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For a big majority of us, open innovation is now well established, it is part of our innovation furniture. The quest for many, today, is the search for richer engagements, possibilities and exchanges. We need to move beyond the existing boundaries and go deeper into the collaborative space.

I regard collaboration as the active ingredient, the yeast that allows our ‘daily innovation bread’ to rise. Getting all the parties ‘gathered around’ puts increased vitality, energy and commitment into working together over a project or idea.

As we learn to reach out and collaborate, exchanging perspectives and our different thoughts, it is in these interactions, in the many exchanges on-line and off-line that we move towards a real sense of achievement.

Allowing outside ideas through our doors

Open innovation has literally thrown open the doors, many of our research and development activities are increasingly relying on the input from outside. Open innovation is changing our behaviours.

Yet it can be tough to shift our ingrained habits and patterns of behaviour to accommodate differences of opinion, acceptance that many of the answers lie outside of our building and domain of expertise. The more we look outside for answers the more we are getting closer to the truth, as the truth lies out in the market place.

We need to seek those “moments of truth” and be true to ourselves, in having open, honest dialogues; these strengthen sharing, confidence and trust - all essential to collaborations.

There are certain behaviours to avoid, certain ones to embrace.

I am sure we have all looked at collaborations as more one way, our way, and not made the progress we had originally expected. True collaborating is an art, not a science. It needs constant practice, a freedom to explore and express. You need to have a clear sense of purpose, on why you are talking; otherwise you wander and never get to the point of real value.

The work is around issues / challenges / problems that have the potential for mutual gain. No one enjoys those “black holes” or “long silences” of one way dialogues, those that often feel like “I think this person is sucking out my brain” and expecting that for free.

No, for me collaborations, good collaborations, can move up a gear from those past open innovation experiences. We need to make them human dialogues that appreciate and respect the others' opinion, otherwise why bother with open innovation, if we already know the answer, we just want you to confirm it?

Designing our collaborative platforms with some suggested principles

  • I like the principles of “demonstrating, validating, sharing and discussing” as you ‘plug’ into each other so you can achieve active dialogue on ‘given’ subjects on a solid ‘give and take’ approach.
  • Often we constrain ourselves in working out the prescribed agenda of needs before we get into any dialogue, I think this is a huge mistake. We should make conversations creative, a rich mix of development techniques that generate good interactions and create that growing bond and identification.
  • Allow time to let discussions and exchanges grow and flow and sometimes they can move into unusual directions that lead to even better creative exchanges for value building.
  • We need to have and seek a bias for action, by simply keeping on asking the basics of “for whom, why are we discussing this, how can we proceed, when and what issues stand in our way?”
  • I like the idea to start off any potential innovation conversation with a belief of its change possibilities; it opens us up to what both parties can truly get out of the collaboration.
  • We should always start with the belief that we need to gain mutually, and often just simply recognizing that you might ‘just’ simply gain personal knowledge and insights that could offer value somewhere ‘down the line’.
  • Each side constantly needs to track back to a sense of worth and that comes from allowing time for feedback and open thinking. Take your time to really engage in mutual conversations, they prove to be increasingly valuable over time.
  • I believe the ability to use design thinking techniques can give a greater dimension to ideas, flow, exchanges and creative moves towards solutions. Learn the techniques and then try it as an alternative way to work and create together.
  • We need to practice “circles of conversation” where they loop around, move around the parties and you gain increasingly from the positive reinforcing loop of different conversation strands.
  • Lastly, we all bond, sometimes not so much with the problem but far more with the person explaining the problem, so mixing up the expected problem statement with personal experience and your values makes for a far more positive atmosphere, leading to fruitful conversations you might not have initially expected.

Why is collaboration so important to our future?

As we engage, we learn.

We can’t imagine what we don’t often see; others open our minds to new possibilities. We can stay anchored in what we see and do, or if we are prepared to let go and have this ‘freedom’ to look for mutual exchange we can scale new heights. Conversations, exchanges and collaborations give us the experience to learn.

The huge value of collaborative exchanges is how it opens up our minds as we sometimes realise that we were ‘vested’ in selective thoughts that were less informed than we expected. Opinions can fall away as better ones replace them.

We need to let go, unlock the knowledge that comes from collaborations. Just remember outsiders are not insiders, they have different perspectives and do not expect to ‘shoe horn’ their opinions into the one size fits all. 

I’d argue to remain as open as possible, so as to allow yourself to simply open up in a world of mutual collaboration, it can lead to some powerful innovation ideas. Build trust, value your own instincts and permit judgement calls to be pushed off until you have allowed the other party to explain their potential contribution, and then jointly work towards the solutions.

Make your collaborative efforts move just beyond open innovation into relationships that continue the learning process for all sides. Make all your collaborating endeavours stimulating, then you move into that higher creative, co-creating gear and it is a far more rewarding place to be.

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides possible answers to many issues associated with innov