Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – Bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

engaged_saleI started this series of blog posts by stating that as the wheels turn faster, people more important than ever before. Then people had better be more engaged than the souvenir lady in this picture. A person who merely “goes through the motions”, mindlessly, without engagement and whose mind is anywhere else than in the present, is unlikely make any positively significant difference. And without engagement, there will hardly be much innovation either.

This is the last blog post of six on the theme of the advantages for companies and their employees of collaborating and working transparently. The previous are:

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience
  • Effectiveness – Through more direct communication channels
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation

These blog posts have been published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Spend some thought on this video by Steven Johnson about where good ideas come from (I’m sure he will appreciate you buying his book, btw)

Isn’t it exactly environments like these we want to create and support in our organisations? Like the coffee houses of the age of enlightenment and the Parisian salons during the Modernism era. Environments where people and ideas meet, both on purpose and by chance and where you can find both likeminded to collaborate with and different-minded to get inspired by. Since long, farsighted architects have created office environments to generate random meetings, but how do we do when associates are spread across great distances? How do we do to involve both customers, partners and suppliers?

My answer is not surprising: Through a transparent work culture and tools for online collaboration

In online communities, discussions and through following updates by colleagues, maybe especially those a bit on the fringe, your understanding of what the company and your colleagues actually do, as does the understanding of how you can impact on results. The probability of random meetings with ideas, knowledge and interesting people is multiplied. The foundation for both engagement and innovation gets much more fertile.

If you have special interests or ideas you want to build on, but lack resources or have knowledge gaps, it becomes incredibly much easier to find likeminded to grow those interests with or to put together a team of volunteers with supplementing knowledge and skills to develop those ideas further. A paradise for intrapreneurs.

Just think of something as simple but inspirational as feedback (potentially simple and inspirational, that is). Usually it something that employees get rarely, usually from their manager in a strictly orchestrated appraisal ceremony. Not very simple and definitely not inspirational. How inspirational isn’t it instead to suddenly get a Like from a distant colleague who you might be acquainted with, but not necessarily, on that presentation you just shared or on your blog post? Or when you see how many have downloaded that Excel-thingy of yours? Or receiving a suggestion on how to improve what you are currently working on – from someone “who’s done it” before? How much more inspiring and motivating won’t it get to develop and share your knowledge and experience?

Most companies who introduce online collaboration platforms do it aiming at efficiency, aa I wrote about in the blog post, Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience. I am certain that the long range boost in innovation and employee engagement is much more important, though.

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organisation to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

What do you think of the value of employee engagement, innovation and what organisations can do to boost them?

Effectiveness – through more direct communication channels

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“Whisper” by ElizaC3

Do you remember when you played Chinese Whispers as a kid? One person whispers a message to a second person who whispers it on to a third who….until the last person tells everybody what he or she heard. The message used to be complete gobbledygook and you all had a great laugh. (What’s Chinese in that game, by the way?)

What was a fun game as a kid, is the default way of communicating in most organisations, at least in one direction. If it’s not the words of the leadership that get interpreted and distorted on their path to the employees, it’s the questions or attempts at communicating up the hierarchy.

This is the fifth blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience
  • Effectiveness
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

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Is this how employees see the future? Photo by Broin under Creative Commons CCo

In times of rapid change, you can’t afford doing Chinese Whispers for the leadership team to communicate to the employees where you’re heading, why and how to get there. You can’t afford, neither the time, nor because of the risk of the message getting filtered or distorted along the way. Adding to that, surveys done by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute show that “Leadership Future Vision” is the prime driver of employee engagement – for each and every year researched (2008-2012). You can’t afford to waste that potential either by not leveraging the possibilities available for clear and direct communications.

Current volatility and the frantic pace of change make communications in the other direction more important than ever. Partly to enable the leadership team to verify that their message has been received and understood,  partly for the employees to be able to ask for clarifications and supplementary information to make sure that they really have understood. But also to help the leadership to catch what’s happening “out there”, as I described in the third post in this series, about Agility. Having a whole lot of scouts out there is of little value if they cannot pass their observations on to the hub.

A good collaboration and networking platform provides all this, and more

By using blogs – text or video – leaders can broadcast their message to all employees directly and without any middlemen. Through commenting, employees can respond and ask questions if anything still was unclear to them. Since commenting is transparent, you can easily see if someone else has written what you had in mind and save time both for yourself and others by voting/liking on their comment, instead of repeating it. In this context, it is important that the leaders actually read and respond to comments. Anything else would be a waste of valuable feedback and jeopardise trust in that the leaders actually do care about their employees.

