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Collaborative Information Exchange: Now and Then

“’No one is useless in this world,’ retorted the Secretary, ‘who lightensthe burden of it for anyone else.’”

The world for Charles Dickens was a world for collaboration: his charactersendlessly collaborate (such as is the context in Our Mutual Friendabove, when the “Secretary,” John Rokesmith, speaks with Bella Wilfer about theplan for Bella to befriend Lizzie Hexam, to learn why Lizzie is in hiding);Dickens joined forces with others desiring to improve social conditions; heformed and published weekly journals to provide a medium for literarycollaboration.

It was Dickens’ immense desire to do good through his writing, particularlyto champion the cause of the social needs of the British poor, the workingclasses, and the prisoners in the mid 19th century. To his greatcredit, he succeeded, forcing attention on these issues onto a society thatwould have preferred to enjoy his novels with his creative genius and his witbut without the strong dose of social reform.

Oliver Twist describes the street life of London orphans andprostitutes. In Little Dorrit, Dickens focuses on the grim lives ofthe inmates of the debtors’ prisons, in which Dickens own father had beenimprisoned for a time. The title character in Barnaby Rudge ismentally disabled, and several of the characters in Our Mutual Friend,from which we quote at the beginning of this post, have physicaldisabilities. In Nicholas Nickleby he exposed the abusive, live-inYorkshire schools, to which many unwanted children were sent; in A Tale ofTwo Cities he criticizes the violence in modern society; and in MartinChuzzlewit and American Notes he takes on American racism.

In addition, Dickens in his public life was dedicated to collaborative socialreform, collaborating with other philanthropists to create half-way houses forprostitutes and soup kitchens for the poor. He gave readings for charitablecauses. He campaigned for healthy and sanitary causes.

Dickens published many of his novels serially via literary magazines that heedited: first Household Words (from 1850-1859) and then in All theYear Round (from 1859 through his death in 1870). These were magazinesdedicated to publishing fiction (from other authors, as well as his own) andtreatments of non-fiction topics, especially concerning social issues of theday. In these magazines, Dickens occasionally collaborated with other authorsto co-write short stories and plays; he co-authored The Haunted Housein 1859 with five other people.

In all this, Dickens was a businessman as well as a collaborator; let’s turnto the business of collaboration and the collaboration of business.

In a previous post, I mentioned that the first use for sharing information isa simple one: not necessarily toward any end other than to share life electronically: a photo, a link, a song,an article… anything that can be captured or created by one person and thentransmitted to another. In last week’s entry, I looked at the second use casefor information exchange, the workflow: I or my organization needs something, aresult, and so I transmit information to you or your organization to execute thenext step in the process of obtaining that result.

This post is to describe the third use case for sharing information:collaboration. While workflows exist to move well-establishedprocesses forward (buying a house, reserving a hotel room, placing an ad in anewspaper), collaboration involves communication to move processes forward thatare not well established. Typically these processes can be thought of as partof a project (whether the word “project” is used or not): a temporaryendeavor with a unique outcome. Projects familiar to us include constructionprojects, strategic planning projects, academic research projects, etc. Butmany other endeavors are projects as well: taking a trip, constructing a flowerbed; even conducting a romance is a project of sorts.

Collaborative efforts and projects need the secure exchange of information so that scope is welldefined, efforts are well coordinated, and the monitoring and inevitablecorrection are able to occur to bring efforts back in line with the plan. During his lifetime Dickens himself wrote more than 14,000 letters in a virtualfire hose of communication and information exchange.

Business collaboration typically takes place to further business efforts, toincrease revenue, and to decrease costs. The world is busy with thesecooperative efforts; and most of this work is good work. But Dickens reminds usthat in addition to the collaboration we undertake to make our businesseshealthy, we should look to the collaboration that eases the burdens of oneanother.

To learn about OpenText’s latest secure information exchange offering,SecureiX, click here.

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Lisa Grankowski

Lisa is in the OpenText Business Network Marketing team.

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