The shape of our collaboration activities has been radically changing in recent years. The combination of technology, the internet, resource constraints and opening up of innovation to the outside world has changed the shape and content of conversations. Shaping conversations can be either intentional or through serendipity. Ideas are usually never fully formed but emerge over these conversations from fragments that need nurturing, encouraging, aligning and developing through ongoing conversations. Often the fragments need a wider network to come together and form around.
The push today is the ability to sharpen the ideas quickly and move into some early testing and validation, ideally with the final customer somehow engaged and then from this ‘interaction’ the idea shapes and its final understanding deepens onto a concrete delivery. There is a growing need for more radical, out of the existing box innovation to tap into. Collaborators help here.
Collaborations are far more complex and I suggest our thinking this through might be managed in three phases of understanding: Identification, definitions and then diffusion.
1) The first part is identification
Here we are looking to maximise our connections, we are searching for diversity to help explore and then reframe emerging ideas. The search for different perspectives always needs to be brought in.
- The hardest part is defining the problem to tackle and then be adaptive enough to make changes as you learn and discover. We need to constantly expand our networks through partners. The level of trust within these partners needs establishing, testing and constantly reaffirming.
- The search to engage: we need to find the brightest, the best, the more engaged to get the quality of conversation in both breadth and depth. We should not be quick to dismiss but actually seek out reciprocal learning, perhaps working on a ‘pay it forward’ approach.
- The often over used ‘win-win’ does need our constant attention because if we all are focused on the value-creation opportunities for all involved and less on the value capture for one we are going to grow our collaborative efforts over time in far better ways. These become true partnerships.
- Knowing who you are dealing with, their level of knowledge, experience, the track record behind them and their organization allows for a growing compatible level of commitment as each value the other, within any collaboration. Each appreciates the other and values them for what they bring.
2) The second part is definitions and delivery
Projects today are always looking for speed, who you bring on board needs to possess the right capabilities but you need to be clear on what these need to be.
- You need to search for the complementary in any collaborative innovation, you want to avoid or minimise the duplications.
- The working out of contributions and rights in any collaborative project need addressing early. The search for striking the balance, achieving equitable assignment is tough when it comes to IP but it needs addressing as early as possible.
- The motivation for collaborating needs better understanding. Reputations and credibility are made or broken on structuring collaborations correctly as ‘good partners’ become known fairly quickly in areas where there are limited players or potential partners. Establishing this credibility ‘stock’ gives significant advantage.
- Compatibility comes in all shapes and sizes but culturally compatible in style, openness, sharing and possibly management outlook are important to establish.
3) Diffusion has to be mutually supportive and is moving towards building established ecosystems
We're increasingly looking towards ecosystems to build around us. These have completely different needs to manage and reflect upon, and why I have separated this into a clear phase. Managing the diffusion through ecosystem collaboration is often highly complex for more radical innovation.
- Firstly, these ecosystems might already be available to tap into, or we may need to build a new one. This calls for true catalysts to handle the growing complexity that needs consciously managing and drawing in others to the cause.
- Partly these ecosystems might need to be built as the idea is radical or architectural. We need a clear ‘define the cause’ to which we can group around. Ecosystems need that symbiotic relationship to work. Knowing what makes this is important to keeping the relationships and collaborative efforts flowing and building in sometimes difficult circumstances.
- The level of early identification of the interdependences within the collaborative partners is important. Organizations are increasingly looking to fully integrate partnerships that will work not just at the front end but throughout the innovation value building process right through to final execution.
- The compatibility of the partners and the people working within the ecosystem need the same identification. Who has critical impact on its success? The dealing with potential ‘choke points’ where you may need additional partners can lead to stability or crisis in complex partnerships. The project leader needs to continously identify and drive towards solutions.
Problem solving always causes its own friction
Any ecosystem should remain transparent and have this constant re-affirming mapping back to the collective value-creation proposition identified at the stage or as adapted as the ecosystem learns, it becomes updated and recommitted as it evolves. Often a more radical innovation platform takes some of the participants outside their comfort zones, the importance of a visionary insight about the potential becomes key to help contain and manage this. The emphasis on emerging compatibility or extending core within their existing business often needs to be conveyed to dampen this concern down.
Working in complex ecosystems is not easy, the partner selection, the managing of the system usually requires clear and well-honed project and management skills. Engagement will thrive or flounder on the mutual understanding of the benefits and these may be very different as an end goal.
Identifying what makes up your collaborative design early is important
The key thread that is consistent during these three phases of different collaborations of identification, delivery and diffusion is that it is challenging the existing behaviours usually found in closed systems. The need is to replace ‘competing’ with ‘collaborating’ and that is not easy.
Collaborative innovation is about exploring the dispersed knowledge by attracting; foraging and experiencing that can make up collaborations. These more open, external collaborations will enable organizations to discover, sharpen and shape innovation in very different ways than being reliant on ‘just’ themselves. Yet collaborating requires a real growing specialisation within any organization.
The earlier you can identify the critical aspects, the more likely you are to ‘allow’ collaborative innovation to work but it is hard work.