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Harnessing the Power of Collaboration
The late Steve Jobs has long been considered one of the best CEOs of his time, or all time for that matter. His ability to manage one of the most innovative companies in the world, producing some of the most coveted and anticipated products in the world, year after year, have led many to revere him as a “genius.” But when asked about the key to Apple’s success, Mr. Jobs did not praise his own ingenuity, nor did he praise the great minds of the engineers that he employed. Instead, he credited their success to the collaborative culture instilled in the company.
Now, this is not to say that incredibly innovative minds are not important to Apple’s success. They are vitally important. But it’s Apple’s ability and desire to bring together and meld those minds that creates such a dynamically innovative company. As seen in this clip: Mr. Jobs attributes innovation at Apple to working in a team, trusting your team members, and bringing together incredible minds to solve problems and create products. Apple’s products are a result of what Jobs calls “wonderful arguments,” where competent individuals create solutions together to problems which they would be unable to solve on their own. These wonderful arguments to which Jobs refers are more than just brainstorming meetings where there are “no wrong answers” and “quantity is key.” These are constructive meetings where ideas are sharpened by the expertise of individuals in different fields.
The Melding of Imagination
In his recent book, Imagine, Jonah Lehrer comes to similar conclusions about the power of collaboration that illustrate further what is behind a lot of Apple’s success. In it he states:
“Sometimes a single network isn’t enough. Sometimes a creative problem is so difficult that it requires people to connect their imaginations together; the answer arrives only if we collaborate. That’s because a group is not just a collection of individual talents. Instead, it is a chance for those talents to exceed themselves, to produce something greater than anyone thought possible. When the right mixture of people come together and when they collaborate in the right way, what happens can often feel like magic. But it’s not magic. There is a reason why some groups are more than the sum of their parts…
…Because we live in a world of very hard problems - all the low hanging fruit is gone – many of the most important challenges exceed the capabilities of the individual imagination. As a result, we can find solutions only by working with other people.” (Imagine, pp 139-140)
Meetings of the Minds
Lehrer goes on to demonstrate in his book how the idea of collaboration has made Pixar one of the most successful movie production companies in the world. When they first struck out on their own, Pixar was innovating a whole new way to make movies – complete computer animation. In order for an idea like this to work, there needed to be communication and collaboration across people with all sorts of diverse backgrounds. Artists needed to work with screenwriters; screenwriters needed to work with IT; IT needed to work with actors; and so on.
To make this happen, Pixar developed a culture of collaboration in which employee interactions were without constraint – allowing creativity to emerge unfettered and allowing talented people to, as Lehrer stated above, “connect their imaginations.” (Perhaps it’s not a complete coincidence to see just such a culture evolve in a company that was purchased by Steve Jobs in 1986.) This culture has allowed Pixar to create 11 feature films, all of which have grossed over half a billion dollars each, as well as numerous award-winning short films (three of which I watched on YouTube to “research” this post. Here is one of my favorites).
Collaboration and Consensus for Action
Within our own processes here at Brandtrust, we fully understand the importance of harnessing the intellectual capital of intelligent, diverse individuals to create measurable advantage through group collaboration and problem-solving. At the end of our projects we encourage our clients to gather cross-functional groups in a work session where they can listen to our findings and gain a common foundation of insights so that they can build ideas together. By melding the minds of people from different functions and backgrounds, we are better able to come up with unique and actionable solutions, build consensus and help our clients move their brand or business challenges forward.
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