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What is the Collaboration Curve?

We’re going to go back to school to talk a little bit about the Collaboration Curve. Let’s start off by talking about the Experience Curve. Remember the Experience Curve? For those who might have played hookie that day, the Experience Curve tries to explain why the cost of each incremental good made is less than the previous one. The idea is for each product made, workers gain experience. This experience allows them to make the next unit faster and cheaper. Much like the Experience Curve, the Collaboration Curve attempts to explain how more people collaborating, leads to greater performance improvements faster.

In her recent post on Working Knowledge, Andrea Meyer, helps to break down what the Collaboration Curve is, why it’s something we should pay attention to, and how to take advantage of it. The Collaboration Curve was first identified by John Hagel, co-Chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge in Silicon Valley. According to Hagel’s Harvard Business Review article, Introducing the Collaboration Curve, “We’re seeing the emergence of a new kind of learning curve as we scale connectivity and learning, rather than scaling efficiency.” Hagel observed that when you add more participants to an environment; there is a leveraging of communal knowledge. This allows for greater improvements, faster.

Let’s look at an example. Hagel studied the online game World of Warcraft (WoW). In it, “It takes [players] roughly 150 hours of accumulated game play to earn the first 2 million experience points but players on average are able to earn another 8 million experience points in the next 150 hours of accumulated game play. Even though, within the game, experience points become more difficult to acquire as you advance.” So how then, as the game gets progressively more difficult, can players earn points four times faster?

The answer: World of Warcraft’s “knowledge economy”. According to Hagel, “Most improve their performance by leveraging a broad set of discussion forums, wikis, databases, and instructional videos that exist outside the game.” (aka World of Warcraft’s “knowledge economy”) Here’s what interesting: “The more players participate and interact with WoW’s knowledge economy, the more valuable its resources become, and the faster players increase their rate of performance improvement.” So, basically what Hagel noticed was the more participants (and interactions between those participants) that are added to an environment, the faster the rate of performance improvement increases.

So far, examples of the internet Collaboration Curve are mostly anecdotal because of their nascency. But what’s really exciting according to Hagel is that “Collaboration curves may reverse the diminishing returns dynamics of the experience curve and deliver increasing returns to performance instead…In nearly all these group efforts, rapid leaps in performance improvement arise as participants get better faster by working with others.” Do you see any collaboration curves emerging? If so, where and how did they come into being?