Almost every business discussion, irrespective of the industry or sector, seems to centre on financial return, strategy, marketing and the like. Basically the stuff we tend to feel comfortable with – the real ‘business’ factors. It is rare that conversation focuses on things like elegance. In fact, elegance, is a word not often found in business books. When it is mentioned, it is mostly as a metaphor; and yet elegance is often at the heart of any business. Products and services we see on the marketplace are rarely distinguished by their utility alone. All cars can take us from Point A to Point B. Every smart phone can be used to make a call and browse the net. What makes the product distinguishable is its elegance in the solution it presents.
Elegance is not that easy to define as a universal principle, in part because it has been co-opted by different disciplines to satisfy their own needs. The term itself is sometimes used in advertising, but rarely in order to suggest the actual sophistication with which the product is crafted. Instead it is mostly used as an emotional hook, evoking longing or desire in consumers. Clever for sure. But the real value of elegance is in its mechanics. The way any business problem is solved is critical. The means matter just as much as the end.
The collaborative approach to creating new offerings in the marketplace is equally subject to the degree of elegance required for collaboration to work. Collaborations work the best when they are about crafting results that beat the competition. The best results come from the best challenge.
While not suggesting a formula as such, I think it is possible for collaborating partners to follow some clear paths towards using elegance as the secret ingredient to deliver the winning edge. One such pathway to increase the chances of making collaboration work goes like this:
- Find the problem that needs to be solved.
- Work out a solution.
- The two specific things that make collaboration interesting are the difficulty of the problem and the elegance of the solution. The harder the problem is to solve the harder it is to fashion an elegant solution. Solutions that are good but not elegant may work, but may not last.
- Ensure that the solution to a problem offers more than the utility offered by competitors.
- Define what is elegant about the particular solution. Is it simplicity, design appeal, or defined innovation (or invention)?
Many factors go into involving elegance as an integral part of a solution. As much as it is easier to observe this in a product, say the iPhone, it can also be achieved in a process, such as collaboration. Collaboration is a strategy which is enhanced in capacity when it is pursued elegantly. For a start, imagine how we communicate with our collaborating partners, how we meet each other’s expectations, how we resolve different views and concepts, how the differences are synchronised into a new idea etc. All steps in a collaboration require deliberate intensity and commitment to a final solution before the best collaboration can also be deemed elegant.