“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” ― Charles Darwin
One of the most unusual creatures I have learned about is the Portuguese Man O’War. This creature is a siphonophore. A siphonophore appears to be a single organism but is actually composed of small individual organisms called zooids that have their own special function for survival. These zooids are attached to one another and physiologically integrated, to the extent that they cannot survive independently, creating a symbiotic relationship, requiring each one to work together and function as an individual animal. The individual organisms make the whole to ensure longer-term survival.
I can think of no better symbol for the shift that must happen in the business world today, a shift from a world of competition to a business world of collaboration.
The Shift to Collaboration
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” — Jack Welch
Organisational structures are modelled on military structures. These structures are not only very hierarchical but also aim to beat the competition and conquer their turf (or destroy it). Businesses have been borne out of such structures and many businesses focus on their competitive advantage. It is perfectly logical to focus on succeeding, but being inwardly focused in today’s fast-paced, evolving business world is no longer enough to survive. The business logic of the past decades no longer applies. The changed business world requires a new strategic shift, a shift from competition to co-opetition and collaboration. To make this shift we must view ourselves akin to the Portuguese Man O’War, we are part of a living ecosystem, where we must develop symbiotic relationships.
Strategic leaders need to shift their mindset from one of winning to one of influencing, where they become orchestrators of a business ecosystem or even a business community.
The definition of community is a group of interdependent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat. The specified habitat for businesses is the competitive landscape or should I say the collaborative landscape. This shift in mindset will take some time to settle as business leaders have been trained to lead in a competitive environment. While this mindset may seem alien to many of us, our human desire to connect is not only favourable, but it is rewarding.
The Selfish Gene with the Collaborative Sense
“The Selfish Gene” (1976) is the book on evolution by Richard Dawkins, where he builds upon the work of George C. Williams’ “Adaptation and Natural Selection” (1966). Dawkins tells us how genes (not DNA) are potentially immortal, where they survive across the ages as we evolve. Successful genes are the ones who can build bodies and to carry genes and pass the genes on. Even though genes need to be “selfish” in order to survive, all living creatures must also display a contradictory existence of “selfish genes” and cooperative action. Think back to the Man O’ War for a moment, each zooid will do everything it needs to survive (and pass on the successful genes), they will fight or kill to ensure the survival of their species. However, each individual organism has the sense to understand that it must cooperate and contribute within the ecosystem it inhabits in order to survive.
Humans are like the zooids, we fight our corner to ensure our survival. As humanity progressed throughout stages of evolution, solitary living became untenable. An individual who either refused, avoided, or proved themselves unwilling to cooperate found themselves ejected from their tribe, from a developed ecosystem. In the early days of homosapiens, this meant likely death.
Equally, businesses will continue to decay if they do not reevaluate their position and contribution within their ecosystem. This means embracing the circular economy, this means paying attention to their impact on society. As our guest on this week’s innovation show Paul Skinner says, organisations must shift from a mindset of shareholder value to one of stakeholder value. Such a shift means thinking beyond the internal ecosystem of employees, buyers, suppliers and regulators (to name but a few), but it means embracing the wider ecosystem of the environment, the community and even the competitor. The Portuguese Man O’ War isn’t always seen in isolation, legions consisting of over 1,000 colonies have been observed floating around together. As well as embracing its fellow Man O’War. this amazing creature embraces the external ecosystem by drifting along on (somewhat) predictable winds and ocean currents. It understands it stands a better chance of survival by surfing the waves of change.
I leave you with this Chinese Proverb, which epitomises the spirit of this article:
“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, some people build windmills”
The latest episode of the Innovation Show is: “Collaborative Advantage: How collaboration beats competition as a strategy for success with Paul Skinner”
Paul Skinner argues that we have now reached a turning point in history from which creating Competitive Advantage may no longer be in the best interests of an organization.
He presents today’s business and social challenges through a new strategic lens and offers this book as a practical guide to help you create Collaborative Advantage, transform your business and change the world.
You will gain access to world-leading techniques to enable you to:
Mobilise staff, partners, collaborators and customers around a common purpose that gets everyone you need firmly on your side.
Foster improved innovation, reach more customers or beneficiaries, build greater loyalty, generate greater income and forge more ambitious partnerships.
De-couple your potential for growth from the level of resource your organization controls.
This is an indispensable guide that will help you transform the growth of your business or the impact of your non-profit by bringing the fuller value-creating potential of the outside world inside your organization.
We welcome Strategic consultant, social entrepreneur and the author of “Collaborative Advantage: How collaboration beats competition as a strategy for success” — Paul Skinner
The Death ad History of Competitive Advantage
The Birth of Collaborative Advantage
The “Outside In” framework
Engaging the Ecosystem
The Circular Economy
Have a listen:
More about Paul here: