Taking a gander over at the TED website to see what talks have been released since last I visited. Apropos to yesterday’s entry is this talk from Howard Rheingold about collaboration and cooperation. It is a short piece, only 20 minutes, but if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, move the handle down to the Cooperate=Wealth section of the index that pops up when you move the cursor across the bottom of the video.
He addresses the idea that if survival is all about competition, there wouldn’t be so many humans. At some point, humans began to cooperate and that helped them thrive. The benefits of cooperation are generally understood, even across cultural lines. He speaks of how players of the ultimatum game seem to innately know that proposing a 50/50 split offers the most likely path of greatest reward. (At least among Americans, Europeans and Japanese. Rheingold notes that slash and burn folks in the Amazon, pastoral herders in Central Asia and other countries proved to have different sense of fairness when playing the game.)
He also briefly addresses the Tragedy of the Commons, the idea that unless there is a way to restrain overuse, humans will exhaust a commonly held resource. He cites a counter study that found that people are only captives of what is essentially a multi-player prisoner’s dilemma if they view themselves as such. Those who are able to successfully break out do so by “creating institutions for collective action” with common design principles.
As his talk draws to a close, he cites the example of how some of the most cutthroat competitive corporations like IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems are open sourcing their software and some of their patents to be worked on by the commons. He mentions that Eli Lilly has “created a market for solutions for pharmaceutical problems.” Though he doesn’t mention it, I assume that is also an open source type effort. He also cites Toyota which works to make their suppliers more effective even though it means increasing supply efficiency for Toyota’s competitors. EBay has solved the prisoner’s dilemma by introducing a mechanism by which two people who can’t necessarily trust each other can make an exchange. He says they are doing it because they have realized that a certain degree of cooperation is beneficial for the bottom line.
So my obvious question is, if multinational corporations can extend a little trust to cooperate, can’t arts entities from the service organizations down to the smallest theatre/dance/music/visual art company find a way to do it as well? While large organizations might be most immediately influential by providing an example for many others to emulate, technology allows the successes of smaller to be disseminated as they couldn’t even a handful of years ago.