February 25th, 2012

Time-Based Collaboration

I had coffee and a wonderful hours-long conversation yesterday with my old friend, Chris Meyer. Chris was in New York for a round of media interviews relating to his new book, Standing on the Sun, which, by the way, is a must-read.

The conversation ranged over any number of topics, including the centrality of collaborative production as the world’s new business model. In Chris’s typically clever fashion, the chapter on that theme is titled “The Invisible Handshake”. His ideas parallel some of the work that Carolyn Buck Luce has been doing under the rubric of “Pharma 3.0”, where she argues that large pharmaceutical companies need to look outside their (often impermeable) organizational walls not only for new molecules but also for innovations in their business models.

Years ago I was quite taken with the concept of Time-Based Competition. Especially in my Total Quality Management work with FedEx, I saw the reduction of cycle time as a central driver to the improvement of quality with a built-in way of measuring the gains.

Time is no less important today, but today the point is not just to accelerate business processes, but also to be able to accelerate the development of new, effective business relationships. In work I have personally done, I have seen companies make noble, but ultimately unproductive efforts to collaborate and I have seen them succeed beyond their wildest imaginings.

Here are a few ideas on how to collaborate quickly and effectively:

1.     Not one-to-one, but many-to-many. Relationships have always been the essence in business. Today, however, businesses are too complex for change to be driven by the personal connection between only a few people on each side. As early as possible, it is important to get teams from all the parties engaged in finding opportunities to work together.

2.     Start with a shared vision of what is possible. This is not business development – ie, getting the most in the negotiation. It is about pooling your assets and attributes to make something new. Remember the old story of “Stone Soup”, where hungry travelers tantalize village folks about this marvelous concoction, stone soup. They place their magic stone in a kettle of boiling water, taste it, and declare that the soup needs a little something – a few ham bones, some carrots, some onions, a little salt – all of which the villagers happily contribute in the hopes of finally tasting this storied soup – and pretty soon there is a meal for everyone.

3.     Build the structures of trust. Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust is a good start on some of the practicalities of building a trusting business relationship, but remember that trust is not just psychological. Get explicit agreements in place about intellectual property and the sharing the value of mutually developed ideas, products, and services from the very beginning, before there is value to fight over.

4.     Don’t argue – test. This line was given to me years ago by the head of Lufthansa Marketing during my work with them. In complex adaptive systems (like an economy!) no one can accurately predict which ideas will take hold. Collaboration is a journey of discovery. The sooner you get your ideas into the market, the sooner you can improve not only those ideas, but also the way you and your new partners are working together.

I feel lucky to have had the chance to master a technology so perfectly suited to accelerating this kind of radical collaboration – the DesignShop.

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