Collaboration is the New Competition©

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New forms of corporate collaboration can drive sustainability, and create better products and services.

Leaders and organizations are acknowledging that even their best individual efforts can’t stack up against today’s complex and interconnected problems. They are putting aside self-interests and collaborating to build a new civic infrastructure to advance their shared objectives. Someone’s call it “joint impact” and it’s a growing trend in the most developed countries, and Italy again risk to lose the ‘’Big Picture’’ of competition, after having failed to gain from the opportunity of the €uro.

Businesses banding together to learn from each other is nothing new: think of medieval guilds or chambers of commerce. More recently, diverse group of leaders — private, public, philanthropic, and nonprofit — fed up with the dysfunction around them, come together to challenge conventional wisdom and fix problems long written off as unsolvable, such as poverty, unemployment, and a failing education system.

Overcoming a known dispute between the romantic-idealistic philosophy of Rousseau, which imputes to the human being propensities to only noble ideals, and the vision of the human subject to the homini lupus predilection of Plato and Hobbes, concretely we lack the formal authority to solve the problem, missing an obvious ‘plug and play’ solution.

Just think to art and history in Italy, our gold mines owning more than 60% of the world heritage but deficient of a connection among different museum, sites, location, communication, event, and so on…

While collaboration is certainly not a foreign concept, what we’re seeing around the country is the coming together of non-traditional partners, and a willingness to embrace new ways of working together. And, this movement is yielding promising results.

As the CEO of a niche company who’s made teamwork one of his success key, I’d like to offer five Tips for driving large-scale social change through collaboration. This it’s an extract of one of my recent seminar:

  1. Define your Goal: avoid messy and time consuming partnership, clarify your respective target since the very beginning, the mantra should be who makes what and why it’s convenient, so we’re here to do that because we cannot do it alone when not achieving very poor results. We don’t need necessary an outdated win-win project, try to considering on the contrary how powerful it can be a “make it real” philosophy.
  2. Rise above provincialism: Even the most well intended collaboration is often crippled by closed-mindedness. Trust your leadership, leaders often have a “balcony view” of the core issue, understanding the needs of the field and the inherent limitations of their own organization’s approach. When the collaboration involves many actors, don’t send lower-level staff that may be unable to transcend politics and self-interest.
  3. Keep a track on your progress: to guarantee a continuum, partners should monitor constantly the data and highlight where they are having the greatest impact and where they may need to focus more energy. This permit to avoid conflict and to maximize the results.
  4. Communicate: without sharing what you learn — both the results and the methods for achieving them you’re frustrating the entire project, feed your stakeholders and the community involved.
  5. Regroup with the base: involve and discuss all the levels of the organization when crucial task are going to be achieved, especially when volunteers. This will feel them a part of the project and not simple workers.

Companies such as Microsoft, BG Group, Shell and Nestlé have integrated partnership training into their executive development programmes.

In some cases, companies are collaborating with competitors as well as NGOs and public sector bodies, to address specific problems. Refrigerants Naturally, for example, brings together Coca-Cola, Pepsico as well as Red Bull and Unilever in an alliance with Greenpeace and Unep to develop more sustainable refrigeration technologies, this i.e. it has been our case with the Detox Fashion Campaign.

Competition will stimulate innovation in sustainable products, services and business models. However, as Unilever’s Paul Polman has observed: “In areas where big breakthroughs are needed, we must step up joint working with others.”Therefore when you’re not a nerd developing am application in your garage, the axiom that “without collaboration there’s no innovation” is meaningful.

We are bombarded daily with evidence of our nation’s inability to solve mounting problems like failing education systems and growing inequality. The rapid growth of “joint impact” and the building of new civic infrastructures around the country are the most promising action that can be done to improve our quality of life and innovation level.

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