Since starting to think about “collaborability” I have been trying to get to grasps with my own insights. To me “collaborability” is as real as the desk I am standing at, or my fingers typing on the keyboard in front of me. I have been looking into all kinds of aspects that come together in this concept; it is like an explorer traversing a new world. The plains, the mountains and rivers that he explorers are already there; he does not invent them, he explores them.

To me my inquiry into collaborability is just the same; I am not inventing but exploring. I am trespassing a landscape already laid out in front of me. A landscape that has its own “mountains” and “rivers”, but also is intangible and hard to describe while being a very tangible reality in my mind. But that said I did not find yet a way to satisfactory describe this “reality” which is locked up between my ears. Piece by piece I create new titbits that together shed some light on the various aspects involved. But the real essence? How to describe a new reality with the conceptions of an other reality?

A regular experience I have when discussing (aspects) of collaborability is that people think about direct/explicit collaboration predominantly and find our ways of implicit collaboration not that easy to grasp at first. My traffic jam example has proved very helpful in showing how our collaboration extends much further then thought at first sight. At the same time much of the collaboration identified in that example can be reduced to “direct collaboration” were two or more parties are deliberately collaborating.

When talking about the various collaborability mechanisms it already gets more difficult to see how e.g. standards help us collaborate more easily. The use of this type of collaboration is very often implicit, without the conscious use by the actors. Whether it is the use of the meter or shoe sizes we use it all without discussing this with the counterparts. But we can at the same time safely presume that the others will use the same standards and build goods and services based on it. This is the real power of implicit collaboration: we implicitly agree to tune our collaboration.

So we have explicit collaboration and implicit collaboration.

Last week a young lady from South America being on holidays (I presume) and riding a rented bike along the canals in Amsterdam asked me for directions to the Anne Frank House museum which happened to be just around the corner. Seemingly an everyday and very mundane event. She was able to find her way in direct collaboration with me. But the ability to collaborate between the two of us has been immensely improved by the fact that we both have learned a common language to communicate with: English. (NB Language is one of the collaborability mechanisms identified in the collaborability model.) I did not learn English to be able to only have this 15-second conversation at a certain moment in time, as I expect the young lady did not spend her time and effort to learn English just to ask me directions. That would have been a very bad investment of our time spend. No, we both have created the ability to communicate with others who also understand English. Whether we did this consciously or not is not the point here.

Individuals can acquire abilities that help them collaborate directly but they at the same time contribute to the latent “reservoir” of collaborability. Network effects are at work here too: English adds more then Esperanto. The young lady from South America can easily travel to a country which national language – Dutch – is truly undecipherable knowing that many speak some elementary English.

Collaborability is much about the potential to collaborate and the amount of effort it takes to collaborate. This in the end works out in individual cases of people or companies collaborating but this potential, this “reservoir” is more linked to the whole.

So we have an individual level of collaborability and society level of collaborability