Kim Austin

Re-Imagining Collaboration

Blog Post created by Kim Austin on Dec 13, 2012

Mary Meeker’s “2012 Internet Trends Report put just about every industry on alert: her persuasive argument urged leaders to re-imagine nearly everything about their businesses in no uncertain terms--from advertising, to mobile to media consumption.” Forbes, August

When Mary Meeker speaks, people listen. When she releases her annual report, people really listen. Count me on that list. Meeker, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, recently released the updated version of her report. In it she covers the high points on the trend front, including:


  • The dominance of Windows in the operating system world is diminishing (covered in a previous post)
  • The number of people using the internet now includes 34% of the global population.
  • Worldwide smartphone subscriptions of 42% promises to increase penetration beyond its current 17% of the mobile market.
  • Global shipments of Android phones have grown nearly six times as fast as iPhones since their respective launches.
  • 29% of adults in the United States own tablets or e-readers compared to 2% in mid-2009.
  • Global mobile data traffic is increasing while fixed network traffic is decreasing.


I have a good left-brain, right-brain thing going. I like graphs, charts, and data. But I also like to look at how trends translate into what we do and how we do it. Meeker calls it a “re-imagination of nearly everything.” Essentially, devices, connectivity, and user experience are creating change in how we do – well — nearly everything.


Meeker quotes Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on a similar angle:

“We hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information…We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.” --Mark Zuckerberg, Founder/CEO of Facebook in a February 2012 letter to potential shareholders


It’s a common theme and an ongoing evolution we’re experiencing without really marking the shifts with great fanfare (see Figure 1).

12-12-2012 meeker2a 

As the ways and places we access and consume information evolve, we change how we go about daily tasks: Meeker’s re-imaginations. And somewhere along the way is what Malcom Gladwell would call “the tipping point.” What I see on the other side of that tipping point is not just a change in how we do something, but how our interactions with other people change. That, to me, is the most interesting effect: how we connect with each other, interact, share information, and collaborate toward shared outcomes.



Meeker takes Encyclopaedia Britannica to illustrate what she calls the re-imagination of knowledge by comparing it as the “then” to “now’s” Wikipedia.


First published in 1768 and counting Nobel laureates among its contributors, Encyclopaedia Britannica was considered an authoritative information source for two centuries. Its position was essentially unchallenged until 1993 with the union of desktop PCs and Microsoft’s Encarta CD-ROM. But the real shift came in 2001 with Wikipedia, which today counts more than 488 million unique visitors annually, including 2.8 billion page views on its mobile site – a 95% increase in a single year.


Not only is Wikipedia accessible by anyone from anywhere, but anyone can update it in real time. Granted Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Leon Trotsky didn’t directly contribute to Wikipedia, but that’s where I learned they were among Encyclopaedia Britannica’s most notable authors.


Let me build on three of Meeker’s examples to highlight the shifts that brought about the collaborative element:


  • Photography: The camera progression moves from daguerreotype in 1837 to film in 1888 to consumer digital starting in 1990. Digital cameras were a huge change, but the tipping point came with the integration into smartphones, which allows immediate sharing of images.

  • News: From bulletins carved in stone and posted in public spaces in Rome (59 B.C.) to monthly gazettes in Venice (1556) to weekly newspapers and then dailies, news has been a past-tense phenomena for most of history. Twitter tipped that, making it a real-time collective stream of world consciousness, where someone can post a comment or a video as something is occurring (in 140 characters or less, of course).

  • Navigation: We’ve moved from un-refoldable paper maps to Google Maps print-outs to talking GPS systems in cars and on phones. Now, applications like Waze are vying for the role of tipping point and providing the collaborative aspect. Waze “learns” from users’ driving times to provide routing and real-time traffic updates and incorporate user-provided information, such as accidents.

Figure 2: Activities Evolve 

Re-Imagination of Collaboration

Meeker’s examples show how evolution in devices, connectivity, and user experience are introducing collaborative aspects to activities that were previously performed independently. But how is this same evolution changing activities that weren’t originally technology-dependent in the first place?


Not-so-long-ago, it didn’t require technology more advanced than furniture to have meetings. Technically, it still doesn’t. But technology, specifically collaboration technology, allows more effective meetings — with more people, from more places, on all sorts of devices.


The “thens and nows” of business travel, meetings, team projects, and simply finding co-workers show how simple activities we likely take for granted have evolved — or can evolve — for your organization. My examples (Figure 2) are intentionally mundane. Technology advances are not all about bright shiny objects and space travel.


Sometimes the next big thing is just making the old thing much easier to do. Collaboration itself is not a new idea. But re-imagining collaboration brings together the key ingredients of people, information, devices, software, and clouds to allow the anywhere, anytime ability to access, share, and work together. Because, you’ll hear us say it more than once: We believe people working together can achieve extraordinary things.