Sustainability talk, and increasingly sustainability walk, have become mainstream in large enterprises as a viable and highly profitable business strategy. Paying attention to the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit) is also a great risk management strategy. If you need proof, simply look at the empirical research completed by Bob Willard over the past 12 years. Bob is an expert in the business case for sustainability and his research shows companies that integrate sustainability into their strategy grow their profits by 51% to 81% over a 3 to 5 year period.
I recently wrote about the importance of Innovation. We reviewed why people and organizations that consistently innovate are not only able to sustain themselves in ever changing environments but that they actually grow and thrive beyond their peers.
Innovation is not about invented technologies; it is about how those technologies are applied in meaningful ways. The US Patent & Trademark Office estimates that only one out of every 500 patents has any chance of commercialization. Innovation combines existing technological inventions with new ways of doing things, to create new value.
So far we know:
Innovation= Sustainability in the Market & Economic Prosperity
Collaboration is to Innovation as Innovation is to economic prosperity. You can’t sustain prosperity long term without Innovation and you cant be truly innovative without robust and consistent collaboration with others.
Collaboration is about the pooling of ideas, resources and energies. Whenever people come together in creative discussion about how to solve a problem or create something new, the most powerful mechanism of development comes to bear. A big gene pool of ideas, perspectives and experiences always trumps limited pools. And so, we should look for ways to foster collaboration as a required stepping stone to Innovation.
This isn’t always the obvious approach. Often we want to keep our best ideas to ourselves so that we can realize the benefits and not have others steal them or get credit for them. In reality, by sharing openly we will likely realize more and quicker success.
Don Tapscott, in his book entitled Wikinomics, describes the new world economy based on four Collaboration principles of Openness, Peering, Sharing and Acting Globally. He describes how a number of companies reached huge levels of success by adopting these principles even when it seemed counter intuitive.
Top Three Business Examples of Collaboration Driving Innovation:
- IBM resisted the open platform software development efforts of the Linux community for many years. Their logic was that the Linux effort was competitive to their own software business and that Linux would die off eventually. After several years of resistance IBM realized that Linux was here to stay and actually was contributing huge value to the world. At a certain point, IBM decided to join the Linux community and over time, shared approximately $100 million dollars worth of their own development efforts for free. What they got back for opening their development ‘kimono’, was over $400 million in free development.
- Another Ontario based mining company broke the traditional taboo of their industry by publishing all its geological data on the internet asking for advice on where to mine and offered a reward for new ideas. Their revenues increased from $100 million to $9 billion, almost entirely out of openness, collaboration and trust.
- In the newest book from the Intelligent Communities Foundation entitled ‘Seizing our Destiny’ the authors describe how 7 communities around the world earned the rank of Most Intelligent Communities. Invariably these communities started with collaboration as a corner stone of their path to new successes. Several of them were coming from the depths of serious challenges and were forced to reinvent themselves in creative and innovative ways.
So as it turns out, Collaboration is the necessary predecessor to Innovation.
It is critical that we all create environments of mass collaboration. Enabling creative thinking and acting wherever we co-exist. We should challenge ourselves to enable those environments with technologies that allow flexible work styles and places. We should foster those principles of Openness, Peering, Sharing and Acting Globally whenever we can.
What greatness can you or your organization possibly achieve by Collaborating better?
If you are still trying to “sell” collaboration in your organization and people don’t understand how collaboration achieves innovation and economic sustainability, here are some handy quotes for you to use.