5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Collaborations (Guest Blog)

11.09.18 03:13 AM By Jennie Hempstead

Ed Morrison is the Director of Purdue Agility Laboratory at Purdue University. For 20 years, Ed's been working to create new, network-based models for strategy in open, loosely connected networks. These approaches emphasize the strategic value of focused collaboration and innovation in today's global economy.


Based on over 30 years of designing and guiding complex collaborations, I've learned some things. Here are a few.

  1. Collaborations can't rely on visions.-- Partners need clear, practical outcomes. Vision statements are too vague to be useful. After about a decade of negotiating joint ventures in China, I learned that U.S. managers do not spend enough time designing the future they want to see. As my Chinese colleague says, "They end up sleeping in the same bed with their Chinese partner, but they are dreaming different dreams."

  2. Collaborations without clear next steps are just talk.-- Moving ideas into action quickly with small steps builds trust. Think of these small steps as investments in the collaboration. Without these continuous investments, the collaboration fails. Yet, how many meetings end inconclusively or with only vague intentions?

  3. Collaborations demand your best behavior.-- This point may seem obvious, but many collaborations fail when clear ground rules aren't followed. Civility -- behaving in a way that builds mutual respect and trust -- is essential. The reason? Without civility, we can't do complex thinking together.

  4. Collaborations rely on relentless experimentation.-- Collaborations do not follow "if, then" logic. They are complex systems, and we cannot predict the future. We honestly don't know how to get from here to there. The only path forward is to design and conduct experiments. And not just any experiment. If we really want impact, we need experiments that lead to shared investments that are replicable, scalable, and sustainable.

  5. Collaborations need a nudge network.-- Collaborations require developing new habits of thinking, behaving and doing work together. New habits require persistent nudging before they take hold.

At the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab, we have developed new ways to teach the portfolio of skills needed to design and guide complex collaborations. If you'd like to learn more about the Lab, you can here.