Collaboration Has Many Pitfalls, and it’s More Necessary Than Ever

Is the Future Being Designed by Committee?
Groupthink, design by committee, meeting overload—if you’ve worked in an office, you’re probably familiar with the ways collaboration can go wrong. As workplaces make changes to encourage more teamwork, the push for collaboration has been attracting increasing criticism.

“The fashion for making employees collaborate has gone too far,” states The Economist in an article titled The Collaboration Curse. Collaboration, The Economist argues, causes too many interruptions to the deep work that’s needed in the knowledge industry.

Similar arguments appear in The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review, and The New Yorker. In a NYT op-ed, Susan Cain calls the new enthusiasm for collaboration “the rise of the new groupthink”.

“People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work,” Cain writes, “they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure.” That’s bad for generating new ideas, Cain warns, while she reminisces about the lone, rebel geniuses who drove the tech boom from their garages in the 1990s.

Indeed, it is a different world today. Collective achievement is winning out against solitary strokes of genius. But is collaboration really stifling innovation? Is the future being designed by committee?

Collaboration is Key in the New Frontier
It’s not an either/or proposition; collaboration and innovation can, and should, work together. Innovative ideas can come from anywhere: be it a brainstorming session in a boardroom, or a creative inventor who thrives on solitude. To be sure, the dangers of over-collaborating are real; it can result in poor design, loss of productivity, and a proneness for mediocrity instead of groundbreaking ideas. But with the right strategies and processes in place, on which you can find an excellent discussion here and here, collaboration can play a key role in bringing new ideas to life. And we’re approaching a new era where a company’s ability to collaborate may determine their survival.

Why is collaboration so important today? The frontiers we face today are very different from those we faced just 10 years ago. We’ve already built out the internet infrastructure, the game-changing devices, and the killer apps to connect the world and power the information age. The new frontiers are the complicated industries that have been resistant to change, industries that have numerous stakeholders and provide a public good that requires government regulation. Disrupting healthcare, education, or finance will take more than a guy in a garage–it will take a savvy team of specialists who know how to work with others, it will take companies who know how to form strategic partnerships with other private and public institutions.

This is what AOL founder and investor Steve Case calls “the Third Wave” in his book which shares the same title. The First Wave of the Internet, according to Case, was about building the foundations and infrastructure to get people online; the Second Wave was largely defined by the dawn of mobile and software-as-a-service apps (where the lone geniuses thrived); and the Third Wave, which we are now entering, is the era when we begin integrating the full benefits of the internet into everything we do, including the industries that have the biggest impact on our daily lives, like healthcare, finance, education, and transportation.

To navigate this Third Wave, we’re going to have to learn to work together. The Third Wave industries rely on collective efforts from multiple stakeholders and have key decision makers that act as gatekeepers. To change these industries, companies will have to work to form alliances with policy makers, industry leaders, and people on the front lines in order to make a real difference.

It’s already beginning to happen. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, more companies are finding novel ways to work together as innovation cycles become too rapid for traditional mergers and acquisitions to be effective. The article points to an emerging new wave of industrial mashups, where companies share assets or capabilities with one or more partners to create new possibilities for all.

Working Together at Aspire
This collaborative approach to innovative transformation is foundational to our model at Aspire Ventures. Our ventures not only share ideas and collaborate on joint projects, they also share key technological resources like our adaptive artificial intelligence platform, A2I, as well as human resources like data scientists, developers, and designers. By pooling resources in this way, collaboration becomes baked into the DNA of all of our companies, which manifests into impactful partnerships that extend far beyond Aspire’s offices.

On Tuesday, October 10, Case visited our office in downtown Lancaster, PA, during the Rise of the Rest Tour—a tour and pitch competition to highlight growing startup communities growing outside of Silicon Valley—which kicked off this year in Central PA. During Case’s visit, we gave him a first-hand view of Aspire’s venture ecosystem and some of our exciting technologies. We also co-presented with Lancaster General Health on the strong alliances we are forming with key regional players in the healthcare industry and the many ways we are collaborating to transform healthcare.

One example of Aspire Ventures’ and LG Health’s efforts is the creation of the Smart Health Innovation Lab, a new healthcare technology center where payors, providers, and technology companies work together to validate market-ready products and expedite integration into healthcare systems. Founded through a unique collaboration between Aspire, LG Health, Capital BlueCross, and Clio Health, the Smart Health Innovation Lab will open in downtown Lancaster, PA in early 2018.

When it comes to transforming healthcare, we know we can’t do it alone. We believe in collaborating with diverse stakeholders to create an ecosystem of partners that are dedicated to innovating healthcare on a major scale. The third wave industries have been stymied for too long by siloed innovation efforts. Collaborations like the Smart Health Innovation Lab are just a preview of what we can achieve by breaking down those silos and working together.

By bringing together diverse stakeholders with unique domains of expertise, we can achieve so much more. The future isn’t being designed by committee, it’s being created by a collective effort so that it can include everyone.

News Roundup: Aspire Ventures Receives Notable Press During Rise of the Rest

On Tuesday, October 10, AOL co-founder Steve Case kicked off his Rise of the Rest tour in Central PA. Case visited the Aspire Ventures offices in Lancaster to chat about innovation and collaboration within our local startup ecosystem, and to get a first-hand view of everything we’re working on here at Aspire. As a result, Aspire had considerable mentions in both local and national media outlets. Read more about the exciting coverage we received below.

