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Edge to Edge (E2E) Communities: Scalable Collaboration vs Dunbar’s Number…

May 3, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about the evolution of peer to peer (P2P) and emerging  creation spaces like Hub Australia (where I work) and other co-working-making spaces.

John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davidson write in the Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion

“The fact that richer knowledge flows and even elements of creation spaces—which are characteristic of the third wave—are now becoming visible on the edge demonstrates the overlapping, rather than sequential, nature of how the Big Shift is unfolding…innovations  to  institutional  architectures  (such  as  the  ability  to  foster  and  participate  in creation spaces where performance accelerates as more participants join). Over time, these  innovations  will  enable  firms  to  develop  and  adopt  new  ways  of  creating  and capturing wealth in the digital era.”

 One of the most exciting parts of my work and study is understanding how we can better connect these emerging creation spaces across boundaries of shared passion and interest (rather than geography, or rather – we need new mental models of geographies).

The wiki-like digital platforms that have been evolving over the past decade as part of the cloud computing revolution hold the promise of scaling new forms of collaborative activity with wikipedia still standing as the best known example of this. One of the challenges I see in this is the anthropological concept of Dunbar’s number – that human beings struggle to maintain more than about 150 stable social relationships at one time. That somewhere around this number, we exhaust our mental and emotional bandwidth to hold that number of faces, names and stories in a way that’s meaningful. Can we evolve systems and capacities beyond this historical upper limit?

I have a feeling that the entrepreneurs currently building these spaces and communities are laying down the infrastructure that will carry the next wave of value creation in the 21st century – what the railroad tycoons did in 19th century and digital entrepreneurs have done over past decades.

As a species, I see us needing to learn how to connect and scale the collaborative potential of these digital-physical spaces of shared passion that sit outside or across currently recognised institutions. The challenge is doing it in a way that doesn’t dilute or corrode the trust built up by the thick bonds of smaller communities of shared experience.

So if the term hasn’t officially been coined yet – keep your eye on E2E – edge to edge communities*.

Part of my PhD data collection next year will explore these spaces in the context of more recent post-industrial economies  and societies across Asia (and hopefully beyond).

I’m certainly looking forward to the adventure of trying to do this 🙂

*This term itself was actually inspired by some excellent futures visioning work around Hub Melbourne currently being led by Adam Jorlen and Helen Palmer

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