Some thoughts on Collaboration and Innovation

Don’t do it unless you have to!

If you know what it is that you want to achieve, and you have the power to do it without collaborating then JFDI.  Collaboration is a tool best left in toolbox. unless you have the right job for it.

What are you collaborating for?

Be really clear on what you want the collaboration to achieve, both for you, your preferred, chosen collaborator (more on this later) and your service users or customers.  What impact do you want the collaboration to make?

Develop the vision and rationale for the collaboration – but leave the detailed planning till later

Finding the right collaborators depends on having a vision that is credible, compelling and achievable.  But leave plenty of room for your collaborators to get on board with you in refining the vision and getting down and dirty with shaping goals, projects and plans.  You want them to be collaborators remember – not just hired hands…

Choose your collaborators with care

Make sure that your collaborators being resources, abilities, skills, something to the party that you don’t have but that you need to achieve what it is that matters most to you.  Collaborations that bring to the game more of what you already have tend not to be very exciting – unless your challenge is simply to ‘do more’ rather than ‘do different’ or ‘do better’.

Surviving or thriving?

For some at the moment the need to collaborate is driven by the scissors of doom, the falling levels of investment and the rising demands on services.  ‘Collaboration’ is seen as a way to get more done at lower costs and can be a euphemism for, or a preamble to, merger where back office costs can be cut and we get to live another day.  Nothing wrong with living to fight another day, but using collaboration to innovate might mean that you get to thrive rather than merely survive.

Collaboration, like innovation, is an acquired competence

Innovation and collaboration are both complex processes that require certain skills and cultures to enable them to develop and thrive.  You can’t just expect individuals or organisations to be innovative and collaborative, any more than you can expect them to walk a high wire or speak Latin.  These things have to be learned, and learning takes time.

Get used to failure

Both collaboration and innovation are risky endeavours.  They cannot be ‘evidence based’ and guaranteed to succeed.  The more you innovate and collaborate the more you will fail.  But also the greater the chances that you will succeed.  And as long as your successes create more value than your failures destroy then you are winning.

Ponder the ‘non suicidal acts of courage’

Collaboration and innovation both demand courage.  For us to leave our comfort zones.  To risk failing, looking stupid, provoking disapproval, even anger.  There are risks we could take that, if they went wrong, would put us out of the game. These are potentially suicidal acts of courage – and sometimes they may have to be taken.  But what are the non-suicidal acts of courage that you might be able to commit to?