For simple grass root publishing, collaboratively, of more structured and lasting information, wikis are a splendid tool. Perfect for FAQ, policies, instructions and the like. Wiki pages can be commented on too. Upward communications has more facets but is made easier by the transparency achieved in a good collaboration and networking platform. For the leadership team to know what the employees think, which challenges they experience and need help with, which opportunities they spot and which trends they have spotted on the horizon… all they need to do is to listen. Maybe even by using social analytics software which are more common on external social networks. Listen to status updates, listen to forum discussions, listen to blogs, gather ideas and get them evaluated in ideation blogs. The possibilities are close to innumerable.

What do you think? Isn’t it upon time for employees not to have to fumble in the mists of insecurity and for leaders to get a chance to leverage all the information and experience that employees amass, instead of it getting stuck in mail chains or discussions around the water cooler? Do you have experience of your own to share?

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organisation to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience

If only I could build on top of what someone else has already done. Without having to start all over on square ONE!

Familiar feeling? When time has been short, the hour late or you’ve been struggling with something complex or boring that simply has to have been done before and be available somewhere.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how greater transparency and online collaboration help us to dare to take on and resolve challenges and difficulties. In addition, it can help us save time. Time we can spend on something more useful.

This is the fourth blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness – through more direct communication channels
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

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Is there better use of your time than reinventing the wheel? Again? Cartwheel, Ulster American Folk Park. Picture: Kenneth Allen, license CC BY-SA 2.0

Build on top instead of build again

An organization doesn’t have to be very big before you risk starting to reinvent the wheel, at least in small things. The larger the organization, the more frequently it happens and the greater the double work and confusion can get.

One hour of double work is forever lost. This can turn into an immense waste for companies and organizations where associates keep doing what others have already done, or parallel initiatives get started, simply due to lack of transparency.

Only three things are needed for this to start to work:

  1. That associates share their work products openly – and make them easy to find, eg. by proper categorization
  2. That they acquire the habit of first search for if someone else has “done it” before, instead of starting to produce from scratch
  3. That there is a system in place to support transparency and online collaboration

How you choose to spend the saved time is another story. If we’re talking about overtime work on evenings or weekends, I suggest you spend it with family or friends, or invest in your health and fitness. But when you save time within your work hours, you may manage to produce more, boost your competence (see Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction in this series – about the easy of building competence in a transparent organization) or to let yourself be inspired to novel thinking and innovations, from all this knowledge and inspiration within easy reach!

In this video with Bosch AG, you can see how they increased efficiency through transparency, seeing some processes shortened from 40 days to 6!

Easier access to experts and to expertise both saves time and improves quality

The traditional view on experts leads to a few, officially recognized, experts in a few, formally defined, areas get overloaded, become bottlenecks and chokes availability of knowledge for the main body of colleagues who, instead, have to resort to spend time on searching among their closest colleagues without finding the really good answers. A grand recipe for both waste and sub-standard solutions.

In the transparent organization, focus tends to shift from experts – the persons, that is – to expertise -the knowledge, and the definitions of the areas of expertise are made from the perspective of the colleagues and the current needs of the business, not by leadership. From “Project Management Methodology” to “good methods to handle agendas and follow up of status meetings”, sort of. Expertise becomes more democratic, you could say. (Whoever can help me with pivot tables in MS Excel will be my expert and hero, but would hardly have been classified as such by leadership.)

Naturally, when expertise is defined “in the eye of the beholder”, when it resides with more people and becomes easier accessible – both from becoming easier to find in conversations and shared documents as well as through greater ease of finding and communicating with those in the know, the savings become substantial for both organizations and associates as well. In addition, it becomes much easier to deliver top quality and do the right things from the start.

Faster onboarding in new roles and projects

A frequent special example of advantages, is onboarding. Of new employees, of existing employees in new projects or in new roles. Since knowledge and history is easier to reach, people can become productive much faster, and more independently. Gone is “Can you please gather all mails and forward to Roger Rookie, please? Don’t forget the attachments, by the way!) Then Roger has to plow through old emails for a week or so. After someone else has sat for a week finding stuff to forward in their mail files and archives, looking for all the essential stuff in need of forwarding. (And how often do you find all of that, btw?)

Instead, it becomes:

“Roger, here’s the link to our team community with all information and history of this project. There’s an onboarding activity for you to work your way through, with links to defined processes, contracts and reports. In the forum, you can see how we’ve worked on the list of demands and understand why we’ve made the decisions made. And all minutes from the steering group are there too. Just let me know if somethings seems to be missing. By the way, you should join this open community for people in your new role.There, you can learn from colleagues around the world who work with similar things, but on similar projects around the world.

