By Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster.
When I was young, I learned to work hard and focus on competition, not collaboration. While my daughter has many opportunities at her school to learn how to work with others, I remember far fewer when I was at school. The world has changed. The challenges our planet is facing are increasingly complex and in many ways, we are united by them. The pandemic has taught us that we need to work together to protect each other and develop solutions quickly—a fight literally for survival. This also translates into our business world.
As a supercluster leader, I get to experience the power of collaboration every day among both longtime partners and those that might have previously been considered unlikely ones. While this takes a lot of work, the result is exciting new ideas, more opportunities, accelerated growth and the benefit of solutions that are relevant across different sectors and jurisdictions. Here are some of the universal benefits of prioritizing collaboration for any organization:
Collaborators will help you get further, faster.
There is no shortage of good ideas. But it is not the strength of the idea alone that leads to success, it is also in the execution. To implement an idea, you need the support of many, including customers, investors and suppliers. It can be difficult to attract the attention of any or all of these, especially as supply chains are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic, climate change and geopolitical pressures; customers and investors alike are trying to forecast needs and assess business opportunities in an ever-changing environment. Collaborators can help you accelerate the implementation of ideas. Although it may be hard to hear, they are in a position to give you quick feedback on what is and is not working so you can quickly head in another direction if warranted. More and more companies are starting to realize that collaborations enhance their competitiveness and business opportunities rather than detract from them.
Collaborators can help de-risk your projects.
Innovation is not easy for organizations and transformational innovation can be costly. While big risks can lead to big rewards, it can also lead to significant failure with high personal cost to an entrepreneur or small business. Finding collaborators that are willing to invest time and money in your idea can help manage those risks. Collaborators can provide you with access to testing facilities or data that will help you enhance your analysis, people who can mentor you while you develop an idea or creative thinking that can stretch your business model. Understanding any gaps or what you may be missing will allow you to look for the right collaborators.
Collaborators can help you build a more robust solution to meet your customer needs.
In Canada, as in many jurisdictions around the world, the majority of our businesses are small and medium enterprises. They build a product or series of products that meet a specific need. With a collaborator, a company can broaden its suite of products and meet more customer needs without incurring significant additional development costs. This gives all those involved access to a broader network of opportunities—not only additional companies within a sector but also potential applications to new sectors—creating growth opportunities for everyone. A larger customer may be uncomfortable dealing with a new or smaller business but be more willing to work with a strong collaborative group of businesses, especially if the roles are clearly defined and bring different strengths to the table.
The key to all of this is to pick the right collaborators. This becomes increasingly important as the size and significance of the collaboration increases. Do you share similar cultures as organizations in order to create the right environment? Are the right incentives in place to encourage collaboration? Do you have the right processes in place to be able to track activities across both organizations? Do you have the skill sets that you need to make the project successful? If there are skill sets missing, is it clear who will be responsible for the hiring?
Collaboration can be challenging but ultimately rewarding.
What my experience has taught me is that setting up collaborative projects is hard and takes a lot more upfront work, which can be a significant disincentive when you just want to get your project going. However, once the project is underway, companies consistently see the benefits and can stretch themselves beyond what the project originally envisioned, often adding even more collaborators to the mix.
The challenges our world is facing need immediate, transformational solutions, and the more we can prioritize collaboration across organizations and across the world, the faster these solutions will become available and the more robust they will be. The opportunities that your company can gain through collaboration can far outweigh what you think you may have to give up.