International Collaboration and Design Innovation in Virtual Worlds: Lessons from Second Life

International Collaboration and Design Innovation in Virtual Worlds: Lessons from Second Life

Pete Rive (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) and Aukje Thomassen (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-833-0.ch027


Second Life is a popular virtual world that can provide us with valuable lessons about international collaboration and design innovation. This chapter will explore how design practice and design education can assist geographically dispersed design teams working on collaborative designs in a shared virtual space, using real-time 3D constructions and communication tools. We contend that Second Life can provide solutions to collaborative international design and enable knowledge creation and innovation through tacit knowledge exchange.
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Understanding Innovation

At the heart of the innovation process is a design team who collaborates to contribute novel solutions to user problems (Mau, Leonard, & Institute without Boundaries, 2004; Suri & IDEO, 2005). The designer, Bruce Mau, has commented that design is no longer about one designer, one solution, one place, and one client, but is “distributed, plural, and collaborative” (Mau, et al., 2004). Therefore, the ability to innovate is closely related to one’s ability to collaborate (Tapscott & Williams, 2006; Bryan & Joyce, 2007; Hamel, 2007; Managing risks, 2008).

Fredrick Johansson (2004) describes how cross-cultural and international collaboration can contribute to surprising, rule-changing breakthrough innovations, or what he defines as “intersectional” innovations. This situation contrasts with the more common and pedestrian directional and incremental innovation processes typified by the formal Stage GateTM model (Cooper, 2003; Rickards, 2003; Johansson, 2004; Koch & Leitner, 2008; Sebell, 2008).

However, a tension exists between the ability of a network society to collaborate and intersect as never before and the acknowledgement that innovative ideas often reside in people’s heads and is tacit rather than explicit. A number of writers have described how difficult it is to share expert knowledge that has been accumulated over years of experience and requires extended conversations within a shared spatial context, providing a rich sensory and emotional experience face-to-face (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Dixon, 2000; Teece & Nonaka, 2000; Von Krogh, et al., 2000; Benkler, 2006; Rive, 2008; Rive, Thomassen, Lyons, & Billinghurst, 2008). From a design innovation perspective, it often requires multiple experts in cross-functional conversations to explore intersectional ideas, and that demands rich, emotional, and full sensory input to achieve knowledge creation, knowledge transfer, and knowledge sharing (Von Krogh, et al., 2000; Leonard & Swap, 2004; Benkler, 2006).

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