Collaborative advantage, a concept developed by Rosabeth Moss Kanter and now 20 years old, continues to gain traction. The major difference between the time when the Professor Kanter developed the concept and now, is a massive environmental shift. Collaboration today is not only a response to wicked problems on a societal level, but is much more closely aligned to challenges faced by small agencies across the public, private and community sectors. Collaborative advantage is now relevant in a way it has not been in the past.
David Hume, a contemporary of the father of modern economic thought Adam Smith, argued that it is not possible to win an argument against a person who defends an opinion in which one does not believe; the mere reason being that when someone holds a view that is not grounded in reason, then debating it is fruitless. I think this is a relevant point today as there are a growing number of people who are starting to believe in collaboration based on reason and facts. This in itself is solid ground upon which to further the discipline, which is open for debate and discussion among those who believe in it. The relevancy of this is that only then can we further explore the importance of business concepts such as collaborative advantage.
Collaborative advantage is an outcome that has proven to be hard to achieve. Mastery of collaboration management and governance are only two of the absolute essentials for it to become reality. I argue that collaborative advantage is necessary if a business (perhaps slightly less so in the government context) is to be resilient. In this instance I refer to a ‘resilient’ rather than ‘sustainable’ business as I increasingly agree with the view that resilience is replacing sustainability as the principal factor in the lifetime of an enterprise. Collaborative advantage is a unique form of value that is not easily defined by an algorithm. While it can be measured and applied, it is not something that can be precisely predicted. I would not go as far as suggesting that collaborative advantage is a case of 1+1=more than it should, however in almost all cases it can be argued that the value of collaboration advantage is not only in what is clearly and precisely measurable, but also in the intangible opportunities it offers to smart collaborating partners.
Unifying resources such as knowledge, skills, social capital, etc. brings about collaborative advantage that is shaped by both the partners themselves, as well as a broader set of factors that inform the marketplace. Collaborative advantage is not entirely confined to the sum of all parts that collaborating partners bring, as much as it creates new potential for innovative and creative solutions that otherwise would remain undetectable in the course of strategy formulation or/and strategy execution. This specific quality is precisely one of the key reasons why collaboration requires ‘creatives’ to be involved in the decision making. To clarify the idea of creatives I strongly agree with the following factors identified by Barry. M Staw in his research work on organisational psychology: risk takers, nonconformists, persistent, flexible and put in long hard hours. However, creatives are also described as individuals who pose independence of judgment, autonomy and self-confidence, all of which is valid, but when it comes to collaboration the former set of factors are far more critical. The likelihood of the emergence of highly deviant ideas that creatives come up with in a collaborative setting is in a large part due also to the combined information, knowledge, resources etc that collaborating partners contribute. Therefore, the collaborative advantage can offer solutions that while not conventional, are highly effective and relevant to an enterprise. If these solutions are then applied in a business process, it is possible for a business enterprise to be much more resilient than when it follows a conventional path. Regardless of size and type, resilient companies recognise that resilience in business is not confined to the ability to deal with a disruption as much as it is about the ability to continue to grow after the disruption. A critical part of the ability to grow is competitive advantage, which is precisely what collaborative advantage can offer.
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