The President and CEO of Living Cities, Ben Hecht, has announced in his recent Harvard Business Review blog that “Collaboration is the New Competition”. But is it? Australian social change advocates, Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham ask.
Hecht’s assertion is that there is a growing trend across the United States of leaders and organisations putting aside their self-interest to work together as private, public, philanthropic and Not for Profit collaborations. In doing so they are acknowledging that “even their best individual efforts cannot stack up against today’s complex and interconnected problems.”
Hecht believes that this trend is emerging largely as a result of two things: (1) learning’s from what has worked to solve complex societal issues, and (2) a growing frustration by those who are “fed up with the dysfunction around them, come together to challenge conventional wisdom and fix problems long written off as unsolvable, such as poverty, unemployment, and a failing education system”.
Interestingly, Hecht notes that the leaders in this trend are from business and philanthropy. After many years of seriously investing in a large range of programs, these leaders realised that the scale of the problems they were facing could never be adequately responded to by any single organisation or initiative. In response, they brought diverse groups together to try to find a new way of working. In evaluating the process and its impact, they found that by working collaboratively more could be achieved – and here’s the catch – as long as certain conditions of success were met.
We were fascinated to observe that the ‘conditions of successes’ proffered by Hecht mirror the elements of the Collective Impact framework put forward from Kramer and Kania. Hecht’s five lessons for driving large-scale social change through collaboration are: (1) Clearly define what you can do together, (2) Transcend parochialism, (3) Adapt to data, (4) Feed the field, and (5) Support the backbone. While the five elements of the Collective Impact framework are: (1) a shared agenda, (2) common measurement, (3) mutually reinforcing activities, (4) constant communication, and (5) a backbone organization.
What we take from these two articles is that the tide to achieve large-scale social change is turning away from competitive practices – the single cell organisation asserting it has the solution that needs to be scaled – towards collaborative ones – the coming together of non-traditional partners who are willing to embrace new ways of working together.
The other point we take from these articles is that social change can learn a thing or two about collaboration from business. Most often, it is business leaders and philanthropists who have lead the successful large-scale collaborations in the US that tackling entrenched social issues. And it is business that is recognising collaboration as a key skill for success and profitability in a digital economy.
IBM has made significant investments into social collaboration platforms because they believe “on a smarter planet, interconnectivity goes well beyond connecting computers and smart devices. The advance of Web 2.0 and social networking technologies has now shifted the focus to people networks: it’s as much about relationships as it is about technologies”.
The way people conduct business is also changing. Take innovation hubs as one example – people co-locate in a shared space that has been intentionally designed to foster ‘innovation through collaboration’. There is now a global network of thousands of people who work in this way.
In applying these collaboration technologies and work practices to social change, Ashoka believe that “collaboration need not be the enemy of speed or innovation. The parallel efforts of hundreds of entrepreneurs, civil sector organisations, businesses and other stakeholders can be joined and multiplied without impeding the work of any individual actor. Indeed, in a world whose problems escalate every day, there may be no other solution”.
So, to answer the question we posed, yes – collaboration is becoming the new competition when it comes to solving complex social problems. The question that follows is – are Australia’s social leaders – whether from Not for Profits, business or government – prepared to abandon their own agenda and lead a collective one?