04 May The Trouble with Collaboration

“The fashion for collaboration makes some sense. The point of organisations is that people can achieve things collectively that they cannot achieve individually. Talking to your colleagues can spark valuable insights. Mixing with people from different departments can be useful.” The ECONOMIST 

Collaboration is the logical solution to a common “pain point” – from solopreneur to employees of global corporations and in almost every industry – from advertising agencies to health care – and that “pain point” is isolation.

Isolation, or distance from others, isn’t just a matter of location – it is also a mindset. Ironically, that mindset can be triggered by failed collaboration:

  • Time wasted by egos battling for control.
  • Ideas wasted on the oblivious who are out of practice being “present” (Even with friends and family).
  • Knowledge Sharing wasted on peers who are on information overload.


In this context, open office design, free coffee, beer on tap, ping pong tables – the hope of serendipitous relationships – probably aren’t enough to improve the odds of success of collaborative innovation.

Alternatively in sports, time is invested in practicing innovative plays that rely on seamless collaboration. Professional athletes probably spend more time in practice than in actual game time. In fact, athletes may be the only professionals who are paid to devote time to learning and practicing collaborative innovation.

Much has been written about how much the “Greatest Generation” accomplished through ingenuity, teamwork, and self-sacrifice. They also enjoyed new found time to learn and practice with peers. They were the first generation to have electricity to extend a day by many hours. It is unlikely that technology will create that much incremental time to learn and practice. There will always only be 24 hours in a day. Now, we must dedicate time to learn and practice collaborative innovation.

At COMRADITY, we observe how limited time entrepreneurs have just to complete obligations and how little free time we have to imagine possibilities with others. Co-founders, Jim and Katherine Warman Kern, were lucky to have experienced the benefits of collaborative cultures in our careers, and we are inspired to design a curriculum to accelerate learning and practicing collaborative innovation.

Principles for the CO-Lab collaborative innovation curriculum include:

1) 360º/3-D Perspective. Specialization has contributed a lot to competitive advantage and productivity in business, but the bias of a single perspective is limiting. Visualizing the situation from all stakeholders’ perspectives exposes unintended consequences and reveals relationships with the potential to accelerate success.

2) Shared Vocabulary. Back in the day, when kids played games like baseball unsupervised, they learned how to resolve conflict quickly. They all understood the rules of the game. Engaging all stakeholders in defining a common vocabulary for the innovation builds a foundation of trust in the team’s ability to resolve (inevitable) conflicts quickly and the confidence in taking on bigger challenges together.

3) Figuring it Out Together. Experts have the intuition honed by experience of trial and error to know what hasn’t been tried yet and what could work. When diverse experts dedicate time, in a shared space, with common vocabulary, they figure out how to integrate their knowledge and intuition to expand horizons.

4) Communication is an Art.  Even the best makers admit it is hard to talk about your own work to peers, investors, management, and customers. The art of communication is live dialogue. Mastering live dialogue is at the core of proven selling strategy systems for personal sales calls. There is an opportunity to translate these techniques and execute them at scale using today’s interactive, dynamic technologies.

5) Effective Criticism. Creative judgment is one of the hardest skills to build and articulate. To build confidence in creative judgment, start with an intent to learn and to encourage bolder risk-taking rather than stifling experimentalism.

The CO-Lab mission is to develop the curriculum that applies these principles to learn and improve the outcome of  collaborative innovation. We are collaborating with fellow creative entrepreneurs, artists, and pioneering corporations to prove these concepts and measure effectiveness.