IBM uses social onboarding extensively, both for new hires in the groups Soon2BBlue and New2Blue, but also for integration of new employees from mergers & acquisitions.

How much faster do you think Roger may get – and feel – productive? Do you recognize the situation of having to reinvent the wheel? Or the relief of not having too? What defines and expert for you? When you need help, do you have to find the expert or is it enough to find the expertise left behind by him or her or o you have to find the person?

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organization to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

Resilience – bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges

Tougher together – How companies and their employees better can face setbacks and challenges through transparency and collaboration

Where should I stay and eat om my upcoming first visit to Madrid? How do I take a screen shot om my mobile phone? By which watering hole can I find animals to hunt? What did those poisonous berries look like, really? From the beginning of time, our best source of knowledge has been other people. We ask others for help or advice when our own knowledge, experience or skills fall short. Within the family, our village, our school, in Q&A columns of the papers, over the phone, on Facebook or on Twitter. But at work, who do we ask? And how?

This is the third blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Old style

In old style companies we tend to ask our colleagues we already know for help, or maybe some manager. Usually live at the office or via email. How many times haven’t we sent an email to someone only to get an automatic reply that they are on holidays or in training and will be back in a week or two. Or that they pass your question on to someone else who send it to yet another person who in turn passes it on to a fourth person who replies, four weeks later The answer is available on the intranet. Just follow this link.

Does it feel familiar? It was for me, too. But no more.

Sharing and caring

Nowadays, I ask my question in a status update on our social intranet. Maybe I mention a couple of persons who I guess may have the answer or if I guess that someone in their network has it (as mentioning them makes my question appear also on their board, for their network) or in a suitable online community. Usually, I get an answer within an hour or two. I rarely have to wait longer than until the next day. I even share half finished sketches of presentations and documents, stating “I know that this isn’t quite correct and will appreciate any help to improve or any other views”. Such an amazing response I have received! From the foremost experts in the field among my 400.000+ colleagues. Compare that with “Johnny is on vacation and will be back in two weeks”. Every time, it feels as amazing and empowering to be able to get help, without even knowing who to ask. There always seems to be someone who knows, who has sufficient time or willingness to reach out to help. Admittedly, it does help to have a pool of many colleagues at hand, but the positive effects show also in smaller organizations. An open and helpful culture is more important to have than an ocean of colleagues. As is a culture where it is accepted that everybody cannot know everything. Asking is nothing to be ashamed of. Just imagine being able to close a deal or solve a problem with the help of a colleague who you might not know, but who knows what you’re facing and how to resolve it..

It may not even be necessary to get hold of the actual colleague. Often it is sufficient to find the knowledge and the experience they have shared earlier. Either intentionally through working transparently, sharing their documents, presentation and other whatsits. Or unintentionally through answering questions from others in the transparent way I’ve described above. The more transparently everybody works, the easier it becomes to find what you need to overcome the challenges. And you can always ask the author for explanations or supplementary information. We do not realize how much we do know and can share with intention. The rest surfaces when we help others.

With such support it doesn’t only become much easier to bounce back after a setback, but also challenging your limits becomes much easier too.

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By Pingswept (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0] Helping a struggling runner at Boston Marathon

Enablers and obstacles

As mentioned earlier, a condition for this to work is that you have a culture of transparency, helpfulness and acceptance that everybody cannot know everything, of generously sharing your work products and of communicating transparently. And, as a fundamental enabler, that you have a collaboration and communication platform that makes all of this possible and that, through design, encourages and supports transparency rather than closing up.

The obstacles include, of course, a culture where you don’t dare to admit shortcomings, a culture of “withheld knowledge gives power” and without a sense of all working towards a common goal. But also technology can be an obstacle. Questions and answers via email benefits nobody except those involved in the correspondence (plus it takes much longer as I mentioned earlier, or results in an overload of many parallel conversations). The replies can’t be reused by others faced with the same challenge, but they have to search again for the people in the know who, in turn, have to answer the same questions all over again. Shared drives and closed team rooms do not create open collaboration either. They may be beneficial for those with access, but for no-one else. How many other team rooms with similar content do you think there may be in a large organizations, do you think?

Additional benefits for the company

The benefits for employees, described earlier, benefit their employers too, obviously. Employees being able to deal with challenges benefits the company too, of course.

