Competitive while Collaborative – Striking a Balance

Leigh Jerome's picture

The creation and expression of knowledge has become increasingly specialized. This can be seen in the continued emergence of new disciplines and sub-disciplines, as well as in the design and development of targeted products and niche vendors. Research is hyper-specialized and recursive, often without application or integration beyond its own field of origin. Indeed, the vertical spiral of specialized knowledge is the essential goal of an advanced degree. We strive to become specialized - our expertise is rewarded and celebrated.

But, in a global knowledge economy, where connectivity and information are inexpensive and readily available, innovation is not as likely to occur at the level of specialization. Innovation favors the intersections between disciplines and sectors where expertise is able to blend. There is so much to be discovered in the knowledge that is already amongst us, but trapped in silos and stovepipes.

Much has been written about the importance of open innovation, transdisciplinarity, and collaboration. There is growing value being placed on boundary spanning and loosely coupled networks; but, collaborative innovation remains illusive. In this miraculous age of discovery, the pace for scientific and technical development seems to have outstripped our capacity for integrating discoveries into useful knowledge and synthesized applications.

Our approach to global problems is no different. We attempt to resolve dynamic and interrelated humanitarian situations with specialized organizations, philanthropy, advocacy and policy while the complexity and intractable nature of social issues clearly points to the need for holistic planning and the integration of resources, goals and perspectives.

It isn’t enough to want to be nimble. We will have to learn how to blend our expertise in ways that allow us to respond to challenges and opportunities effectively. New skills and processes must be distilled and validated that can aide us in this endeavor. Collaboration tools alone are not enough. We need a methodology that acts like a Möbius strip, allowing specialized knowledge to bend back onto itself for the creation of synthesized innovation.

A successful system for accelerating innovation must respect the need for and tradition of mastery while finding the sweet spot that engenders collaboration. Collaborative innovation will continue to elude us if it threatens our specialization. We need a system that can be embedded in existing structures. The objective is to remain experts but incorporate incentives, translations, strategies and tools that allow us to release a portion of our knowledge. The goal is to retain our specialization and the proprietary information that is essential for competitiveness but to also share interests, solutions, perspectives and ideas that will generate co-creation and an entirely new dimension of innovation.