Both competitive and collaborative environments have produced game-changing breakthroughs in multiple fields but combining the best aspects of both seems to remain more of an imprecise art than a science. InnoCentive has recently launched a challenge to ask its Solvers for their insights on how it can help to increase collaborative behavior and teamwork within the Solver community. 'We have some ideas, but we can't pretend to be the absolute experts on what will motivate Solvers to share more and work collectively. The Solvers are our powerhouses and this Challenge is part of our efforts to better understand their needs and motivations', said Dr. Alph Bingham, InnoCentive Founder. 'We want to provide Solvers with the environment that will enable greater collaboration and thereby further increase their power to solve intractable problems - they are the people best placed to tell us what that that environment looks and feels like!'
Living Together – its Basically Biology!
The natural sciences are full of examples of collaboration between organisms or 'symbiosis' – derived from the Greek word sumbion, meaning 'live together'. Examples range from nitrogen-fixing bacteria associating with roots of leguminous plants such as peas and clover to assist in fixation of nitrogen, through to the looser association between prey fish in shoals or remora and sharks. In each case the partners have a mutual interest in continuing the relationship.
Probably the most relevant symbiotic relationship to us all is between our own cells and the mitochondria that power them from within. Endosymbiont theory tells us that these microscopic powerhouses were once free-living bacteria that got internalized in cells of an early organism and found the cells created a nice environment for them. Mitochondria burn sugars to produce energy which they release to the cell and in-turn have a safe place to reproduce and are protected from predation or changing environmental conditions. A clearer case of 'win-win' is difficult to imagine and the endosymbiont theory is well supported by both DNA and protein data.
So much for biology, but do these principles formed in the primordial goo really translate to the real world of business and human interaction?
Planes, Trains, Automobiles & Drugs
There are few verticals as competitive as the automotive industry especially now as the economic downturn, sustainability issues, and social trends away from individual car ownership each add pressure. Recent years have seen an upturn in promising collaborative projects between car makers such as Toyota and BMW, Alpha Romeo and Mazda, and Jeep and Maserati. With notable collaborative successes, some are predicting increasing numbers of collaborative approaches in automotive and not only in new product development.
However, for every success story there are cautionary tales e.g. The teething troubles of the Eurofighter aerospace project, the demise of SAAB, or the intricacies of coordinating Network Rail services in the UK. It is this track record that leads many to be wary of partnerships and collaboration – even though the potential benefits are huge, they can increase complexity and introduce new risks.
The pharmaceutical industry is also highly competitive and has experienced an overall reduction in productivity over the last 15 years. Pharma companies increasingly use consortia or joint-ventures to address issues in 'pre-competitive' areas, for instance developing enabling technologies like Next-Generation Sequencing that will benefit all parties within the field. Other consortia approaches have been targeted at tackling common side effects of new classes of drug that the partners are looking to overcome.
The Importance of Environment
Environmental pressures, both positive and negative, seem to be the drivers for initiating collaborations. Based on examples from natural science and industry it could be argued that increasingly competitive and complex environments seem to promote collaborative initiatives, and at the same time create greater complexity. Successful collaborative environments and relationships seems to be those that retain as much simplicity as possible and are focussed on clear mutually beneficial outcomes. Whether that is true or not, the environment or framework in which the collaboration takes place seems to influence the likelihood of successful outcomes.
This new InnoCentive Challenge is looking to identify the environment we need to create in order to enable and foster successful, simple, and straightforward collaboration between Solvers.
The Challenge asks for your ideas and insights - 3 selected Solvers will each be invited to pitch their proposal to Dr. Alph Bingham, InnoCentive Founder, and 2 other InnoCentive Executives in a 15-minute 'Shark Tank'-style teleconference. The winner will get $2,000 and the runners up will each receive $500. All finalists will be promoted in emails to the InnoCentive Solver community and also in a targeted mailing to the InnoCentive Seekers.
'We hope you will take part – this competition is extremely important to us, but it will also be a fun way to connect Solvers, InnoCentive and Seekers!' said Dr. Alph Bingham
Authored by Kevin Mobbs, Director of Innovation Programs, EMEA