Places and Spaces for Collaboration

Increasingly, the best ideas and creative innovations are happening through collaborations of organizations and individuals.  Which means that these innovations are not occurring at any particular organization – so where are they happening?  In the places and spaces between…………….

Satish Nambisan; social innovation researcher recently published an article entitled “Platforms for Collaboration” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that explores the importance of places for people to work together across sector and organizational boundaries to foster innovation. 

Whether virtual or physical, Nambisan’s research highlights the importance that each of these platforms be a neutral space where everyone has equal footing.  Of equal importance for any collaboration is the dedication of everyone involved to assist in cultivating a network culture – beyond their own organizational or sector boundaries to include broader perspectives.

Nambisan identifies three key platforms needed for successful collaboration and innovation; exploration platforms where the problem is jointly identified; experimentation platforms where solution ‘prototypes’ are developed and execution platforms; where the recommended solutions are first put into action. 

The infrastructure to support such platforms for collaboration is still underdeveloped and so those places and spaces that do strive to serve as platforms for collaboration such as Kingbridge, MaRS and Johnson Foundation are the pioneers of the collaboration frontier.

Are You Leading Creative Collaborations?

I just finished reading Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman and was impressed by the frankness with which they approached organizing creative collaboration.  So often when deconstructing successful collaborations the ‘needs’ tend to overshadow the equally important ‘need nots’.  Bennis and Biederman however extract a series of ‘take home lessons’ from several case studies of successful and not so successful group collaborations.

One of the stand out lessons highlighted in the summary of Organizing Genius is that “In Great Groups the right person has the right job.”  This lesson highlights the faulted belief of many organizations that people are interchangeable.  Bennis and Biederman spend a great deal of time detailing the importance of not assigning people with unique talents to positions that are not suited to these talents.  It is a cardinal mistake in organizing collaboration to try to fit people into roles they aren’t appropriate for just to satisfy an organizational need.

Included in this lesson is also the importance of having the right leader for the group.  This is not a unique notion as several works on successful collaboration and organizational structure have outlined the qualities needed to be a collaborative leader.  The distinction made in Organizing Genius is the exploration of several specific leadership qualities that squelch creative collaboration.

“Many projects never transcend mediocrity because their leaders suffer from the Hollywood syndrome.  This is the arrogant and misguided belief that power is more important than talent.  It is the too common view that everyone should be so grateful for a role in a picture or any other job that he or she should be willing to do whatever is asked, even if it’s dull or demeaning.  When the person and the task are properly matched, the work can proceed with passion.”

One of the fundamental rules of successful collaboration is transparency and Bennis and Berderman practice it to the letter in Organizing Genius.