The Power of Collaborative Innovation

The main focus of the World Economic Forum at Davos later this month is The Power of Collaborative Innovation. Obviously I’d love to attend but alas my own personal networks don’t extend that far, but I’ll certainly be watching the podcasts. The fact that they have chosen this topic does however give me significant encouragement that we are onto something interesting with the Nesta Connect programme which is underpinned by the concept of supporting extreme collaboration across disciplines, organisations and places.

Since we launched in June 07 we’ve refined our narrative about what we do and why, and I wanted to get it down in writing here as it has evolved and invite comment and discussion, perhaps even from the eminent delegates at Davos (you never know!).

  1. All innovation is fundamentally collaborative

    – If you look at any major innovation from nanotechnology to NHS direct, they all involve collaboration. Invention may be a solitary act though frequently isn’t, but implementing those ideas/inventions commercially or socially, require collaboration, either explicitly or implicitly to make them succeed.

  2. Most support/infrastructure/funding for innovation is targeted at individual people or organisations.

    – Innovation support seldom effectively recognises the network/community/space between the individual people or organisations and it is typically focussed upon the stimulation or development of new ideas rather than demand for them. This may be symptomatic of our individualistic economic and political world view of the rationale and enlightened self interest.

  3. Collaborative projects are higher risk, but potentially higher reward.

    – Projects within a single discipline or organisation are more likely to result in evolutionary/incrementally innovations whereas more collaborative projects across multiple organisations or disciplines are more risky but can result (if managed/structured well) in more disruptive, higher impact innovations.

  4. The world is increasingly specialised or compartmentalised.

    – This is especially true in education and academia (we have one of the most specialised education curriculums in the world) but also applies to business and government. I have worked professionally as both a physicist and a musician but now find myself in the rather bizarre situation of being a specialist in non-specialisation. Having said that, I am a firm believer in the need for expertise and specialists, after all the world is a complicated place and required thorough investigation to gain real insight.

  5. Diversity or difference drives innovation.

    – By this I don’t just mean ethnic or gender diversity. I really mean diversity or skills, experience, expertise etc.  After all, perspective is worth 50 points of IQ (so says Alan Kay, father of the personal computer).

  6. We need to create more space (both physical and virtual) to cross fertilise ideas across disciplines.

    – An over emphasis upon productivity in all walks of life has resulted in some incredible advances and improvements. However, in much the same was as Google allow their staff 20% of their time, 1 day per week, to work on outside interests/projects, we all need some space to experiment, play, take risk and share ideas. This needs to be supported and encouraged. I currently think that Google’s 80/20 rule here is probably about right and I don’t suggest this would ever form the majority mode of operation, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

  7. Successful collaboration doesn’t usually happen by accident

    – the right type of leadership and facilitation is critical. Jimmy Wales attributes the success of Wikipedia to one part anarchy (anything goes), one part democracy (people can vote on a disagreement), one part aristocracy (people who have been around for a long time get listened to), one part meritocracy (the best ideas win out) and one part monarchy (on rare occasions the buck has to stop somewhere).

So, these seven points are roughly my version of the Connect the narrative as it stands in mid Jan 2008. These are hypothesis that we are trying to understand and prove or disprove through our projects, research and discussions. The narrative will change with time but I would welcome your input and suggestions now on how it can be improved. In the meantime, it will be interesting how the Davos delegates interpret the theme of this year’s forum.


  1. Enterprise Collaboration and Virtual Teams Report (February 7, 2008)The People Part of Enterprise Collaboration and Virtual Teams Roland at Nesta Connect outlines the philosophy and narrative of collaborative innovation: (1) all innovation is fundamentally collaborative, (2) most support/infrastructure/funding for inno…

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