In the world of design-thinking collaboration is an esteemed means to an end. Good designers wouldn't go about designing a dress or a chair without the input of other peer-designers and colleagues from other core-competencies such as materials science, engineering or technology. Similarly from a design thinking perspective, one wouldn't go about designing a new transportation infrastructure or service delivery system for a fast food chain without factoring in others' ideas.

In general, whether or not you work directly in design, collaboration sounds swell and it's something that we all know is good to do in principle. But it is definitely easier said than done. After all, couldn't you save a lot more time and money if you just did the project yourself?

I attended a "Convene The Conveners" session sponsored by a range of organizations in Philadelphia such as the events networking site Basecamp Business, the venture capital resource PACT and the economic development program Ben Franklin Technology Partners, with attendees spanning the technology, social services, branding and education fields. It was held at The Science Center's Quorum, a gathering space for innovation, and was an attempt to foster meaningful connections in order to leverage your organization's competency- be it audience generation, subject matter expertise, or space. There was an interesting acknowledgement that despite all of the resources available to us to collaborate virtually and through digital platforms, there is still a desire to connect in person, look into another person's eyes and work towards providing new and better solutions for whatever the task ahead.

This is what Nate Nicholspresident of digital strategy at Teal Orbit, and Arun Prabhakaran, vice president at the Urban Affairs Coalition, discussed as they concluded that while there are a lot of options through digital platforms, there is also a lot of noise and, what I call F.O.K.U--or, fear of keeping up! That is, the anxiety that accompanies making the right choice about which digital platform to use before it becomes obsolete.

"We finally realized we are actually in the relationship business," commented Prabhakaran, and that collaborating with other complimentary organizations was the best way to serve their clients easily and swiftly.

Here are five reasons why collaboration is important for the growth of your business:

  1. Self-awareness. Nothing crystalizes what you bring to the table more than when you're forced to articulate your competencies Collaborating challenges you to articulate and distill what you are great at, and what you do poorly. That honesty about your strengths and weaknesses can force you to ask for help when necessary and be brazen about how you can help others.
  2. Scale. The old adage, "two heads are better than one" has been around for over four centuries for a reason. More effective problem solving happens when you combine resources in talent, experience, finances and infrastructure. Sharing and leveraging those resources means that your reach to new markets increases and re-energizes the connection you have with established customers.Ecosystems rule, and as in nature, our social organizations thrive where there are diverse and complimentary systems that enhance the lives other firms. Understand that your firm is part of a greater whole, and that there is power in that.
  3. Creative Abrasion. This term was coined by Jerry Hirsch when he was an executive designer at Nissan. "Abrasion" is a process of wearing down through friction. We typically associate friction with something negative, but friction in its purest form, is energy. So why not convert that energy that comes from working with people who are different from you, into something positive? Leverage the differences and work to identify what can be complementary about them. Which leads me to this next point...
  4. Take the long view. Sometimes things don't work out well when you collaborate with others, no matter how hard you try, how patient you are, and how well you listen. But does that necessarily mean you never attempt again to work with that organization? Take the long view about perceived failures, as Dave Gloss from the creative agency Here's My Chance reminded the group: while an initial project may not do well, the partnership may still be salvageable.
  5. Learn, learn, and learn some more! Collaborating propels your firm to become a learning organization, a popular phrase right now that refers to organizations which have cultures of ongoing learning, and structures that support that learning through safety nets for failure, and opportunities for growth in all aspects of employees' lives. Each time your firm collaborates with others you optimize the capacity of your associates to extend beyond their comfort zone, grow, and in turn, stretch the boundaries of the organization.

So while collaborating isn't necessarily easy, it can, over time, get your firm to a much more interesting position to innovate.