators to share and combine their differing insights and perspectives concerning it. This type of creative thinking about free or commonplace information and knowledge, etc., is crucial to innovative collaborative working.)    
  • How can we make allowing people to have and do 'something for nothing' enhance our collaboration's effectiveness overall? (Again the Novartis and Wikipedia examples given above show how giving people something for nothing - and the chance to do something for nothing - can benefit all involved in a collaboration, including the givers.) 
  • How can we ensure that the growth of our collaboration results in economies of scale that can be used to cut costs and reduce the charges that have to be made to collaborators who are also customers? (Novartis's success in cutting costs by realising the economies of scale made possible because of the growth of its anti-malaria project, and its willingness to pass these savings on to customers who are also collaborators - governments and other public agencies, etc., - is a good illustration of how this can be done.)

To see the full post click Here.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition.

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