Harvard professor says cooperation can transform businesses

November 26
11:51 PM 2013

In a lecture given in Tel Aviv, Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler emphasized the importance of cooperation as a tool that can transform businesses. According to a VC Café report, instead of merely focusing on self-interest, Benkler places the concept of community and people working together at the fore. Benkler said, "In today's knowledge economy, the most valuable resources -information and knowledge- are a public good, and the best way to develop and maximize this good is through millions of networked people pooling that knowledge and working together to create new products, ideas and solutions."

One of the examples given by Benkler to support his idea is that of Free Open Source Software or FOSS model. Wikepedia and Linux are also examples of community-based models that he cited which have prompted the creation of new organizational models. These new models operate under the assumption that people will work together for the common good under the right conditions. Instead of dishing out the usual financial incentives or employing punishment, companies and even governments should consider positive rewards as a way to encourage cooperation.

Benkler also said that his concept of cooperation is not utopian. Rather, he said that it is based on intensive behavioral science research. He cited the work done by Rob Boyd and Pete Richerson, both anthropologists, who showed that societies and cultures where cooperation is encouraged were more likely to succeed, particularly in times of transition. Behavioral psychology studies have found that about 30% will still exhibit selfish behavior but around 50% will cooperate. These data reveal that the systems that now exist in a majority of big firms are a true reflection of human behavior.

Benkler said it's time to improve these systems. He said, "We should look to ways we can harness cooperation and collaboration to improve the systems we inhabit, rather than stubbornly cling to impoverished descriptions of those systems."

He said hackathons, contests and recognition programs are ways that would facilitate people to communicate and work towards a common purpose.

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