Eli MacLaren

Platforms for Collaborative Innovation

Part Three of a Three Part Series

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The imperative for collaborative innovation is two-fold:

  • It can enable exponential innovation — and therefore value creation — for individuals, organizations, and society.
  • At a time when it is needed most, it can enable the cooperative tools that humans need to solve complex problems in transformational ways.

Today, the market is responding in a variety of ways— utilizing both place making and platform tools as containers for enabling.

On the one hand, secondary markets are enabling individuals, organizations, and communities to share, exchange, and leverage excess capacity. Secondary markets are the broad category for the platforms we understand as the sharing economy, collaborative consumption, the gig economy, etc.

On the other hand, there are a host of “market making” efforts catalyzing possibly disruptive new ventures at the start-up phase through incubators, accelerators, and maker spaces. These spaces exist within communities and within institutions.

There are strengths and weaknesses in both- but my general critique is that we are (1) still missing the platforms that enable us to network capabilities across business models, and more importantly, (2) increasingly decreasing the will to do so.

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Here is how I have come to frame the landscape. Secondary markets and maker spaces are creating the conditions for both collective creation and collective action:

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Accelerators (and I’m using the phrase to include all start-up territory, from incubators to accelerators) build the capacity and strengths of entrepreneurial ventures. They have the potential to increase economic activity and value in community — both in terms of attracting investment and in terms of increasing personal wealth and income, jobs, and tax revenue. As entities, accelerators network entrepreneurs together — enabling visibility into a shared experience. This is incredibly powerful for solving the before mentioned challenges of the innovator's isolation and loneliness. It also serves up the benefits of a network — access to new ideas, contacts, and resources. That said, new ventures don’t truly leverage collaborative power. And accelerators fail to focus on catalyzing new value chains or systems. They are product-driven, at best, and entrepreneur focused at worst.

Crowdsourcing platforms, e.g. Kickstarter, begin to bridge the gap between collective creation and collective action specifically because in addition catalyzing venture creation they also enable crowds to act in service of that creation.

Sharing platforms take the power of crowds one step further by unlocking the value of under-used assets. I am increasingly intrigued, as well, as by platforms such as DecStack, described as a decentralized space, and virtual co-working space — with the potential of leveraging the gig economy, the utilization of dormant computing power, and the distributed power, as well as attribution and contribution ledger capability, of blockchain and related cryptocurrencies.

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Across the market, the tools and platforms are emerging to accelerate collaborative innovation. The question is: do we have the will?

A major trend affecting the opportunity is the decline in individual engagement in all aspects of society. 70% of Americans feel disengaged from their jobs. Students’ engagement in their education bottoms out in the 11th grade. Relatedly, 7 out of 10 teachers feel disengaged from teaching and education. Over 44% of Americans didn’t engage in the 2016 election.

This translates to leaders as well. In Fixing the Game, Roger Martin explain how CEOs are increasingly motivated by short-term “returns,” and correspondingly, play short games — that comes at the expense of longer-term bets nurtured through exploration, discovery, and traditional innovation R&D.

Engagement is key to collaborative innovation, and progress more generally. It enables diverse theory and thought to come together in new and different ways. It is the backbone of collaborative innovation — because it allows my thoughts and your thoughts to come together to create a wholly new thought, thing, or theory. Engagement — defined by curiosity, creativity, and exploration — allows us to be move from mediocrity and consensus to something that is co-created, progressively exciting, and transformative.

More often then not, we don’t give ourselves permission to do that. We wallow in the constraints of “what is” or we let the constraints of “what is” beat us into submission. We focus on finding the dream job. We don’t focus on creating it. We focusing on getting through school to earn a credential. We don’t focus on curating a learning journey. We complain about our health care, rather than engaging in self-managed care, exercise, and good nutrition. We seek magic bullets and “hail mary’s” and we quickly leave when they don’t pan out. We let things happen to us rather than make things happen for us.

That said, I don’t think humans want to be that way. I think we are inherently creative, and we want to engage in the creation and exploration of new experiences. I think every innovation agenda that is trying to create a culture of innovation is focused on this one insight. People are creative and playful.

So what if? What if we playfully built people’s capability, capacity, and appetite to collaboratively engage in the experiences of their daily living, short and long-term — from how they show up at work to how they show up in their community? What if we gave them the tools and platforms that build trust and cooperation? What if we enabled people and teams to collaborative co-create the world they want to live in? The experiences they want to have? The things and interactions that make up that experience? What if we gave them the tools to get recognized for it, to benefit from it? What if we encouraged them to stay for the long game.

I truly believe the world is collaborative in nature, and it is waiting for us to do our part.

 

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