    •    VentureBeat spoke to our founder, Sam Abadir, about the challenges startups and incubators face outside of Silicon Valley. The article drew attention to our unique model of pooled resources and a shared team of staffers within our ventures to emphasize the importance of more large-scale collaboration between the Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg startup communities. Check out the full article here.

    •    Axios mentioned us in a recent article regarding how the Central PA manufacturing scene has been dealing with the recent technological upheaval. The article highlighted the importance of a “shared” workforce, pointing to Aspire’s symbiotic model that encourages cross-pollination of specialized workers between all of our ventures. You can check out the article here.

    •    During his visit, Case also took a look at our Connexion Health kiosk and spoke to Mike Monteiro, our chief product officer, about how smaller local communities can succeed in the health technology sphere. You can read the rest of Central Penn Business Journal’s article here.

    •    LancasterOnline highlighted Aspire in a recent video about Case’s Rise of the Rest tour, which began in Central PA on Tuesday.  “[The tour] is really about celebrating American entrepreneurs all over the country,” said Case in the interview. Check out the short video here.

    •    MarketWired published a press release on Monday detailing Aspire’s collaboration with key healthcare partners, such as Lancaster General Health, Capital BlueCross, and Clio Health,as well as Aspire’s involvement in the Rise of the Rest tour. Take a look at the full release here.

The New Frontier of Innovation

The internet, the smartphone, and the resulting ecosystem of apps has dramatically transformed the way we shop, the way we communicate, and the way we gather information about the world. Until recently, technological innovation has been limited, for the most part, to consumer convenience in these relatively straightforward industries. But now we’re approaching a new frontier for innovation.

According to Steve Case, author of The Third Wave and the catalyst for the Rise of the Rest tour, complex, change-resistant industries such as healthcare, education, and agriculture—all of which are deeply ingrained in our society and fundamental to our daily lives—are facing an era of transformation.

There seems to be considerable interest in the revolution. Federal healthcare IT spending is predicted to exceed $4.8 billion by 2019; there has been a considerable uptick in tech spending in public schools over the last several years; and agricultural technology investments nearly doubled in 2015. But if the funding is available, why is disruption still slow to initiate?

Although long overdue, perhaps it’s unsurprising that these industries, set in place for the public good, have been historically resistant to technological innovation. Within the healthcare sector, patient safety is an enormous factor; without proper testing, deviation from an established physician workflow could prove to be not only inefficient but perhaps even deadly. There are also a variety of HIPAA regulations and data security concerns that make moving secure documents into the cloud a tedious, yet necessary, challenge. And, of course, government standards in education and agriculture must be considered whenever a new improvement is introduced.

Regulatory hurdles aside, these complex industries also are comprised of multiple stakeholders in both the public and private arenas. There are also key decision makers, Case writes in his book The Third Wave, who act as gatekeepers for their industries, such as school board members for a school district. Given these considerations, transforming these industries is much more complicated now than ever before–but it’s certainly not impossible. Startup companies may be able to build innovative healthcare apps on their own, but if they want to truly make an impact on the industry, they need to enlist the help of stakeholders and policy makers, Case writes.

While immense tech hubs like NYC or Silicon Valley certainly benefit from expansive networks, the best place to engage with the new innovative frontier might be a little closer to home. The anonymizing forces at play in larger, coastal cities can create barriers between innovators and policy makers, making it difficult for innovators to reach the audience necessary to turn their ideas into a scalable reality. In smaller communities, such as our very own city of Lancaster PA, it is much easier for startup companies to gain access to the key influencers within their local ecosystem. It is only then, once innovators have partnered with regional policy makers and stakeholders, that the innovation can be brought to scale.

Creating innovative solutions to real-world problems requires a deep understanding of how people are affected by those problems. Although the business networks available in larger tech hubs can be helpful for executing an idea, those very tech hubs may also be too far removed from the problems that need solving on the new frontier. If you want to transform agriculture, or innovate suburban school districts, living among the people who will use your product, working closely with the stakeholders, and being close to the problem will give companies in smaller communities a clear advantage. In many cases, being in smaller, more tightly-knit communities can give both innovators and policy makers deeper insights into user stories, allowing them to better understand the needs of their customers and then deliver accordingly.

In Central PA particularly, there is abounding openness between policy makers and innovators, as well as a strong push to build lasting partnerships. Many of the Central PA finalists in the upcoming Rise of the Rest tour, which stops in Central PA on Tuesday, October 10, are uniting with school districts, insurance companies, and healthcare policy makers to generate transformational change. Lancaster-based BeneFix works with insurance companies to make it easier and faster to obtain accurate insurance quotes; CrimeWatch Technologies has partnered with police agencies to decrease crime by increasing community engagement between law enforcement and private citizens; and Device Events is collaborating with the FDA to implement a software tool that can rapidly detect faulty medical devices, therefore reducing the risk of malfunctions or device-related injuries.

Here at Aspire, we also believe in working with all stakeholders to disrupt and transform complex, change-resistant industries. To begin that endeavor, we’re collaborating with hospital system Lancaster General Health, a member of Penn Medicine, as well as Capital BlueCross in the creation of the Smart Health Innovation Lab, a new healthcare technology center where payors, providers, and technology companies work together to validate market-ready products and expedite integration into healthcare systems.

We understand that in order to be successful on the new innovative frontier, we need to rethink how—and where—we innovate. To truly transform the industries that matter most to us, we must forge bold new partnerships and get closer, physically, to the problems we’re trying to solve. This is what we believe gives communities like Lancaster PA a considerable edge over the larger coastal tech hubs.

William Gibson once wrote that the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed. Now we’re part of a movement to equally distribute a culture of innovation across the United States and beyond.