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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Value - Looking for More, October 28, 2013
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This review is from: Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage through Collaborative Innovation Networks (Hardcover)
Peter Gloor has created a fascinating and important book about a new form of innovation practice based largely on internet collaboration and the structure of dynamic social networks.

The author first introduces us to collaborative innovation networks (COINs) and documents their use in various forms since the beginning of humankind. COINs are deemed to be at a tipping point for driving innovation due to a convergence of factors, not the least of which is the connectivity provided by the internet.

The stated goal of the book is "... how to leverage COINs to develop successful products in R&D, grow better customer relationships, establish better project management, and build higher performing teams" (front cover leaf). And "by investing in COINs, organizations have a fast, flexible, and cost-effective way to innovate and pull ahead of the competition (p. 112). Unfortunately, only a percentage of the book addresses these topics with little attention on how to actually implement COINs.

The author identifies many innovative companies by name and attributes their performance to the COIN concept. In addition, a number of technologies are described that came from COINs. These include familiar examples such as Linux, Arpanet, the Internet, along with some less known innovations. While the variety of examples provide a rich background, there is little insight into how these COINs actually functioned, and only a few references to COINs that failed to deliver on their potential.

Gloor summarizes the elements that underlie COINs as their "genetic code" (p. 53).
The code consists of these five elements:

1. Collaboration networks are learning networks
2. Collaboration networks need an ethical code
3. Collaboration networks are based on trust and self-organization
4. Collaboration networks make knowledge accessible to everybody
5. Collaboration networks operate in internal honesty and transparency

Through these examples, the book is mostly convincing that COINS have great potential to bring disruptive innovation to existing markets and create novel solutions where there were none before. Nevertheless, there are some inconsistencies and a few missing topics which keep this from being a really good book. Here are some of my observations:

No real introduction to complexity
While the essence of this book centers on complex social networks, there is little introduction to the subject for new readers to make sense of concepts such as self-organizing groups, small-world networks, scale-free networks and the like. This is important primer material for talking about "swarms" as described in the title. The limited discussion on this topic is squeezed into a chapter titled "Ethical Codes in Small Worlds".

Where are the swarms?
The book's title "Swarm Creativity" is enticing and suggests that innovation networks might be related to swarm behavior (a popular topic in complexity science). Yet, this phrase is only remotely connected with much of the discussion. For example, a Jazz ensemble is considered to be "one of the most amazing examples of swarm creativity I know of" (p. 23). Another example is the author's story about a project team established in the Union Bank of Switzerland. In this and other examples, the author highlights the nature of the teams to be self-selecting of members and operating with a common code of ethics. And yet, in one example, problems were "broken down into tasks and assigned to team members (p. 31). Consequently, while the swarm idea is borrowed from complexity science it is applied here somewhat loosely and metaphorically.

Working for Free
According to the book, COIN members are typically motivated by their own egos, the chance to gain new knowledge, and the "fun factor" of participation (p. 29). At the same time companies can be expected to reap significant profits by using this "open-source" community as a cost effective innovation machine. In a free marketplace, this may be perfectly equitable, but some might be troubled by depending on a varying population of developers that are motivated by their egos and having fun. It would be helpful to have more discussion about how such COINs are maintained when the fun diminishes.

Ethics and Values
The author consistently talks about the high standard of ethics among COIN members (pp. 22, 30, 50, 52, 53, 59, 71, 75, 86, 95, 185, etc.) and seems to be confident that "COIN members are brought together by mutual respect and a strong set of shared beliefs" (p. 71). But he doesn't explain how this is accomplished and maintained in large COIN groups (e.g. Linux developers). Not only is the claim unsupported, but at face value it seems questionable. At the same time Gloor reports that COIN members may be subject to persecution "because they decide to allocate some of their company working time to the goals of the COIN rather than the tasks given to them by their supervisors" (p. 72). Thus, the discourse on ethics seems puzzling and inconsistent.

Legal obstacles
Gloor emphasizes that "COINs usually assemble around a new idea outside of organizational boundaries and across conventional hierarchies" (p. 11). Elsewhere he speaks frequently of collaboration across organizations and the free flow of information among everyone in the COIN. But the legal complexities of this practice are not discussed. This seems to be a critical aspect to organizations that plan to utilize COINs but also seek to protect their own IP. This deserves an entire chapter.

Why should COINs end?
If COIN members are truly motivated by the three factors identified earlier (ego, learning, fun) then it is interesting to read the author's take on why COINs end (p. 139-140). According to Gloor "the motivating factor triggering participation in these organizations changes from sharing a vision to making money" (p. 139). Similarly, the structure transitions from egalitarian networks to formal hierarchies. This needs more in-depth treatment as organizations investing in the development of COINs need to understand how this process occurs and what to expect should such a transition happen. But it is also important to question why COINs end if they are indeed so effective.

Final Thoughts
This is a difficult book to review. There is clearly real value here, but the message is confusing since the examples of open-source, self-organizing "swarms" are substantially different than the organizational teams that were described by the author later in the book. The over-abundance of references to ethical standards and codes of conduct led me to think that there must be a real problem with this, especially as groups become larger. In addition, there was only one brief example of a COIN that failed. But it's plausible that some COINs work better than others. It would be interesting to know about COINs that have varying levels of success and how they overcome their problems. Hopefully, in a future version these topics can be added to an otherwise good book.

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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Advanced Reviewer Comments, February 2, 2006
This review is from: Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage through Collaborative Innovation Networks (Hardcover)
Disclosure: I am the VP Corporate Communications for iQuest. The author is president of our company. The following advance comments are reprinted from the dust jacket of Peter's book.

"Filled with real examples and practical suggestions, this thought-provoking book gives insightful guidance to anyone trying to harness the power of collaborative innovation unleashed by today's new communication technologies." --Thomas W. Malone, Director, MIT Center for Coordination Science, and Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

"This book illustrates that collaboration is key for successful companies. It shows how collaboration and innovation extends into all aspects of daily business life. Applying the principles outlined in this book will help companies to innovate by working together and learning from each other in social networks." --Dirk Havighorst, Senior Manager Procurement & Supply, DaimlerChrysler

"Swarm Creativity brings a totally fresh look at innovation and collaboration. This book is a must-read for anyone in a business who is faced with the need to constantly innovate in order to remain competitive. It helps organizations shape their strategies based on principles of social networks, ethics, and meritocracy. By becoming Collaborative Innovation Networks, organizations will increase performance and become more creative." --Kurt Wolf, Managing Director, UBS

"Peter Gloor offers a visionary guide into novel organizational forms and the opportunities they present for innovative companies. This is a wake-up call, challenging our most basic assumptions about management of organizations. His timing is perfect: loosen the hierarchy...harness democracy...think not of employees, but of partners. This is a book packed with insights and wisdom. Leadership would be well served to incorporate its lessons into the new networked business world of today." --Walter Etter, COO, Banca del Gottardo, Switzerland

"We live in the age of networks. We advise young people to build networks to advance their careers. We study organizations by assessing the networks that develop within and among them. We encourage firms with like technology to cluster geographically so their scientists can 'network'. And, of course, there is the Internet that has changed the world, scientifically, socially, and politically. Peter Gloor takes us through one of the most important of these developments: the creation of Collaborative Innovation Networks..." --Thomas J. Allen, Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management and Professor of Engineering Systems, MacVicar Faculty Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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