But there’s even more in it for the companies:

  • As long as work is done in the old style, knowledge keeps being locked up with the individual employee. It’s locked up in their heads, on their hard drive or in their mail conversations. What happens if they disappear? The head disappears. The hard drive usually gets erased and the email on the server usually only resurfaces if it’s needed in a legal context. Remaining intellectual capital = 0. If employees work transparently, though, share their work and answer questions transparently, the knowledge stays within reach for all to use also after they have left. The dependency on the individual employee is reduced.
  • In addition, since the knowledge is easily available for re-use and you can Like what you have appreciated, since you can see the number of downloads and so on, you can easily see a de facto standard emerge, based on the benefits and appreciation of peers. Not bad, either, I’d say.

Do you have experience of your own of the difference of searching for help and knowledge in the old fashioned way and of doing it in a transparent organisation? Either inside your company or externally? Maybe in your personal life? I’d appreciate reading about it in a comment.

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organization to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

 

Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction

or, as Charles Darwin wrote “…survival of the fittest”, not “…of the strongest”

development of man

The words of Darwin have proven to apply not only in nature, but also in business life. Examples abound of companies going down because they didn’t realize that the world around them was changing or because they were too slow or rigid to adapt even if they did realize that the map had been redrawn.

This blog post is the second in a series of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees of communicate transparently and to collaborate online. You find the initial post here in English and here in Swedish “As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before”. The rest of the series, including this post, focus on each of the five key factors listed in that blog post:

As I wrote and exemplified in the initial post, the speed of change today is scary… or thrilling, depending on who and how you are. Either way, it’s frantic! And unpredictable. Through the internet and globalization, you can never know what the next big thing will be or from where it will come. Who would have believed, only two years ago, that the possibility of sending self-erasing messages between mobile phones would be the hottest thing around and generate a business valued at 10-20 billion USD? I’m referring to Snapchat. Or that Sub-Saharan Africa would be a Global leader in mobile payments?

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Many scouts = More and more alert feelers

In such an environment, having lightning-fast intelligence can be the difference between survival and succumbing, or flourishing. The challenge of the traditional methods is that the trends are old already when the printed report arrives on your desk. No, it’s better to learn from flock animals, to use the “wisdom of crowds”. The greater the number of scouts, the greater the chance of one of them noticing something relevant. Through the internet and public networks, every associate, business partner or customer is a potential trend scout who can identify new possibilities, ideas or threats.

This can be amplified, of course, but using tools for social analytics. However, in spite of the speed and power of those tools, they still depend on a limited team asking the right questions. Using the wisdom of crowds, you get as many scouts and analysts, all of them with some understanding of the company and the business.

But how do the observations reach the right person? and generate response?

Scouting is not enough. How can the scouts communicate their findings? This is where platforms for open communications and collaboration make the difference. Unlike companies using traditional methods for communication, where employees are stuck with email and their existing network of contacts, the scouts in a company using modern tools can instantly write an update in a relevant community, on their profile, on a profile of someone else (or all of the above) for all to see, comment and pass on to the right audience. Relevant business intelligence can spread as fast internally as bloopers and cute cats do on the public internet.

Once the intelligence have reached the relevant audience and they have decided on a suitable response, this response can spread just as fast throughout the organization – unchanged.

A telling example is how the global HR function of IBM did a 180° policy change in less than 24 hours, due to the widespread and vocal support of a 26-year old associate who complained in public about his Uber expenses not getting covered due to an internal policy. (Business Insider UK: How a 26-year old caused IBM to abolish its ban on Uber)

Benefits of personal agility for employees

Transparent communications and online collaboration doesn’t improve agility for companies alone, but also for their employees. The ample access to knowledge and experience opens up possibilities like never before to build your competence in areas you’re interested in or curious about, without having to ask for approval or budget. If you want to invest you own time, or time between tasks, is up to you, and the information is there to grab.

Transparency opens the possibility of showing what you’re made of, preferably simply by helping colleagues in areas you happen to be good at or have experience of, thereby building your reputation as not only knowledgeable, but helpful too. Suddenly you can get recognition for the expertise you have always had, but only your closest colleagues was aware of. Who knows which doors it may open?

The benefits come with use, not just from deploying a system

Naturally, implementing an system for online collaboration doesn’t automatically make everybody change their way of working. It makes it possible and easier. To make it happen takes a transformation effort in the organization. If you’re curious about how to drive such a transformation project, I suggest you read this white paper: “Best practices for establishing a new way to work

If you have more examples of organisations or individuals reaping benefits of online collaboration or of working transparently? Questions or objections? I encourage you to comment below.

