The overwhelming meme of the moment is that collaboration is the new key to value. It will cure us of our sins. It will change the world.
All the challenges of innovation, marketing, brand, agencies and of business in general will be solved if we can all be just be that-little-bit-more-collaborative.
The problem is that it won’t work. Collaboration creates compromise and compromise blunts the edges of the brilliant.
Collaboration is the corporate equivalent of Prozac. By eliminating the extreme lows, you also eliminate the extreme highs. Which is a really big problem if you rely on those highs to cut through and make a difference.
There are two aspects of the idea that collaboration is the answer which are flat out dangerous:
- Collaboration will spare us the need for more radical organizational surgery. I’m sorry, but that’s a pretty wrong-headed way to think. A business landscape that has shifted radically doesn’t need collaboration between the now-defunct structures of the past. What it needs are new structures that adequately meet the new needs of the market and correctly align the incentives of all participants.
- Collaboration will spare us the need for real expertise. This reinforces today’s dangerously populist view that expertise is no longer necessary. That in a world where everyone can invent and create, that we no longer need experts in invention or creation. Yet look at the fruits of this. Have we seen greater creativity or invention from the explosion in crowdsourced advertising? In a single word, no. Have we seen an amazing product created by a crowdsourced team of consumer advocates. Again, no.
In fact, what we tend to see are pretty basic derivations of existing themes rather than brilliant departures.
While MyStarbucksidea.com might be an interesting example of collaboration, it isn’t because it will change the world. Rather it’s because it gives Starbucks a roadmap for incremental improvement. This fundamentally isn’t invention, it’s a beautiful new form of customer driven TQM.
Of course, this shouldn’t surprise us. After all most of the world’s most amazing inventions and inventors were written off as crazy before they became successful. And let’s not forget that a hell of a lot of them didn’t play well with others.
Call me old fashioned, but I actually think expertise still matters, vision still matters, leadership still matters, risk taking still matters and brilliant individuals and their brilliant ideas fundamentally still matter.
Now, of course collaboration is necessary to get things done. I’m not advocating on behalf of the brilliant asshole here. Instead, what I’m saying is that collaboration alone is not enough, it’s not everything. While collaborating nicely with each other might feel good at the time, like Prozac it won’t fundamentally solve any of the tough problems on it’s own. That still requires vision, guts and brilliant people.
Let’s face it, the iPhone, so ironically beloved of the advocates of collaboration-as-the-answer is patently not the fruit of collaboration. (That would actually be an Android phone. Probably running Cyanogen Mod) No, the iPhone is the fruit of single minded leadership and a highly performing organization clearly focused on an uncompromised end goal.
And that’s what it would be great to see more of out there. More people prepared to get off the corporate Prozac, admit that the benefits of collaboration might in fact be limited, and instead choose to focus their energies on coming up with things that are truly brilliant.
If only I could do it myself. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with trying to be a good collaborator…
Image borrowed from: https://pworthington.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/collaboration.jpg?w=300