From science to shopping, from coding to conferences, collaboration is something of a 21st Century mega trend. More and more, in a countless myriad of ways, we’re spending more time working together to achieve our goals.
And nowhere is this mega trend more pronounced than in the world of business, where collaboration has become almost synonymous with innovation, efficiency and long term success.
Inside a business, collaboration means everything from improving the lines of communication between different departments to creating new opportunities for different skills sets – such as engineers and marketers – to work more closely together, and flattening the hierarchy of a company’s management.
But externally, there’s also a fascinating and exciting trend in which businesses are working more closely with each and supporting each other’s growth. In a supposedly ‘dog eat dog’ world, where does working with the competition fit in? Well, according to a new report cited on This is Money (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/smallbusiness/article-2657968/Say-cheese-Tasty-sales-boost-independent-retailers-small-merchants-helping-other.html), “independent retailers and small merchants that work together enjoy a significant sales boost”. The article goes on to describe how everything from joint marketing campaigns to loyalty schemes and local events can increase profits by the thousands.
Where to share
As for where this sharing takes place, the opportunities are numerous and diverse enough to tempt any business into partaking. This comprehensive article on small business collaboration (http://mashable.com/2011/03/14/small-business-collaboration/) describes the growth in meetup groups that are dedicated to building partnerships and new relationships between businesses on a local level. It also charts the massive growth in virtual groups, such as Entrepreneur Connect (part of Entrepreneur Network and Entrepreneur.com), a website that bills itself as a “a dynamic business-to-business marketplace that will help everyone grow.”
Why businesses work better together
Perhaps the most convincing reason for businesses to work together is to find ways to grow a market instead of simply divvying it up. The Harvard Business Review (http://blogs.hbr.org/2011/06/collaborate-to-grow-the-pie-no/) talks about this as growing a pie, instead of splitting it into smaller and smaller portions: “Pie-splitting as a growth strategy is attractive because it is more familiar and easier. For many of us it is deeply ingrained that for one to win, the other has to lose. Pie-growing is not only more foreign, it also takes more courage as it is a more uncertain and messier. It also takes more creativity, as well as an ability to stand in your partner’s shoes.”
We’re all in this together
But where else has this trend emerged from, and why now? One possible catalyst for collaboration taking the place of competition is – perhaps surprisingly – the state of the economy. Following several long years of global economic decline, it’s nice to think that a sense of camaraderie has emerged between those businesses who have survived, even thrived. And, more tangibly, when money’s tight, it pays to have friends you can rely on.
But beyond this ‘spirit of togetherness’, the reality of business collaboration also has a very practical benefit. Imagine being a specialist supplier in a world where Tescos sells everything from TVs to pet insurance, and Amazon covers everything else. To remain competitive and appeal to customers who have become accustomed to getting everything in one place, businesses need to innovate. And, if the idea of simply starting to offer a wider range of products or services isn’t practical, a smart collection of collaborations could be just the ticket.
For example, if a grocer can recommend other businesses’ products – or even stock things like cheese, eggs or meat alongside their own vegetables – it creates a beneficial system of mutual recommendation. And of course, the customer wins too.
But shelf space isn’t the only thing businesses are sharing more of. From customer research and market insights, to actual assets like user data and application code, the idea of a ‘trade secret’ is becoming increasingly antiquated. Echoing a wider ‘open source’ trend, the concept is a simple one: together, we know more.
The social web is a great enabler of this trend. Instead of struggling solo on a business challenge – such as where to source a particular material, or how to crack a coding challenge- a business can cast its net much wider. And who better to ask than a competitor with experience of similar challenges?