In the last selection of ROADMENDER Recommends I was guided by a point that seemed so obvious and yet in need of reinforcing. As I remarked then, collaboration has surpassed the point of familiarity and has entered into the sphere of relevance in a variety of ways. The shift towards collaboration, or in some cases the outright embrace of it as a competitive solution for a number of challenges that private, government as well as not for profit sectors face, is a strategically smart choice. Mentioning collaboration though still conjures up a variety of responses that are not always coherent and, more importantly, not clearly relevant. While I have no doubt this will change as practice improves, the key is to never lose sight of the fundamentals.
Collaboration is about relevance. This should be the first and most critical starting point in designing any kind of strategic outcome which relies on a collaborative approach. The attraction to collaboration can be the positive energy people experience when working collaboratively. The popularity of the term sometimes may lead organisations to use it as a throwaway line for making things sound better. And there are many other reasons why people are willing to agree to enter into a collaboration regardless of how much real thought they put into it beforehand.
There’s no getting away from the fact that collaboration is still seen as a junior partner in strategic thought. This is often the first mistake; and designing a collaborative strategy can end up being a discussion about everything except collaboration. Here I get reminded of Oscar Wilde’s famous remark, “everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” That remark can equally apply to collaboration. Perhaps everything is about collaboration except collaboration. Regardless, whichever way we approach it, collaboration should be the relevance that forms the backbone of any enterprise’s competitive strategy.
When we look at competition, which is major guiding principle in any business endeavour, we first need to establish the point of relevance of our service/product. But to be competitive today we need to create better solutions, which are vitally dependent upon an enterprise’s ability to innovate. This is the critical part: innovation is severely limited without creative use of new data, concepts and ideas. All these are very expensive, and almost cost prohibitive, factors for many enterprises. Ideas are expensive. Knowledge is expensive. Data is expensive. So here is where sharing strategically, i.e. collaborating, makes the difference.
The idea of sharing in a strategic way, where self-interest and shared interest balance each other, is what keeps collaboration relevant. Utilising the collaborative strategy as a process for fine tuning the relevance of any endeavour is what collaboration is best suited to. This is not to say that collaboration can’t also add value across a range of processes within an enterprise. Collaboration can unlock capacities for collaborating partners that normally would come with serious cost. However, any collaboration that does not end with a measurable outcome, whereby a business partner is able to see its enhanced relevance in a chosen market, is not sustainable. Relevance is what allows any enterprise to grow and be resilient.
So, when an opportunity to collaborate emerges, ask yourself a question: will it make the project more relevant to the target audience? If not, look the other way.