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Collaboration ... It all happens at the edges

Updated: Jan 28, 2018



We must innovate to stay globally competitive! How do we change our stripes and become an innovation nation?


In short, too many of us are still complacent, living in the shadow of the richer-times of the resources economy, lacking the will or knowledge to take the appropriate steps, waiting for someone else to do it. We are talking a good talk, but the behaviours are not yet following. We know we have to do something, but for many, the pain is not yet big enough to drive the fundamental cultural change that is required.


It is not sufficient for a few key researchers or entrepreneurs to change the fortunes of a country; it must come from a shift, not from the (inward looking) centre, but from the (outward looking) edges. It is the edges of organisations that interface with customers, it is the edges of our universities that connect with Government, and it is the edges where stakeholders connect. And it is these edge-connections where information is shared, that insights and discoveries are made, and that true innovation occurs as part of a larger innovation ecosystem.


And yet it is the edges that we are not so good at!


What is an Innovation Ecosystem and how do we create one?


In systems theory, an innovation ecosystem can be described as an open complex adaptive system, a highly connected and largely self-organising system, that crosses numerous non-traditional boundaries, and that doesn’t conform to the normal rules of organising ie. you can’t ‘control’ it and you don’t ‘manage’ it; you create the necessary conditions, find a strong ‘attractor’ (a big enough problem to solve), apply pressure, and build new rituals and ways of working to create emergent novelty. The antithesis of how we have structured our organisations historically.


The biggest challenge we have is ourselves, and our traditional ways of operating, our unconscious patterns and behaviours. We have largely been educated in a culture of individualism and scarcity, a zero sum game, wherein for one person to win, someone else has to lose, and when the majority of businesses are fighting for their survival, collaboration and sharing is the last thing on their mind. It is counter-intuitive, and yet entirely necessary.


In attempting to shift our National culture, it is not sufficient to say that we must ‘collaborate’ and ‘fail fast to learn fast’. If it were that easy, we would have done it long ago (just like quitting smoking and losing weight). We must understand the basis of where these beliefs come from, how they have shaped us a Nation, how we reinforce them through our education and employment systems, and how they are either going to help or hinder us moving forward, and to make our own culture visible we need to look at the consistent patterns and behaviours all around us ie. it is not what we say we stand for, but rather what we do, that shows our real culture.



How do we learn our way into sustainable innovation?


At ImagineX, we contend that whilst technology has ben the great catalyst of the modern era, there are two key capabilities that need to be consistently developed to create truly collaborative cultures of innovation:


Knowledge Entrepreneurship – individuals with high levels of Emotional and Social Intelligence, with a keen sense of the social problems that really need addressing, able to work across and with diverse groups of people from multiple perspectives (organisations); and

Sophisticated Facilitation – sense-makers, connectors and catalysts, able to see and explore patterns, problems, opportunities and human behaviours, with skilful abilities to bring disparate groups and minds together around common problems and opportunities.

These core capabilities are then nurtured in supportive Collaborative Innovation Ecosystems wherein the requisite conditions are established to reinforce these behaviours. And it is only when these capabilities are nurtured and combined with contemporary technology, that we will see the sustained innovation and cultural shifts that we require.


Innovation is a social problem, not a technology one!


We have a huge challenge ahead of us. The overt efforts have begun, and yet we can already observe the contra-behaviours emerging – competition rather than collaboration – competition for Government money, for real-estate for innovation hubs, for customers, for the next big idea, and for recognition. We need to take a more sophisticated approach to how we are creating the innovation ecosystem with far greater emphasis on creating connections and learning across the system. It is time to let go of ego, and to realise that the only way we win, is together.


Easier said than done? Absolutely. But we have to try!


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About the author

Tony Wheeler is Co-Founder and Director of ImagineX, Imagine Consulting Group International, an organisation providing development and consulting services to national, multinational, government and educational institutions. Tony specialises in executive leadership, organisational development, innovation and collaborative ecosystems. Tony is also co-founder and Managing Director of BliiP Employability, cloud-based SaaS providers of educational assessment and analytics, and winner of the IBM SmartCamp Global Entrepreneurs People’s Choice Award for 2013. Tony is also a mentor for River City Labs, iLab, and the international Startup Weekend movement.

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