Originally published in Swedish here, on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

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Wasting time on the social intranet!

“Where do we draw the line? At what point are we becoming too social and therefore non-productive?”

This question was posted today on my board in our internal social intranet, in a discussion on the level of social presence by people with an ambition to present themselves as social business consultants. I guess you've heard it before, or similar questions implying that social equals non-productive and can only be tolerated in limited doses. “Social media and social intranets are a waste of time”

Last time your talkative friend phoned you and talked with you for a little less than an hour about nothing, did you blame the phone? Or maybe your friend? Or maybe yourself for not being able to cut them short?

Or the last time the neighbour caught you just outside your door and kept you busy listening to their complaints about the other neighbour's pet?

Chatterboxes waste our time if we let them. Whatever the medium and context.

I use our social intranet to communicate:

  • I ask and answer questions openly, to maximize the possibility of additional contributions as well as re-use of answers in the future by others with the same issue
  • I share knowledge and experience so others can build on mine instead of starting from scratch
  • I reuse knowledge and experience from others for the same reason
  • I scan the flow of updates on boards, blogs, wikis, bookmarks, activities to maximize the potential of stumbling over inspiration or discovering knowledge I didn't even know I could benefit from
  • I collaborate in communities and activities (task management) with efficiency and with the time zones, reducing the need for us to work off hours just because the people involved happen to be on another continent

Wasting time? Rather working efficiently and maybe investing some time for the good of both my colleagues and myself.

For what do we get paid in a social business?

John had worked four weeks on the proposal.

Days, evenings, some weekends and even two nights. Finally, John and the team heard the words they had been fighting for so hard: We have decided to award you our business. And then – even better – …the solution you have suggested is more complete and smarter than your competitors and you have also done a better job of presenting the benefits our company will reap by choosing you and your solution.
Time to celebrate!

A week later, after the first turmoil of getting things started, John thought it could be a good idea to share the winning proposal with his colleagues through the social intranet. First, he hoped that such a strong proposal could help colleagues elsewhere win even more business. Second, John, who was a nice and empathic fella, wanted to save colleagues some trouble and hardship in creating proposals for similar deals from scratch. After all, he knew very well how unhappy he and his family had been with his workload during those four weeks. Finally, he realized that sharing the proposal would build his reputation as an expert in this field and as a good salesguy. Win – win – win!

But, first he needed to cleanse it from confidential information, client identifiers, financial details etc. It took him two hours to do so. But then he shared the file and posted about it in a couple of forums and – of course – in a status update on his profile page. (He added a couple of relevant tags to his profile too, while he was at it, by the way).

Over the following weeks and months, colleagues around the world re-used John’s shared proposal, tailored it to their needs and managed to win several deals around the world, spending only half the time and much less weekends and evenings in doing so. How many millions was it worth for the company?

What did John get out of this? Indeed, his reputation got a boost and people from near and far asked him for supplementary information. Flattering, but time consuming. He probably spent another day’s worth of time on answering such supplementary questions over that period. Still, John thought of the good business he helped the company to make and the gratefulness from colleagues who could work so much smarter than he had been forced to do.

But apart from some thanks a million in mails, chats and over the phone, what did he get out of it? Did it show on his pay slip or in the appraisal by his manager? Not at all. On the contrary. His manager said John, you winning that deal for us was great. But since then, you seem to have lost focus and keep chatting away with colleagues across the world. But out business is here. Our department is measured on the profits we generate from our clients in our local market. Not on some deal in Farawayland. We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, you know.

Social Business brings fundamental changes to the way we reward our employees

For ages, workers’ pay has been based on what they produced. Number of widgets produced, seams welded, kilos of produce, hours worked etc. Our pay has been in direct relation to what came out of our hands or our time worked. Only very few people have been paid for what came out of their heads: artists, writers and maybe a few others.

But Social Business breaks this direct relationship between our effort and the benefit to the company we work for. Our shared knowledge and experience can mean so very much more to the entire company than our original effort actually did. But – and this is the tricky part – we are unlikely to know where or when those benefits are generated and there is no good way of tracking the benefit to the company from what an individual has shared. At least I haven’t seen any, yet.

So, HR folks will have to work out new formulas to reward us for what we bring to the table.

And suppliers of social intranet software or other software manufacturers will need to come up with ways of identifying re-use and benefits reaped from shared knowledge

If they don’t, luddites will keep coming up with the same excuse for not collaborating and sharing: What’s in it for me really?

It will be most interesting to see what they come up with.