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Innovative Solutions, Innovation Consulting, The Collaborative Economy

Connie Williams, CMO and General Partner Synecticsworld

Collaboration, Innovation, Synectics, synetics, innovation consulting, innovative solutionsBy Connie Williams

Collaboration is a hot topic these days.  CEO’s are talking about it.  Schools are emphasizing collaboration skills.  Social media and intranet technologies are described as a foundation for collaboration.  “The Collaborative Economy” is a term Jeremiah Owyang and others are using to describe innovations involving sharing of goods and services from Zip Car to Uber to Airbnb.  Time magazine entitled it “Today’s Smart Choice: Don’t Own, Share” in their collection of 10 Ideas That Will Change the World.  There’s even a book on the subject by Rachel Botsman, What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live.

I am a fan of this new economy.  I have used Airbnb many times already and as someone who has spent up to 100 nights a year or more in hotels for the past couple of decades, I totally have enjoyed the experience of being in someone’s home rather than the sterility of a hotel room.  And I really appreciate Uber as a way to get from point A to point B efficiently and reasonably (unless it is snowing).

There is no question that these new innovations are based on an interesting currency in addition to the money that changes hands: trust.  And for some of them, such as Airbnb, not just a way to pay the rent or make some extra cash but also the recognition of the social aspects and a sense of belonging, as their new branding reflects.  Certainly this cooperative sharing ethos is, indeed, an idea that is transforming our world.

But, none of this is really collaboration, as much as simply cooperation.  What’s more, I’d offer the idea that real collaboration is something much more valuable and rewarding – for individuals, teams and organizations.

As someone who works to emphasize the value of true collaboration in working toward more transformative work environments, creative problem solving, and mentoring innovation teams, the word “collaboration” drives at something far deeper and richer than is usually meant in today’s business conversations.  Real collaboration offers far greater returns if we can define it properly and seek it out.

The dictionary defines collaboration as the:

col·lab·o·ra·tion (kəˌlabəˈrāSHən) noun. the action of working together with someone to produce or create something.

This is different from cooperation.  To cooperate means to be helpful by doing what someone asks or tells you to do or to act in a way that makes something possible or likely.  It’s a pleasant – and far less demanding – act.

True collaboration involves three musts:

  1. A shared goal
  2. A team, literally of two or more people
  3. A process of and for working together
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Shared Goal:  Shared goals are key, usually over some time period rather than a brief moment in time.  Partnering to accomplish the same objective gives the participants power to break down silos, and gets people in a mode to creatively solve for issues and obstacles.  If people align only on intersection of individual objectives, e.g. I want a ride and you want extra income, that cooperative transaction is positive but does not come close to collaboration.  Real collaboration demands setting an inspiring shared vision that will be critical to success.

 A Team:  Real collaboration is usually small in scale, typically in teams from two to 10.  There can be larger teams or multiple collaborative teams working together that share a single objective, but feasible collaboration remains a deeply personal interaction that relies on a positive climate established among the players.  Anyone who’s been in a meeting of more than ten people understands how larger numbers do not enable collaboration, no matter how pure the intent.  Collaboration implies positive give and take that leads to action, and action is more likely when the core of it occurs on a small scale, however broad the ripple effect will become.

A Process of and for Working Together:  Collaborative action creates a unique set of demands and responsibilities.  True collaboration needs different ways of thinking about issues together, so it involves behavior expectations (for instance, ways to give feedback on ideas in respectful ways that lead to new perspectives), thinking approaches and processes for developing and implementing ideas.  It involves sharing of feelings and emotional context and allows for ways to manage conflict creatively.

Our economy needs cooperation and it is great to both experience and invent new ways of sharing resources in a world that typically has ‘too much stuff’.  The real magic, the essence that is at play when leaders (at all levels) and organizations push their way to new heights, happens when people collaborate to invent solutions that are guided by and that achieve shared vision.

Now, if I could only figure out how to share my expensive cable TV service when I am not using it…..

 

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One Comment

  1. Beautifully said Connie! I’d add that another meaningful dimension of successful collaboration involves an appreciation of each individual’s uniquely important contribution to the common goal. Co-operation, and/ or perhaps inclinations toward sharing, discovery, exchange, development… might be aspects of collaboration, but they don’t collaboration make.

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