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What Collaboration Is and Isn't

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Collaborate!: The Art of We, by Dan Sanker. Copyright (c) 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

None of us is as good as all of us. -- Ray Kroc

We have become accustomed to the idea of winning through fierce competition. Simple concept: if you do something better than someone else, you win their market share. You eat their lunch. Collaborating with "competitors" is outside of our comfort zone; it seems alien and self-defeating. It feels as if we are helping "them" beat us at our own game.

We know successful competitors to be those who invest time, effort, and resources to win as big a piece of the pie as possible. The traditional wisdom holds that it is worth investing in these things to beat the competition, but the transaction costs of competing are high; higher than many realize.

As traditional competitive business practices have evolved and spread deeper and wider throughout the world, and as new technology has made all competitors knowledgeable, there are diminishing marginal benefits available for the winners. The cost of stealing crumbs back and forth between competitors barely justifies the process as it whittles away at the small margin that does still exist. In many instances, collaboration will give us a greater return on our investment.

When successful collaborators invest time, effort, and resources, they capture a piece of pie that didn't exist before. Of the 765 CEOs surveyed in the IBM Global CEO Study 2006, 75 percent of respondents ranked collaboration as a "very important" part of innovation. The study also found higher revenue growth was reported by companies that collaborated with external resources than by those who did not (IBM Global Business Services, 2006).

All parties increase their chance of success when they work together to create value that has never before existed. The old way of thinking traps competitors in a futile effort to steal pieces of an ever shrinking pie back and forth from each other; in the new way of thinking, collaborators are moving forward by working together to find ways to make the current pie larger or even to make an entirely new pie.

"Collaboration" is not a new buzzword to everyone. Over a decade ago Disney and McDonald's mastered the art of business collaboration and cross promotion. While waiting for Disney's release of a major new animated film, consumers of all ages knew that Happy Meal toys related to the movie as well as cross-promotional ads were on the way.

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