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Collaborate or die: How leading businesses innovate through collaborative working

  • Collaborate or die: How leading businesses innovate through collaborative working

    There was a time when it was widely accepted that Business was a competitive sport.  If you were to succeed in the corporate world, you needed to be out for yourself. For a company to flourish, they would need to guard their resources and outsmart the competition. Business leaders were lone wolves, ruling supreme over their empires – and employees – with unquestioned dominance.

    But the times, they are a-changing. With the rise of interconnected technologies, the world is becoming a smaller place. A place where collaboration is increasingly possible and desirable.

    The world’s leading businesses are embracing the spirit of collectivism. The most successful leaders of today aren’t the alphas we once admired and feared. Great leadership in the collaborative age is characterised by the ability to facilitate. Leaders must skilfully assemble the right team and create an environment in which their people can be inspired, empowered and challenged to succeed.

    Let’s examine some real-life examples, within and outside the business world. These companies, projects and movements show how collaboration and collectivism are changing our world for the better.

    Open Source Technologies

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    The open-source movement has allowed rapid technological innovation. Without the constraints of patents or licensing laws, open source technologies are able to continuously evolve. A huge, international community of experts and enthusiasts drive this innovation –  testing, developing, improving upon one another’s ideas.

    As Mark Hinkle puts it, in this article for WIRED:

    “The beauty of open source is that it’s a huge ecosystem of innovators who are no longer competing for scarce resources but rather sharing knowledge with others to create new resources and opportunities for others to benefit from these resources.”

    Open-source technology has powered world-class software such as Ubuntu, Android, Mozilla Firefox and MySQL. And let’s not forget websites. Wikipedia epitomises the open source ethos, with a global network of contributors making thousands of changes per hour to the ever-growing encyclopaedia.

    A few examples from the physical world include the development of computers, 3D printers, drones, wind turbines and even prosthetic limbs.

    Creative Industries

    It will come as no surprise that the creative industries have long led the way in collaborative working. The creation of a film, theatre production, publication or record involves the work of a collective.  Each project is a collaboration of professionals (artists, producers, writers, technicians, etc.).  Each has their own area of specialism but all must work together to achieve a shared vision.

    A great example of a creative company embracing this approach is Pixar. In this TEDTalk, Linda Hill examines the company (amongst others), and describes how their management approach fosters an environment of ‘collective creativity’.

    As Hill explains, Pixar has no Steve Jobs or Richard Branson figure. They value the group over the individual, favouring the principle that ‘innovation is not about solo genius; it’s about collective genius’.

    By embracing inclusive decision-making and encouraging input from people at all levels, Pixar allow everyone the opportunity to share their ‘slice of genius’.

    Collective Action

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    The unifying power of the internet hasn’t just revolutionised the way we work. It has had a profound effect on the international political landscape.

    The past decade has seen the rise of internet activism. Here in the UK, for example, feminist campaigners have recently seen considerable successes. Activists have used the power of collective action to highlight everyday sexism, to see women represented on UK bank notes, and to challenge the taxation of sanitary products – coordinating group demonstrations, on and offline.

    Taking advantage of new technologies, campaigners have rallied thousands of people to stand together to challenge the status quo. Marginalised individuals become powerful when they unite. Collective action helps a diverse range of groups and causes spread awareness, raise funds and make their voices heard.

    Consumer Power

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    Remember that famous Henry Ford quote, you can have “any colour you want, as long as it’s black”. Yeah, that probably wouldn’t fly in 2016.

    Consumers have more power than ever before to challenge, influence and make demands of  the marketplace. Thanks, once again, to the internet, the public are becoming better-informed, savvier customers.

    Independent sites like TripAdvisor and Which, and retailers with reviewing platforms like Amazon, really have changed the way we shop. Who, today, books a hotel, buys a washing machine, or even picks a new masseuse without consulting the collective knowledge of the internet?

    It’s understandable that a business might tremble at the thought of that powerful, merciless digital mob. However, the best companies turn the situation to their advantage, making use of all that priceless data to help them create products and services that people really want.

    (Which leads us nicely to…)

    Crowdfunding

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    Websites such as KickStarter and Indiegogo bring to life projects that struggle gain conventional funding. Instead of competing for one large investment from a bank or business, you can bid for many small investments from a large group of individuals.

    This doesn’t just empower businesses. Crowdfunding hands consumers direct power to influence which products reach the marketplace. Notable crowdfunded projects have ranged from the FORM1 – the first home 3D Printer –  to The Veronica Mars Movie.

    Good news for the commercial world, clearly, but Crowdfunding has also transformed the charitable sector. Sites such as justgiving and gofundme have helped groups and individuals collect donations for myriad causes. Last year, The Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness and previously unimaginable funds for MND/ALS. Microloan sites like Kiva allow individuals to club together fund (interest free) loans for poverty-alleviation projects worldwide.

    The popularity of SOUP events sees the growing crowdfunding trend taken offline. Founded in Detroit in 2010, SOUP events are now held in cities all over the world. These informal events welcome members of the public to vote for and donate to a community project in their area. By pooling the energy, talents and resources of the group, ordinary individuals are able to effect change in their community.

    The lesson to takeaway

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    Many of the world’s leading businesses are embracing collaborative creativity. We’ve already brushed on how companies like Pixar and Mozilla are harnessing ‘collective genius’ to dominate in their sectors, and the list of inspiring examples doesn’t end there.

    Google, time and again, have been praised for being one of the world’s best companies to work for. True, this is in part due to the competitive pay and generous perks. More significant, however, is their ‘culture of openness’.

    Google employees are encouraged to work together, to ask questions and challenge one another (yes, even those above them).  Groups are given the space and resource to work collaboratively, to follow new ideas and pursue their own projects. All this is done to, as Hill phrases it,  ‘allow[…] talented people to play out their passions’.

    Other companies commended for their collaborative approach include Amazon, ebay and IBM. These businesses have realised that creating an environment in which collaboration can flourish is key, not only to attract and retain the best people, but also to get the best out of them.

    We’ve taken a brief look at a wide range of companies, projects and causes which have achieved success through collaboration. None of these innovations would have been possible single-handed, or within a rigid corporate hierarchy. These successes were achieved with the power of many hands, minds, voices and – in some cases – wallets.

    This ethos goes right to heart of everything we strive to do at White Label Collective. We don’t have time for big egos. We believe that the best events are produced when we tap into that ‘collective genius’, through collaboration. As these examples show, if we are to excel we cannot rely on ‘star players’, inspirational leaders, or individual talent.

    True innovation takes a village.

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