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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.