Environments for collective creation

March 24, 2017

Brad Furber, COO of the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre at UNSW Australia, paves the path to easier, faster and more impactful collaboration.

collaborative environments

Having lived and worked in Australia for almost three years now, I’ve heard a lot of talk about collaboration and why it is important to Australia’s future. Unfortunately, it has often been my experience that old habits and ways of working are not facilitating the hoped-for gains that collaboration and collaborative environments could bring this lucky country.

Why is collaboration so difficult?

Collaboration is time-consuming and uncomfortable, especially if you are working with people whose cultures, values and key performance indicators are different from your own. It also requires compromise, and people protecting the status quo may find it is strategically logical to avoid this.

Likewise, collaboration involves the neutral review of data, insights and experiences, followed by open ideation, debate, co-creation and co-design, which can be risky for those who like to pre-determine outcomes before meetings even commence.

Nonetheless, it is generally accepted, in terms of knowledge exchange and value creation, that collaboration in the aggregate results in net positive returns on investment. In short, improving collaboration holds the promise of better research, bigger impacts, more jobs and greater wealth for Australian research-intensive institutions, industry, government and society.

So how can we grease the wheels of collaboration so it is easier, faster and more impactful?

Collaborative environments enable our collective capacity

First, we need to embrace new ways of working, including world-class collaborative environments. Ideally these are custom-built, but really what is required are open, flexible spaces, modern audio and video equipment, and furniture and whiteboards on wheels to enable fast and easy reconfiguration.

Second, we need to embrace the idea that skilled and neutral co-design facilitators and knowledge workers can dramatically accelerate the quality and quantity of outputs, especially in complex organisations and systems.

Think of how the human brain works. Each of us is limited to our knowledge, experiences and perspectives. However, if we bring together 60+ individuals – preferably representing a variety of cultures, disciplines, sectors and perspectives – and organise them to go through a well-designed series of modules in collaborative environments, it is possible to get the group of individuals to function like a vast neural network – a collective brain that can co-create, co-design and co-own outputs.  

Third, and most importantly, we can no longer afford to regard community life – whether in academy or corporation – as a zero-sum game. Rather, we need to be humble, generous and confident enough to set aside our vested interests and work together to find a better way.

We need to respect the evidence, embrace the risks and trust the collective knowledge, talents and wisdom of those around us to create something bolder, richer and grander than we can ever achieve if we continue to work alone or in silos.

Brad Furber

COO, Michael Crouch Innovation Centre

Read next: Dr Mark Elliott, founder of Collabforge, offers five steps organisations can follow to dramatically increase their chances of successful collaboration.

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