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Wednesday 6 April 2016

Speculate in new partners and experiment with apparent side issues

Being brave enough to gamble with your time and attention, being willing and able to search for new and unfamiliar partners and invest time and resources in apparently insignificant side issues, is a very important thing to do within a collaborative environment. What may initially seem like a frivolous or even risky partner or an unnecessary time and resource wasting side issue may, in fact, eventually lead to the most valuable of outcomes.

Here are some examples:

Goldcorp, the Canadian mining company, took a risk and speculated in new partners by making previously confidential data about mining operations freely available, encouraging a wide range of people and organisations to analyse it and then partnering with some of them to make mining operations more effective and efficient. Areas and issues previously overlooked or assumed to be inconsequential, irrelevant or insoluble were looked at again and analysed from differing perspectives, which led to new insights and innovations that enhanced Goldcorp's business in unexpected ways.

Faith-based organisations, such as the Vatican and the Church of England, have taken a leap of faith and begun collaborating with some very unexpected bedfellows: international and national mining companies. Despite having very different outlooks and speaking very different languages, these two groupings have begun a dialogue which is bringing them together under the banner of environmental and social protection and development. Faith-based organisations and big business mining coming together for joint reflection days and senior church officials visiting mines and taking an interest in their workings would have been thought impossible or unlikely previous to this leap of faith, which is helping gradually change the role of mining companies from one of extraction to one of development partner.

The speculation does not always need to be high risk high stakes. Moss Marine, a company focused upon above-water engineering and logistics, and Phoenix International, a company focused upon underwater recovery and repair, would not have collaborated to their mutual advantage if Pete LeHardy of Phoenix International had not speculated at a networking event, risking an investment of his time and attention by intentionally sitting at a table with people he did not know. He met Michael Moss of Moss Marine and, after several chats at subsequent events, Michael suggested that they collaborate to take advantage of an 'off the agenda' business opportunity (off the agenda in that it was not related to the purpose of the networking events, which was focused upon issues relevant to the supply chain for off-shore wind farms). The opportunity involved repairing the rudder of a mega-ship which had run aground. Phoenix International had the required underwater expertise and Moss Marine had the required above water expertise to make the repair effectively, so it made perfect sense for the two companies to work together, which they did to mutual profit.

Intentionally speculating and investing time in a new contact, and being willing to widen the conversation to include topics of interest to that contact, eventually produced an unexpected opportunity for mutually beneficial collaboration.

Similarly, sometimes partnering needs to be only slightly imaginative to uncover valuable insights and innovations. For example, when doctors and other health experts collaborated to improve cancer treatment in a head and neck cancer unit they made many changes which enhanced the quality of treatment and care. However, patient satisfaction and compliance with the treatments did not improve as expected and the overall improvements to patients' health were less than sought. Only when patients were made partners in the improvement process was a previously under-appreciated 'side-issue' highlighted as crucial to both patient compliance with treatments and the health gains associated with it. 

When patients were asked for their experiences of the available treatments and their views about how things could be improved, they identified one part of the process as being particularly uncomfortable and unpleasant: 

The weighing scales used during patients' assessments were in a public waiting room.

Now, very ill people who had lost weight, and were at least partially disrobed, understandably felt very uncomfortable with this exposure. For some, it was enough for them to think twice about or even postpone attending the clinic, so lessening the effectiveness of treatments.

When the scales were moved to a private room, so respecting patient privacy and dignity, patients became more comfortable with the assessment and treatment regime, less likely to postpone visiting the clinic and more likely to effectively manage their disease and improve their health.  

Often, however, the risks associated with speculating on a new partner are more significant. The Eugene Bell Foundation and other NGOs dedicated to eradicating TB from the world are taking the risk of collaborating with the North Korean Government, which is conventionally seen as untrustworthy and unreliable. They are investing considerable time and resources into helping the NK Government treat and cure those of its citizens who have the disease. This task is made even more challenging by the fact that many people are infected with a drug resistant strain.

The gamble of collaborating with the North Korean Government has paid off. All the partners involved have been able to co-ordinate effectively and the initiative has cured 70% of the patients it has treated.

Given the massive size of the above health problem, investing additional time in encouraging a small group of Harvard Undergraduates to raise $5000 to treat one North Korean patient seems laudable but somewhat insignificant (apart from to the patient concerned of course). However, encouraging this type of initiative, although seemingly insignificant within the greater scheme of things, will eventually help achieve the long-term aims of the NGOs and their North Korean partners. This is for two main reasons: 1. it makes the problem immediate, personal and memorable; 2. it raises awareness of the issues amongst (and encourages involvement from) those who are most likely to become valuable advocates and donors or become much needed aid workers and medical staff.

Some progressive people and organisations within Europe are beginning to speculate about how innovative collaborations between migrants and local residents could help produce social, cultural and economic value.

They have invested significant time and resources into designing and delivering a high profile event in Brussels which brings together people from the widest possible spread of backgrounds, cultures and professions to discuss how residents of host countries and migrants could collaborate at a practical, local level. The aim of this discussion is to not merely help solve the crisis but also make Europe a better place within which all its people (established residents and new arrivals alike) can contribute, live safely and thrive. A more obvious example of being brave and willing enough to seek out new partners (on either side of the resident/migrant divide) and explore problems and potential solutions from very different and perhaps opposed perspectives would be hard to find.

Importantly, the organisers of the above event have sought to manage their brave speculation in new partners and collaborations by focusing on what has already begun to happen in terms of local resident/migrant collaboration, exploring how it could be developed and identifying the insights and ideas it offers which could lead to additional and lasting innovations, etc.

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