Clay Shirky and “the collaborative penumbra”

Some words just catch us.

I was scanning this transcript of an interview with Clay Shirky (thank you Twitter network) and came across this quote:

So the collaborative penumbra around 3-D printing is a place where you don’t have to have someone who can do everything—from having the idea to making the mesh to printing it. You can start having division of labor. So you’ve got all of these small groups that are just working together like studios and still able to play on a world stage.

via The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky | McKinsey & Company.

I just loved the term, “collaborative penumbra.”

I continue to rabbit away at what has become my hobby research, how international development organizations plan for, pick, provision, monitor and evaluate their online collaboration platforms. What comes up again and again is that organizations have very limited ideas about the meaning and possibilities of collaboration. There is still this idea that it is composed of two things: document sharing and project management. And document sharing covers the territory of “knowledge sharing.” Sigh. I keep looking for useful anecdotes to demonstrate the rainbow of possibilities. But each example then points to the fact that this is a fundamental shift in the way work is done. That scares people. They like their “habitus” as Zaid Hassan talks about in his book, “The Social Labs Revolution.”

Here is another quote from the interview (emphasis mine):

“And all the way at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got these collaborative environments where almost no one has to coordinate with anybody else. When I upload something to Thingiverse, or I make an edit on Wikipedia, it’s not like I need anybody else’s help or permission. So the collaborative range is expanding. The tight groups have more resources, and the loose groups can be much more loosely coordinated and operate at a much larger scale. And I think the people who think about collaboration want to know what’s happening to it, and the answer is everything.”

Go read the rest. There are more gems there… go to the source!

  1. We should chat some time about some of the experiences and perhaps different practices I’ve been involved with – the notion of the importance of white space in collaborations and organizational tactics for introducing conditions that sometimes help serendipity to form (in physics and film)

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I really love the phrase ‘a collaborative penumbra’. Really good.