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Open collaboration revolutionizes organizational models, says Emory's Prietula

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Corey Broman Fulks

Emory business school professor Michael Prietula

Wikipedia, Bitcoin, and TEDx are all a part of a new, rapidly expanding form of organization, one characterized by open collaboration, and Emory business school professor Michael Prietula is studying what makes these new entities work.
"We are all familiar with Wikipedia as a prime example of such collaboration," says Prietula, an expert in information systems and operations management at Goizueta Business School. "It has come to match the quality of Encyclopaedia Britannica, which, after about 244 years in circulation, has ceased printing.

"But, consider Bitcoin as a fundamentally new artifact market," says Prietula. "It is not controlled by any one entity, but rather is a decentralized, global, digital currency. Whether it survives or not, it has demonstrated the power of innovative collaboration through connectivity. Bitcoin has attracted a sufficient following and has spawned new types of firms that may threaten traditional Western Union-type transfers. However, Bitcoin exchanges have already been hacked and Bitcoins stolen. It is not only new territory, it may always be new territory.

In his new Organization Science paper "Open Collaboration: Principles and Performance," written with Columbia University professor Sheen Levine, Prietula and Levine define open collaboration "as any system of innovation or production that relies on goal oriented yet loosely coordinated participants who interact to create a product (or service) of economic value, which they make available to contributors and non-contributors alike."

The authors say this open concept has already required established firms to tweak their strategy, operations, and marketing, and that it will continue to replace some traditional organizations.  But it also will generate new market and production mechanisms, mainly because of how interconnected we all are and how resilient these models can be to varying levels of participation.

"The initial idea came from observing the vast sharing of information, software, music, video and other goods online," Prietula says. "People were sharing and collaborating on an unprecedented scale, not for profit but also not through a traditional non-profit organization. It was something novel.

"Internet connectivity affords an extremely powerful framework for the invention of unique artifacts, organizational forms and markets enabled by collaboration," he says.
"Consider that currently about 37 percent of the world’s population uses the Internet, so applications of these models are continuously emerging from that vast herd of intelligence. We view this as just the beginning."

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