Societal Innovation? Collaboration not competition

About competition, competitive advantage and the perils of short-term thinking.

Whilst competition may bring the illusion of short-term gain it must now be avoided in favour of an approach that makes the very best possible use of the limited resources that are, and will be, available to us all in the coming years.

In my experience of working with organisations over the last 30 years it has become clear to me that when people, teams, organisations, and even governments collaborate great things can be achieved.  Sadly, when the opposite happens, I see cheating, deception, abuse, and the proliferation of greed.

Lets have a look at a few examples of how collaboration works to improve the everyday life of citizens:

Healthcare – If you were under the surgeon’s knife would you want the team striving to save your life to be working together as a unit or to be competing with each other?  Just close your eyes for a few moments and imagine what would happen if the theatre team behaved in the way that some of  our commercial organisations do?

Innovation – How many of the great inventions of our time have been developed by an individual working alone? Not many.  I can, however, think of many for examples of innovations that have been achieved by team working: The motor car; insulin; space travel; champions league football – these have all been achieved as a result of collaboration over a sustained period.

Community – Great communities are forged by people forming groups for the benefit of all. Great communities can never consist of people working for personal gain.

Encouraging collaboration and cooperation is the responsibility of all of us and in particular the responsibility of senior management. At home this is the job of parents, at school it is the job of the teachers, and at work it is the primary responsibility of the senior management team.

How can we do this?

When organisations reward  individual achievement then the organisation unwittingly or wittingly undermines collaboration. A strategy for ensuring collaboration may include the following characteristics —  identified by Will and Kenneth Hopper — that the early Puritan migrants to America found so effective.

First, the organisation needs crystal clarity as to its purpose; secondly, there needs to be an acceptance that the group is much more important than the individual; third, those leading should only be leading if they have a thorough understanding of the organisation – also known as domain knowledge; fourth the organisation needs to galvanise its resources; and finally new technology needs to be embraced.

It will come as no surprise that the Hoppers argue that once these characteristics were abandoned in favour of short term individual greed that the seeds off the current financial crisis were sowed.

I wonder how many of our organisations or how many of our elected government members have clarity of purpose, see the group as more important than the individual, thoroughly understand — or even care about —  their stakeholders, are great organisers, and finally, can embrace new technology?

The challenge for those of us interested in Societal Innovation  is how can we co-operate even more?

Some further reading that may be of interest

Deming – The New Economics


About David C Roberts

I am passionate about innovation, development, learning, and the future. I work internationally supporting individual entrepreneurs, organisations, educational institutions and government bodies. I am available to speak, facilitate learning sessions and run enterprise workshops. Areas of experience and know how include: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Leadership, Management Accounting, and People Development .
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3 Responses to Societal Innovation? Collaboration not competition

  1. sanderberg says:

    To interact, collaborate or play together?

    I agree with you David that we need to cooperate more consistently. However, I believe that we must embrace the new time and new form of cooperation. I call this, play together. To work within existing established institutions or businesses can be difficult enough, but here we at least have Edwards Deming´s theories about thinking in system.

    Our time increased specialization and fragmentation in an increasingly complex and assimilated social life makes a need for cooperation across boundaries and responsibilities. I think we need a kind of holistic societal innovation.

    In traditionally cooperation and collaboration there are inherent conflicts that prevent or even prevent the positive spiral of increased efficiency, which is usually the driving force for collaboration. Collaboration is about cooperating across boundaries – professional, institutional, organizational and liability terms, while maintaining the borders and their own professional role. Lack of boundaries is thus mostly a game for the gallery and not the gearing and acceleration as a borderless approach does. Therefore, we must break up new areas where there is no motive or reason to maintain boundaries.

    Societal power relation is in constant motion, which is often difficult to survey. Right now we have two movements that increasingly diverge. The first is the legacy of industrial society paradigm, based on the further development of regulations based on the principle of sovereignty and increasingly distinct national interests, the illusion of autonomy. This is a movement that has the constitutional, political and military power in the back. The second movement is moving towards further convergence and complexity of human activity in global systems, which neither begins nor end at any frontiers. This movement has been innovation, evolution and profitability in the back. There are two forces, with different strengths, the simple to the complex, which stands opposite each other.

    A social paradigm occurs when the “old” society no longer is able to deliver safety, prosperity, equality, security, livelihood and future. Usually involves a society shifts, crises and tensions that often turn into a state of war between the existing social system and the new inexorably under way.

    The great challenge – now that we are in the middle of a transformative social change – is to get established institutions, who sit on the social agenda, to understand and accept the new order of the time and not “fight” and defend them to the last drop of blood. The new time of order is the winner. The big question is how the “profits” can be achieved with as little “losses” as possible.

  2. Thanks Bjorn and I agree with your comments.

    It seems to me that there is a realisation amongst many people that we are in the middle of a transformative social change, and I agree that the great challenge or the ‘good question’ is how can we go through this sea of change with as little damage to the ship and it’s crew?

    I believe that the more people can communicate, seek to understand, listen, and ask ‘how can we navigate this change’ then the better for all of the citizens of our societies.

    See you next week


  3. sanderberg says:

    Yes David, it´s probably a good way to several talks about how it will be resolved, but I don´t think that´s enough. I think we need a general public opinion that we are actually in the middle of a major societal shift and we need to raise the issue on the societal agenda. Otherwise will, the established institutions “steaming” on in good old order follow the old tracks until they suddenly discover the track is upset and close to the abyss.

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