At Harvard’s Kennedy School, the classes, and indeed, the building itself, are set up to foster studying in groups. There is almost no spot in the building where one can study solo. Learning at the Kennedy School is a collaborative enterprise because interaction creates innovation.
Bloomberg Businessweek’s entertaining article, The Myth of the Lone Genius, shares an illustration from the original Star Trek series about the folly of working solo. It served as another reminder that the old adage, “two heads are better than one,” understates the fact that innovation happens in groups—not by flying solo.
Collaboration over time: history repeats itself
The Businessweek article offers the fact that genius after historical genius—from DaVinci to Edison—did not develop their innovations alone.
For more evidence about whether collaboration has more of an impact than flying solo, the article dives into 10 years of data that reveal the impact of collaborative vs. solo science research published in Nature magazine from 2001 to 2010. The findings?
There are almost 10 times the number of citations for multiple-author papers compared with single-author papers. … Not only are the multiple-author papers the movers and shakers at the far ends of the distribution, but in terms of raw scientific impact they positively dwarf the contribution of single authors. There may be other reasons multiple-authored papers are more common, but, based on my experience writing journal articles, the collaboration that occurs when working with others significantly increases the richness and value of the article.
The conclusion by Businessweek? Trying to innovate solo is less likely—or even unlikely—to produce successful results.
We are left with the question, what is the best way to collaborate for innovation efforts? Luckily, as Forbes reports, Cisco has completed a study which demonstrates the barriers to effective collaboration.
Given our widespread reliance on technology for communicating—often in lieu of actual human interaction—the Cisco study results are eye-popping.
Here are Cisco’s four “musts” for successful collaboration:
- Build relationships and networks that lead to trust—everything today, from job searches to innovation testing and customer feedback (leading to better products and customer retention) relies on trusted relationships;
- Turn human interactions into results—following up on interactions, and interacting with some type of frequency, is what leads to trust;
- Balance decision-making and consensus building—and know when to rely on consensus and when a decision is needed; and
- Evolve the culture for productive collaboration—producing innovation relies on successful project management. The companies that foster innovation successfully also are successful at managing projects (read: people in groups).
What do these four points have in common? (suggestion – discuss the question with others.)
And Forbes goes a step further, saying, “a primary reason people collaborate is to innovate.”
As a previous blog noted, one intentional and measurable behavior of an innovator is to connect: “After we have an accurate view of where we are and where we want to go, we can connect people, data, experiences, and ideas that will carry us in the right direction.” Key point—it is the people who will help connect the data, experiences, and ideas.
It turns out that the concept of collaboration is just as true for organizations. Part of the reason is that global issues require the collaboration of multiple organizations.
Innovative companies understand that sometimes launching a successful product requires partnering with a compatible collaborating company. It is an idea infused within an innovation culture.
As an example, a previous blog about Nike’s innovation culture illustrates their partnership leading to innovation success.
No doubt that technology increasingly is the vehicle for entering into collaboration. But the research shows that losing that personal aspect of interaction may cost your company in terms of innovating.
It’s face-to-face communication and the follow up that leads to trusting relationships. Relating in person begets a culture that fosters successful innovation as well as customer retention—both on a small project basis and corporate-wide.