By Jacob Chandy VargheseThe Collective Energy of Collaboration: I had a boss who was a Belgian, who was also an excellent sportsperson. He was telling me one day about the team cycling sport which was quite popular in Belgium. The fundamental principle behind team cycling is that of the cyclists being in a very close group, whereby the overall effect of drag resistance is reduced. The benefit is that the overall energy spent by the group is drastically reduced, and they can travel longer distances. We find similar aspects of group-advantage in the V-formation of birds, where the birds flying behind will receive lift force because of the circulation of air created by the birds flying in the front. Social foraging is a specialization where scientists study group behaviour of animals, and have found many examples of animals hunting in groups. Groups obviously make them stronger, increase their probability of success in catching the prey and also increase defence against their predators.
Competition & Collaboration: Business world has gone through a beautiful evolution already from just competition between one another to a pattern where competition and collaboration go hand in hand. Take a look at this evolution in telecom companies. Years ago companies competed in bringing a new technology first to the market. Then when that became a level playing field, they moved to technological advantages within a certain standard. When that also became level-playing, they moved up the value chain of competition to compete on pricing. Then came new companies who insulted the pricing game by offering ridiculously low prices which the giants got worried about. Over time, even that layer got levelled. The competition then evolved to service differentiations, which too did not take much time to level. Now the game has moved to competing companies collaborating with each other through industry partnerships and consortiums and ‘connects’ to offer value-added solutions together. The game is about ecosystems where you no longer can live alone. Competition and Collaboration go beautifully hand in hand in the for-profit world.
Incubation Centres for Collaborative Business Models: The concept of an incubation centre is there typically for starting new companies. We should think of incubation centres in the social sector to create new business models around a social venture where for-profit players are added into the ecosystem systematically and effectively. The development sector under focus has to be decided first, be it education, healthcare, or anything else, and the centre can have social sector players focusing on this area to first come together to ideate. Once there is a common understanding of the problem statement, and the metrics to measure the impact, for-profit players should be invited to the centre to put in their thoughts on how the problem can be addressed with the various technology and business models they have. The sustainability of the ecosystem will be much more practical when we have non-profit and for-profit players thinking together and putting the same into action by sharing the commitment. The incubation centre can ensure that the ROI (Return on Investment) for the for-profit players as well as the social ROI for the non-profit players are both achieved in a sustainable manner.
It takes Time and Attention to Collaborate: Some of us may wonder if incubation centre is a fancy step to improve collaboration. I do not think so. The reason is that collaboration needs time, experimentation and a lot of facilitation. Some time back, I interacted with the founder of a startup firm, who had a feature-phone-based solution for handling supply chain. The founder was very passionate about its application in the rural sector, and he was convinced that this will improve the overall revenues of the rural customers. I got quite excited and talked about this to a friend of mine, who was working with a non-profit organization that has a strong SHG (Self Help Group) network making many items for sale, and has huge potential for growth. However, I was surprised at the time and energy it took for me to get the non-profit organization to even get interested in this startup solution. An incubation centre with its one-eyed focus on collaboration and sustainable partnerships will be able to dedicate the time to hand-hold the players.
Agile, as a process approach: Agile is a good methodology which can be applied in the Incubation centre. Though largely practised in software development teams, Agile has a lot of fundamental principles which can be applied into evolution of new business models. These models definitely need guidance, governance, good leadership and everything that is needed for execution excellence. Agile approach will make sure that there is definite progress, and continuous improvement that is needed to achieve results. Agile will also ensure that the ideation and discussions do not go too long without any tangible results. Agile has the spirit of collaboration, discussion and teamwork weaved into it and hence it leads not only to better, faster and quite often cheaper results, but also will result in the formation of a good chemistry between the team members thereby creating a re-usable team too.
Once sustainable ecosystem models emerge from the incubation centres, they can be cross-applied across sectors and geographies. In the social sector world, this should lead to emergence of new patterns which has increased collaboration and faster results.
Collaborate, we advance with lesser collective energy expenditure.