When to Turn Down Collaboration

infographic source: Forbes

infographic source: Forbes

Collaboration in the entertainment industry is hot right now. Essentially, all pop music stars maintain their relevance by collaborating at one point or another with other musicians. It is not only pop stars that collaborate. The fashion industry, sport, gaming and others all embrace collaboration. It has become a currency. Not to collaborate means controversy. As was the case recently with internet buzz about Adele declining to collaborate with Beyoncé. That buzz in itself formed a big part of the entertainment, however, there is more to that episode than entertainment and curiosity. As has become clear, the buzz was not based on fact. Adele did not turn down an opportunity to collaborate with Beyoncé.

It is tempting to dismiss this as a bit of light entertainment and not entirely relevant to business collaboration. But, if we take a moment to reflect on the fact that the entertainment industry is a very, very serious business (and highly competitive), then we can start gleaning some valuable lessons that can be applicable to virtually any business.

In my view, the obvious question that the Adele-Beyoncé episode raises is this: what happens when collaboration becomes the norm? Humans are largely defined by norms and the way we adhere to them. We know that breaking norms comes with sanctions. Formal or informal. Collaboration should be considered as an option, rather than as the norm. As much as I would like to see collaboration be the default position for every business, the reality is that for collaboration to be of real value it must be approached as a strategy. That means, like every strategy it should be considered on its own merit and not being a matter of some vague principle.

Savvy business managers know that choosing collaboration should come with checks and balances. It should be justified on the basis that it would work for a particular project or initiative. If collaboration becomes simply a ‘norm’; well that is where it becomes an unmitigated risk – a habit of sorts, which then becomes simply a buzzword. Collaboration is complex. I mean really complex when you try to make it more than just a marketing exercise. It is disruptive for a start. And it is also risky. That said, one should not shy away from it. Disruptions and risks can be integrated into collaboration with stellar results. But before that, the strategy of an entire business has to answer some tough questions about the business’ capacity to collaborate; questions such as; Do we have a good grasp of what collaboration is? Do we have systems and process in place that can accommodate collaboration? Have we got a clear picture of what kind of collaboration governance we want? And that’s just the start.

When all is considered, it can easily become clear that turning down collaboration is not always an opportunity lost. In fact, it can help the business, regardless of its size or nature, to mature its process of identifying the right collaboration opportunities. If a super star like Adele comes your way and offers to collaborate, don’t be star-struck. Be strategic and deliberate.

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