It is very rare now to read about collaboration in a business context without the point being made that collaboration is ‘new competition’ or a form of ‘co-opetition’. This is true. It is also true that despite a growing number of business leaders becoming seriously engaged with this critical business driver, there is certainly a major challenge for the practice of collaboration to reach the level of ‘discipline’. As has been remarked by some, people fear change not because of the new ideas but more because they fear letting go of old ideas.
Collaboration as an idea, as a concept and as a practice is not spared. In my opinion, collaboration does not negate competition. If anything, collaboration makes competition more innovative, and more relevant to customers’ desires and market trends. But, for all that to truly work, collaborators have to be a bit more creative, more driven and focused on sustainable impacts. That is what out-collaborating your competition is about; utilising the collaborative advantage as a unique set of values that can make your product better.
One of the constants that I identify in almost every instance when developing collaborative strategies is the expectation by clients that a set of scientific rules would show in advance what values will emerge. That kind of thinking is only natural. However, the concern is the ability to know what can be measured in advance and what is intangible and hard to predict. For instance, collaborating parties can measure their investment in time, money, intellectual property, equipment and so on. On that basis some degree of output can be calculated and decisions made to ensure the collaboration does not lead to loss. How fast collaboration can produce an idea, a quality of an idea and its total value is not a simple calculating process. This is where entrepreneurial management plays a larger role.
Out-collaborating your competition is then a deliberate approach, informed by an acute understanding of the capacity at hand and more importantly the goals the business is focusing on. In other words, it is not about going out and collaborating on all fronts, but rather being clinically focused on selective areas that lead to a collaboration premium. This inevitably leads to a number of questions every collaborating entity should consider. Who will establish with a high degree of certainty how well the organisation is positioned to attract collaborating partners? Is the internal culture of the organisation ready for the degree of disruption which collaboration can infuse? How will the collaboration enhance the brand of the organisation as a whole? How will the risk be managed? The list goes on and on. But none of these questions are significantly harder to answer then the types of questions that are posed in a standard strategy formulation process. The only difference is that these questions may take longer to address.
As with any strategy, collaboration as a platform needs to be well understood. The old attitude of ‘working together’ and hoping for the best can only carry your business so far. The idea that collaboration can actually be something that nudges your business ahead of the competition works best when it is well incorporated into your business as a brand, strategy and culture. For that to occur it is not unreasonable to invest internally into engaging a team or an individual as your chief collaboration driver. Businesses are already doing this so don’t miss out.