Collaborata Interview with Collaboration Expert Evan Rosen
What is your definition of collaboration? How do you see the ideas of collaboration and culture intertwined?
I define collaboration as working together to create value while sharing virtual or physical space. It’s all about value creation, because if we’re not creating value, what’s the point
Collaboration and culture are inextricably linked in that if the culture part is missing, collaboration is dead on arrival. Tools and technologies never create collaboration. Culture creates collaboration. We can have the best collaborative tools at our disposal, but to get the most from these tools, we must have a collaborative culture. In a collaborative culture, we share rather than hoard ideas and information and we work together towards common goals rather than working at cross purposes and competing with colleagues.
How do you see collaborative culture changing business models and what benefits does this shift bring? Can you highlight a successful example of a company that has successfully embraced the collaborative culture?
In The Bounty Effect book, I identify 4 Stages of Collaborative Evolution. The last stage is Evolved. No organization today has reached the Evolved stage. Many companies are progressing along the spectrum and have pockets of highly-collaborative activity, but the broader organization is still mired in command and control because of the structure.
That said, there are many companies that have notable collaborative traits. One of them is Evernote, the app company. Evernote breaks down silos and barriers by ensuring that every meeting or session includes somebody from another function or department. This ensures broader input into decisions and gives people exposure to areas outside their domain. And Evernote also has an unlimited vacation policy. The concept is that it makes more sense to hire engaged, collaborative people who can determine how much paid time off they should take.
Evernote is a relatively mature Silicon Valley startup. But how about older companies? That’s where it often takes exigent circumstances, The Bounty Effect if you will. One example is Boeing’s Renton, Washington plant which assembles the 737. Traditionally, the plant was a no-go zone for engineers who embraced their white-collar status. But a 6.8 magnitude earthquake changed all that. Boeing redesigned the physical workspace and the plant culture and literally broke down barriers between the hourly and salaried staff.
Now the engineers work in open spaces along the plant’s mezzanine. Everybody interacts frequently and spontaneously on a wide boardwalk adjacent to workspaces along the mezzanine. So the boundaries are blurring between “white collar” and “blue collar.” And, by the way, assembly time for each 737 has decreased from twenty-two to eleven days.
Although there are many tech-centric tools to help collaborate, and millennials embrace this type of technology more than baby boomers, you argue that collaboration should not be viewed as a generational concept. Why not?
The reality is that age has very little to do with whether people work together to create value. Many organizations transitioning to collaborative culture fall into what I call the Generation Gap Trap. This trap happens when well-intentioned change agents overemphasize generational differences and unwittingly reinforce fear and internal competition. Sometimes leaders hoping to appear more evolved and younger, praise the work styles of a younger generation. It’s true that millennials are more accustomed
Where do you see room for collaboration amongst competing organizations? How can collaborating with the competition be beneficial?
The key in collaborating with competitors is to identify non-differentiating processes and eliminate redundancy for both collaborators. Non-differentiating means these processes are not part of a company’s brand or product perception. Two newspapers in the same market might use the same printing presses. Two companies in the beer business might use the same bottling equipment. Entire industries participate in consortiums for purchasing, which saves each competing company substantial money. Printing, bottling and purchasing are non-differentiating processes that are invisible to the customer.
Car components are invisible to most people. So collaborating on components arguably fits the bill as non-differentiating. Daimler and BMW are collaborating on developing a wireless charging system for electric cars and hybrids. Toyota is sourcing diesel engines from BMW. Toyota and BMW are also collaborating on developing fuel cell systems and lightweight vehicle body technologies. So the key is non-differentiating processes.
Can you describe a time when consumers and businesses collaborated together to make a better product?
An amazing example is Lego, because the customer product collaboration actually helped change the culture of the company. Lego used to operate in command-and-control mode and refused to accept unsolicited ideas. Then came Lego Mindstorms, which included software and hardware to create small, programmable and customizable robots. More technically-savvy users hacked the code and changed the products. Rather than sue these customers, Lego decided to collaborate with them.
Now Lego customers collaborate with team members to create new product lines and distribution channels. And there’s a revenue share. If the community using the upload- and-vote tool gives a design enough votes and Lego commercializes the concept, customers who proposed the design receive 1 percent of the product’s total net sales. And Lego has moved away from the command-and-control approach of developing products in a vacuum and selling them to customers. The company creates infinitely more value by involving consumers in product and service development. Not incidentally, Lego’s revenue grew from $2.3 billion in 2010 to $5.2 billion in 2015
Collaborata is an online marketplace for market research. It allows research suppliers and clients to post projects that clients can co-fund in order to gain research and insights at a fraction of the cost. What are your thoughts on this type of business model, particularly the idea that competing companies will share in research data?
This is a question about trust. Competitors survive in part by refusing to trust each other. But when competitors decide to collaborate, they don’t need to trust each other as long as they quantify the benefits and trust the enabling platform. Competitors in the aerospace industry source parts and collaborate on projects through a shared, verified and controlled environment mediated by a consortium. A similar consortium exists for the automobile industry. So this type of platform lets participating companies be collaborators in the morning and competitors in the afternoon without giving away trade secrets or compromising intellectual property.
If the platform protects each co-funder’s intellectual property and mediates in a neutral way how they can share and use the collaborative research result, each competing collaborator gains. In many cases, competitors collaborating on market research can create far greater value than a single company testing a product concept in isolated focus groups, surveys and social media. Collaborative research lets co-funders reduce redundancy and collaborate on the non-differentiating process of gathering market intelligence. Competing collaborators can then individually use this intelligence to create competitive products and reinforce competitive brands.
Internationally-recognized collaboration and communication strategist Evan Rosen is author of The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration®. He is also author of The Culture of Collaboration®, Gold Medal Winner in the Axiom Business Book Awards. As executive director of The Culture of Collaboration® Institute, Evan has advised senior laders of the world’s largest corporations and the highest levels of the United States government. He delivers keynote speeches globally. More information is available at www.thecultureofcollaboration.com