Our society as the collection of humans on this planet has grown to a degree of complexity and size that, if you just take a moment to reflect on it, is just mind-boggling. Our society has not always been so complicated and intertwined as it is today.

While not less challenging living in small family like groups with lots of empty space between the groups wandering the African planes as hunter-gatherers the social structures and economics must have been less complex then when we decided to settle as farmers in Mesopotamia. When we started to create cities social and economic complexity increased yet again. This increase in complexity has continued ever since. We can all see it getting more complex during our lifetimes.

Our ability to collaborate as it is embedded in our genes through evolution is a prerequisite for this development. We as social creatures have always been dividing tasks – invoking specialization – amongst the members of the group.

The ability to collaborate is the essential characteristic of our human species (“Homo Sapiens”) and core to our success and the complexity of our society. I will be referring to Homo Collaborans (“the collaborating man”) in this regard.

“Specialization is equal to collaboration”

Specializing in tasks makes the members of the group more dependent on each other while being able to create better chances to survive and enhance living conditions as a group and as an individual. Specializing does not only mean that the task at hand can be done more efficiently and effectively but also prompts a continuous process of improvement.

“Specialization necessitates exchange”

Specialization and exchange come hand in hand: like two parts of the same coin. Exchange brings in rules, standards, trust and at some point in time conceptions like market places and money. These are all various types of collaboration. 

“Exchange leads to distribution of collaborability”

When two or more people collaborate the results of the collaboration are, trough exchange, split over the persons directly and indirectly involved. In many exchanges the amount of collaborability used in the collaboration is not discounted fully or can be split evenly as the persons involved are able to get a bigger share then others and negative effects can often be passed on to third parties. Whilst a collaboration can lead to a rise in collaborability available to others every exchange will add to the spread of wealth and collaborability over the members of a society. As a result Collaborability, as is wealth, is not evenly spread.  

Collaboration = social capital

Where economic history is zooming in on the specialization and related exchange aspects I am much more focussed at the mechanisms of collaboration. Crucial in the development of our society through specialization was the introduction of mechanisms that would allow collaboration between individuals and groups and their members without the need to constantly tune and agree what they do with (all) the others. For the lack of a better word I call this “implicit collaboration”.

Humans have proven to be extremely adaptable to changing and different circumstances. This ability to adapt ourselves is crucial to understand our developments in collaboration and our use/acceptance of the mechanisms we have created to collaborate.

We tend to internalize the mechanisms of collaboration very successfully, both socially as a group and psychologically as individuals.
To such extend that we in general do not even realize the role of these mechanisms and most of us take the outcomes of these mechanisms as absolute truths.Together and over the ages we have created an enormous reservoir of abilities and potential to collaborate (“social capital”), some are very tangible and others almost illusive. I have dubbed this common reservoir “Collaborability”.

Our societies are formed by our abilities to cooperate (and vice versa) and any changes in our abilities will have an impact on our societies.

My hypothesis is that many of the developments initiated by current innovations (NB see mega trends in §3.8) will have a substantial impact on our ability to collaborate. If so, understanding both the mechanisms of cooperation and collaborability as the reservoir of our potential to collaborate are essential if we are to assess what is happening around us and what implications it could have to our societies.

Creating a model

The domain of collaborability is almost fluid and non tangible and as far as I am aware not being part of our collective thinking. Understanding collaborability and its relation to how our societies have been developing and how the balance between individuals, groups (being also companies) and governments are founded, and reshaped is the topic of my inquiry.

In a sense I have a similar topic at hand as economist John Hicks did some 40 years ago, albeit even bigger for I focus in on more mechanisms to collaborate then ‘markets’ alone and these mechanisms on their part are only a part of the full model. My reasoning towards markets goes as follows: (1) the essence of man is collaboration, (2) the ability to collaborate (“collaborability”) is fuelling specialization, (3) specialization is based on exchange, (4) exchange is based on collaborability mechanisms, (5) one of these mechanisms is “markets”.

Markets are both contributing to the collaborative space while at the same time themselves based on the very same collaborative space and the other collaborability mechanisms. [/one-half-first][one-half]“Markets” are one of the main collaborability mechanisms identified in the collaborability model. Following Hicks’ own drift:

“There is a transformation which is antecedent to Marx’s Rise of Capitalism, and which, in terms of more recent economics, looks like being even more fundamental. This is the rise of the Market, the rise of the Exchange Economy”

Hicks’ theory on economic history is an important piece of collaborability, but a single piece all the same. So I would, like to paraphrase Hicks this way:

“There is a transformation which is antecedent to Hicks Rise of the Market, and which, in terms of recent insights from various sciences, looks like being even more fundamental. This is our ability to collaborate, the rise of Collaborability”

The rise of collaborability is a process of transformation. I am investigating this process and the underlying mechanisms.