I’ve been fielding lots of calls this month from HR people who are working on realigning their organizational cultures around collaboration. Collaboration is suddenly the initiative du jour. Seizing on this trend, many marketers are positioning products as collaboration solutions. These products range from copying machines to furniture.
But collaboration wasn’t always a good word. In The United States during World War II, the word meant conspiring with the Nazis. Edwin Black has written a fascinating investigative series for The Jewish Telegraphic Agency called “Hitler’s Carmaker.” The series (registration required) describes the alleged relationship between General Motors and the Third Reich. The words collaboration, collaborate and collaborator appear repeatedly in the series and in spin-off articles that Black has written, namely the one in the January 7, 2007 edition of The San Francisco Chronicle illustrated with an iron cross with the words “GM: Collaboration with Germany was Pervasive—and Persistent.” Clearly, the connotation of collaboration in these stories is different from the word’s current meaning.
While the skeletons of collaboration’s past periodically fall out of the closet, the new positive consciousness for collaboration is significantly impacting business and society. Manufacturers are slashing time-to-market. Scientists are developing disease cures in record time. And through the use of collaborative processes and tools, we can come together in real time to solve problems and make decisions.