Over the course of the last few months, I’ve met a number of projects which would like to be “more collaborative”. Being convinced that this is the best thing for them and for their business, doesn’t make it easy to do, and here is why.
The title, not the content, is inspired by this video:
From ecosystem to community
I guess the big positive is that more and more entrepreneurs seem to want to build projects around communities and not just businesses where they decide everything themselves. I’ve shared a number of examples in previous posts such as http://bees-coop.be/en/ . Every business has an ecosystem of customers, partners, suppliers, competitors, employees, advisors etc… What happens the day you decide that you would like to convert that ecosystem into a community and what is the difference?
Once you decide to build a project around the community, they start to influence things over which you previously had complete control. The one thing I notice about many entrepreneurs is that their passion, determination and drive can also be a blind spot. They are so convinced by what they are doing, particularly when there is some social impact involved, that it can blind them to the views of others. The reflection is often along the lines of “I’ve been working on this for years, have studied all the angles. I know what I’m doing and why. How could others possibly know better?” The answer is that you don’t know what they know. Closing the door before opening the opportunity is ignoring the power of “collective intelligence”. The whole point of collective intelligence is that irrespective of what you know, or what you think the know, the community or crowd can always enhance that knowledge.
One of the other key challenges it that it changes existing relationships you have. Whereas in the past, your primary concern may have been about convincing the customer that your product is worth buying at the price you are selling it, now the customer starts to give you input on how to develop the product/service, where it should be sold, what price they are willing to pay for it etc. This can be very destabilising for some.
The key advantage is that once to convert an ecosystem to a community, it engages them, makes them ambassadors for your businesses, evolves the business in a direction they want to go etc.
My experience is that the relationships become more complex. Telling people what to do is often easier and quicker than asking their opinion. What’s important to know is that people are increasingly fed-up of being told what to do. They want to engage, get involved, help shape the things they believe in. This is a MUCH BIGGER OPPORTUNITY than it is a threat.
The head says yes, the heart says yes, the gut says “hold on”
In order to “let go” and accept the input of others who have previously not been involved in the business, you need to trust that this input benefits the “collective good”. This trust is something which takes time to establish. Collective community driven businesses can take longer to start but once they start, they can grow much quicker as they are supported by a broad set of individuals. As entrepreneurs are often impatient and worried that someone else will come along and “steal” their idea and market, they are obsessed with going fast and don’t like the idea of “building consensus”.
In my previous life, I had some experience of this in projects I managed. The company wanted them to be collaborative. It made good rational sense to involve the “ecosystem” in the evolution of the project. Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way that it is not because it makes sense, that people want to do it. It felt a little like this:
The people were on the bus as they were told to get on it. They weren’t always helping pull it though. The trust wasn’t there. The company had a “collective goal” but we didn’t contribute towards the creation of that goal and therefore the gut said “hold on, what’s in it for me”?
People don’t collaborate well when they are told to do so. They collaborate when they feel it and that requires some co-creation, not just collaborating at the execution phase.
4 things I think you should to consider
- What is really important to you in what you are doing? It may well be that the one thing you want most is the to protect the “mission” but that you are open to “how” that mission gets executed. If that is the case, there are ways within collaborative structures to ensure that this will not get compromised as a result of involving the community. This can be managed.
- Get the balance right between your own personal objectives such as wanting to earn a living and the objective of the business which may be about creating change, impact etc… You need to ensure that your goals are not in conflict with that of the business which serves a community
- Let go. Work on understanding what you are afraid of and finds ways to alleviate it rather than embracing the fear and shutting out the opportunity to collaborate with others. How do you build trust. If it is through meeting people and spending time with them then do that for your business also. No magic.
- Accept that getting started may take longer but that there are lots of benefits such as having more fun through co-creation, growing faster by getting customers onboard before you start, more resilience against competitors as the community is supporting you etc.
Go on. Experiment with it. See what it feels like. You cannot collaborate with yourself!