Control the Process NOT the ideas

I spent the day yesterday listening to the diverse experiences of four leading interdisciplinary collaborators, as selected by a community of over 450 other noted interdisciplinary practitioners. This was part of a Nesta research project which is still in it’s early days so I won’t attempt to summarise the findings here just yet.

However one thing occurred to me as the day progressed to be a common thread in each person’s experience. Namely that successful interdisciplinary collaboration thrives in an environment with clear boundaries or controls around process and behaviours, but limited or no controls around the legitimacy or control of ideas.

For me this was an interesting insight as in setting up new collaborations we often spend a lot of time imposing controls over the ideas, but not enough contrals around the process and environment. These collaborations then often fail due to distrust or disagrements around the intellectual property or different intellectual perspectives. A much more productive collaboration would flourish with infrastructure and incentives that liberate the cross fertilisation of ideas through a clear set of boundaries and process.

What’s your experience? Are we looking to control the wrong thing?


  1. I absolutely agree on the need to create the right environment and context for any innovation initiatives, regardless of their focus. The set-up is key and in my experience of corporate innovation, the ‘management of innovation’is all about this. Defining or framing the context for the initiative (a burning platform) is also critical (else why bother?)and in my experience the more concrete this is the easier it is to get involvement and generate valid ideas. What control is exerted over the ideas very much depends on the culture of the organisation and its decision-making style. This is a very important thing to understand BEFORE embarking on an innovation journey and one that rarely is, especialy by those making the decisions!

  2. Thanks Brendan. It is a tricky balance isn’t it but whilst the rhetoric is often all about collaboration, in practice quickly evaporates. Any good examples of how to make this happen in practice? Roland

  3. Yes, I agree that clarity about the rules of the process are essential. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with the fans and management of Ebbsfleet United over the last few months and its a fascinating debate that their involved in. The myfootballclub web team who manage their community are doing a great job of controlling the process and running an effective discussion and decision making tool. Interestingly, they are almost forced to be neutral to avoid the criticism of 30,000 fans- they lose the ability to control the ideas. This is a rare example of power and responsibility being equally distributed to a large network controlling a complex organisation- hopefully the fact that Ebbsfleet have reached Wembley for the first time in their history will persuade other organisations that releasing control over ideas has benefits which outweigh the risks…

  4. Thanks Ivo – that’s a great example. Let’s see if they can sustain it. I blogged about myfootballclub last november ( but hadn’t really followed their progress since then so its very interesting to hear of their success so far. Funnily enough I was talking about Ebbsfleet this weekend (and trying to find it on a map) as they were playing my hometown team of Altrincham on Saturday and won 2-0.

  5. Thanks Roland. My favourite way to ‘force’ both innovation and collaboration is to spend time exploring the ‘status quo scenario’. Scenario building is a great tool to engage and in this context the implications of defining ‘carrying on as now’ or ‘doing nothing’ brings home the need to change, collaborate and innovate; participants don’t need to be told – they can see it for themselves! If you want more details let me know and I will email (this box is too small to think, even big ideas shrink!)

  6. Thanks for the offer Brendan – always keen to hear more. Please to email details. Interested to learn about techniques for focussing on the present which is often the most difficult thing to do. R

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