“Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value”
~ John Hagel III, Harvard Business Review
We have all heard of the experience curve and the effects it has on reducing costs and time while increasing accuracy in product and service development- it’s logical. However, the inherent flaw in the experience curve model for business is that once you reach a certain level of expertise the costs, time and accuracy continue to improve only marginally until a new innovation is introduced. And it is with the collaboration curve that the innovation increases.
“We’re seeing the emergence of a new kind of learning curve as we scale connectivity and learning , rather than scaling efficiency”
The more participants you have working on a design or project and the more interactions between those participants in a carefully designed collaborative environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up. Essentially, because with continued collaboration comes continuous ideas that translate into continuous innovation. It eradicates the lull in performance improvement that occurs in the experince curve model.
Take Apple for example. They are experienceing a seemingly never ending cycle of expansion through the applications for their devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod etc.) The reason of course is that they crowdsource. Apple doesn’t think of the hundreds of application ideas and advertise them, they merely offer the platform and software neccessary for their users to develop apps based on their own ideas – and because of it the App Store is massive and Apple continues to gain revenue, reputation and offer continuously evolving product.
So I urge you to consider how you are applying the Collaboration Curve learning cycle in your organization?
Collaboration is often to innovation what gasoline is to a cars internal combustion engine. Without the gas the engine is still a great technological innovation – it just won’t go anywhere.
Dean Kamen, famous for the invention of the Segway and the portable dialysis machine, makes a point of investing his time and money to create technologies that can improve the quality of people’s lives. His latest revelation the “Slingshot” – a water purification system that can take nearly any polluted water source including urine and toxic waste and distill it into safe, clean drinking water – could very well solve the worlds fresh water shortage and save hundreds of thousands of lives. The power source for this dazzling distiller is perhaps even more impressive. A modified Stirling engine it can generate energy from cow dung to grass clippings and produces enough energy every day to purify enough water for 100 people and light 70 light bulbs. The entire Slingshot system was tested in the field for a full 6 months of operation and went off without a hitch. With no filters, membranes and relatively simple mechanical parts it is estimated that the Slingshot could operate perpetually for 5 years without requiring any maintenance – just deliver and use!
Now for the tricky part – that’s right the 10 years spent perfecting the design was not the tricky part – finding the right collaborator to mass produce the units for distribution. As a technology with almost exclusive benefits to the third world (for now anyway) investors perceive the production of this technology to be financially risky. Until Kamen can find a company that can utilize parts or all of this technology for profit sales of a product in developed nations the Slingshot project is at a stand still. There has been some interest from a small electric car producer, Tata in India to use the Stirling engine technology, however, this small investment is not enough for mass production and distribution of the Slingshot. Evidently, turning a spectacular invention into a commodity has become the major roadblock for Kamen’s humanitarian technology.
Increasingly, the best ideas and creative innovations are happening through collaborations of organizations and individuals. Which means that these innovations are not occurring at any particular organization – so where are they happening? In the places and spaces between…………….
Satish Nambisan; social innovation researcher recently published an article entitled “Platforms for Collaboration” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that explores the importance of places for people to work together across sector and organizational boundaries to foster innovation.
Whether virtual or physical, Nambisan’s research highlights the importance that each of these platforms be a neutral space where everyone has equal footing. Of equal importance for any collaboration is the dedication of everyone involved to assist in cultivating a network culture – beyond their own organizational or sector boundaries to include broader perspectives.
Nambisan identifies three key platforms needed for successful collaboration and innovation; exploration platforms where the problem is jointly identified; experimentation platforms where solution ‘prototypes’ are developed and execution platforms; where the recommended solutions are first put into action.
The infrastructure to support such platforms for collaboration is still underdeveloped and so those places and spaces that do strive to serve as platforms for collaboration such as Kingbridge, MaRS and Johnson Foundation are the pioneers of the collaboration frontier.