I am sure that most of us work harder on the content of our business product or service as we do on marketing and promoting it. To me, marketing has always been a necessary evil but that’s very much a personal opinion. I have, however, trademarked the Ethiconomics brand and undertake what I consider to be acceptable, if not excessive, amounts of digital marketing. I have worked hard on my product and want to protect its status. I have also worked on the content; on the value and quality of the product. I think that differentiating the u-s-p is critical to attracting support and clients and ultimately, income.
I could completely fill my days and evenings supporting other businesses in particular non-funded, social or start up enterprise. I try to equally consider the “cause”, the partner(s), the time required and, realistically, the benefit/value to me and my business. It is rarely a simple decision. I inevitably end up prioritising and selecting only a few and this always leaves me feeling a little guilty about those that i am unable to commit to.
This magazine is a collaborative project which we have converted into a formal business model and one that reflected best the values and ethos of the business mission. We converted into a formal co-operative business model affiliated to the Co-operative group. Other projects that I have encountered have adopted different models. Some have created a completely separate organisation for the collaborators and encoded formal rules into the constitution, others have adopted a more fluid approach, a la CreativeCommons (if you are not familiar with this, please have a quick look) which has a completely open structure where work is done and offered to the “group” on a revenue-free basis. The motivation here is that the joy and satisfaction of adding value to the group and solving problems. Information is freely exchanged with the possible only kudos/benefit an added reputation as a solution-finder and authentic contributor. It is in its relative infancy as a model but appears at face value to be the evolutionary development of formal co-operative business models.
I find this intriguing as I suspect that we are witnessing the first tentative steps towards full knowledge sharing, to open communication, to new business models, contractual relationships and maybe even to the traditional financial measurements systems (Wall St be warned, the times they are a-changing!). So where do these fully collaborative projects leave us traditionalists? There are clearly many issues to consider but I will focus on just two; leadership and transparency.
I have heard several experts quote variations on the theme of “we need trust and transparency in Government/big business/banking. . . . . “. I do not fully accept this. We need either trust OR transparency provided that both are delivered with accountability. Proper, full, individual, open accountability. It’s is the same with collaborative business and is formalised under the co-operative models. It seems that we have lost trust in many of our traditional institutions but as yet we have not yet witnessed any great movements in transparency or accountability. Business models have to become more open and transparent, democratic even, and support the move towards collaboration and co-operation. The technology exists, the inclination probably not. I am not however suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. I would propose evolution rather than revolution (but only just!). I would advise anyone considering collaborative projects to work within a formal framework that details responsibilities, accountabilities, benefits and rewards. Making the “leaders” accountable to the partners/members/employees would be an obvious progressive step. And this brings me on to th second issue mentioned earlier; who leads?
We all know the jokes about committee decisions. We are all almost programmed to create some form of hierarchical structure and, at the end of the day, we like leaders. But what if we are not they? What if all of our endeavours to create and develop a business and brand does not allow us to lead a “greater” whole? How comfortable are we in adopting a supporting role? All leaders need followers so it seems to me that when considering a collaborative project we should not only build in accountability but also openly discuss who leads. The cause may be just, the funding available and the team responsibilities defined but if you cannot subserve to some degree to the leader then maybe another project would be more suited to your talents. The leader is the focal point and potentially the focus of attention so if you are used to leading and making final decisions and being your own business’ focal point then I would strongly suggest that you create an appropriate set of rules whereby you are able to adopt a fulfilling and rewarding role without actually leading the team. If your business and brand are more important than the project, conflict is almost inevitable. Compromise does not mean subjugation.
We will all have a personal view on where that balance should lie. On just exactly how much we are prepared to be fully collaborative and so I only have one further word of warning should all of the above be irrelevant or impossible. Beware those Pareto partners!