Collaborative Advantage

Here’s the video from a panel I moderated at the launch event for Global Entrepreneurship Week 2011. The topic of the panel was “Collaborative Advantage: How Diaspora Entrepreneurs Are Creating Connections for Shared Prosperity.” The panelists are:

You can decide for yourself after viewing how awesome these folks are. (Hint: Very.)

“Collaborative Advantage” is also the title of chapter 11 of The Coming Prosperity. Here’s an excerpt:

I opened this chapter with a quote from another returned Egyptian émigré, Wael Ghonim, creator of the Facebook page that catalyzed the Egyptian revolution. Following his graduation from the American University of Cairo, Ghonim took a job with Google. He was soon promoted to head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, a position based in Dubai. When a young Egyptian Internet activist, Khalid Said, was beaten to death by police, Ghonim was moved to create, under the pseudonym “El Shaheed,” a Facebook page titled “We Are All Khalid Said.” That was the page used to announce the first of a sequence of large-scale protests that, as we all know, resulted in the end of the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

When Ghonim was released from detention and identified for the first time as El Shaheed, he repeatedly insisted that the revolution had been leaderless. “Our revolution is like Wikipedia, okay?” he said to one interviewer. And, of course, he was right. Ghonim was not the author of the change that occurred in Egypt. The protesters themselves, in all the cities in which they took to the streets, also did not alone create the historic transformation that captivated the world for seventeen days in the winter of 2011.

That outsider incursion was complemented by insider acts of courage— from those still-unnamed soldiers and their commanders who, on the ground, advocated for restraint, to Mona El-Shazly, the correspondent forthe independent Egyptian channel, Dream TV, who broadcast an interview with Wael Ghonim that was widely reported to have intensified opposition to the Mubarak regime at a critical point in the protests. A general principle applies. When it comes to making change happen, outsiders are powerless. On the other hand, insiders are trapped. As a consequence, change happens as a consequence of outsider incursion and insider excursion.

When you are aware of, and open to, developing the relationships that define your environment, you are in a position to understand the possibilities of the present. This is a big deal. A brilliant sociologist by the name of Ron Burt has ably and persuasively documented that neither induced homogeneity nor rigid compartmentalization within institutional silos is a particularly good strategy for organizational success. Instead, the organizations that function best are those characterized by “integrated diversity”—clearly distinct areas of knowledge, experience, or understanding that are aware of, and communicate with, one another. Situational awareness and renewed diversity are preconditions for sustained learning and development. As I’ll discuss in the next chapter, the most effective people within organizations harvest value by building bridges between different knowledge silos.

Similarly, resilient and prosperous societies are ones that create ample space for outsider insurgents and insider deviants. This social fringe—the boundary between what is and what cannot be—is the space occupied by entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators. It is also a space naturally occupied by members of diasporic communities of all varieties.

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