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Collaborative innovation, the act of inviting a particular group of people to explore the possibilities of resolving a critical question facing the organization, is a wholly different animal from the stream-of-consciousness observations one typically observes in a generic collaboration space, explains Doug Collins.

The Kroger down the street dedicates two aisles next to the bakery to ethnic foods. Do you assume by extension that Macy’s offers a colorful array of dashikis at their flagship downtown?

No.

Why? Context. Context matters.

Context matters, too, when the subject turns to collaboration. Your organization spins up three collaborative spaces and launches a document repository for good measure. A few brave souls respond by establishing a wiki.

Do you assume that, if you walked through the front doors the next day, you would find collaboration taking place—in particular, collaboration amongst people on how to improve matters on a given front?

No. Don’t bet on it. We still order the dashikis by mail. Context matters.

In this case, collaborative innovation — or the act of inviting a particular group of people to explore the possibilities of resolving a critical question facing the organization — is a wholly different animal from the stream-of-consciousness observations one typically observes in a generic collaboration space. It’s the difference between a focused enquiry on a hypothesis and the ticker tape of the mind, scrolling past for all to see.

If you want to set the right context for collaborative innovation to occur, then mind the following questions as your points of reference.

  1. What problem is the organization trying to solve, exactly? Can you articulate the problem in one simple question? Why is it the critical question?
  2. Who cares — who benefits — if the community contributes compelling ideas for addressing the question?
  3. What is the nature of the invitation to the community to convene to address the question? What ownership of the process do you choose to accept? What ownership do the community members choose to accept?

The context in which collaborative innovation thrives differs part-and-parcel from the case where someone flips a switch to enable enterprise chat. Recognize the need to embrace the rigor that the former demands in terms of forming the critical question and crafting the invitation to participate.

Doug Collins has worked for 15 years in a variety of roles and capacities in helping organizations navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation. He today serves as a community architect at software company Spigit, Inc.

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