Collaborate to Innovate
Most successful organizations aspire to be innovative, but what does that really mean? Let’s define innovation as a change that outperforms a previous practice. Change alone is not the goal; it must be a change that results in some kind of tangible progress. Throughout history, one critical source of innovation has been collaboration. Leaders who seek to be innovative can do so by becoming collaborative. After all, collaboration is only fostered when the collaborators expect that teaming up will result in a better outcome for everyone. Human nature is basically selfish
because we humans have evolved due to our primal survival instinct. However, people are also social animals who band together for mutual support and protection. Our prehistoric ancestors aligned into primitive tribes to increase their food supplies and safety, and perhaps also for companionship. Those individuals who did not join the tribe or collaborate with others were at a much higher risk of being removed from the human gene pool. In our current age of broad freedoms and selfish independence, it can be hard to achieve lasting collaboration. Yet those who do collaborate have a better chance of creating successful innovations. Let’s examine several reasons why collaboration is often the key factor for innovation.
- Broader Associations – Collaboration increases the number of associations between related ideas that can spur innovative new combinations. When more people are involved in projects, more associations will be made from differing perspectives. The solo inventor may have a great product idea, but collaborating with others can lead to even better insights about how to configure the product or bundle it with improved features.
- Faster Speed – Obviously, any new idea is not innovative if someone else came up with it first. Collaboration can help drive speed to market by generating chains of connected ideas that push the original idea further along more quickly. Working with open-minded collaborators can help to quickly validate the true merit of an idea. At the same time, collaboration can also help by stopping a bad idea in its tracks before too much time and energy is wasted on useless product development.
- Wider Connections – Even a great idea will die off if nobody knows about it. Connections to other people and groups can help promote innovations and broaden their appeal. One connection might lead to more funding, while another might lead to new partners. Widening social circles can result in unexpected new networking opportunities.
- Greater Energy – Teamwork can generate new energy for the collective group that no single person can create alone. Sometimes the team members will help each other push through barriers of resistance to their new idea. Other times, the group dynamic will help improve morale during periods of uncertainty until the innovation can gain wide acceptance.
- Actual Implementation – Countless brilliant ideas have fallen by the wayside because they never got implemented. No person is an island. Having a group that can work together will increase the likelihood that a good idea gets fully developed, produced and implemented in the marketplace.
To ensure a successful collaboration, it is important to avoid convergent thinking. This can be achieved by including diverse viewpoints in the group. It’s also a good idea to balance the project with some combination of individual tasks and group work. In these ways, the group will have some built-in checks and balances to prevent itself from conforming into wishy-washy groupthink. Collaboration is a pillar of innovation
, and those who overlook this fact will find themselves at a disadvantage when developing new ideas. Those who get motivated to collaborate are more likely to innovate, and those who don’t are more likely to fail.