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Collaboration and Strategic Partnership – Driver and Imperative in the Digital Age

I am privileged to currently be collaborating with a deeply seasoned organisational development practitioner to bring a new programme called CuSP into existence. Mike Truelock and I have become very curious about the facilitation of Collaboration and Strategic Partnering within and between organisations, and are excited to be in the final stages of design, prior to launch in the next few weeks. Watch this space, as the cliché says!

“Networks for collaboration have existed ever since the Persians and Assyrians invented postal systems (Isaacson, W., 2014), but, it has never been more possible or imperative to collaborate and partner effectively if we are to solve our complex social problems and work together towards common goals (Susha, & Gil-Garcia, 2019).

In 2006 Linus Torvalds was named one of the world’s two most revolutionary heroes of the last 60 years, by Time Magazine Europe. Isaacson (2014) who wrote a fascinating history of computing, titled The innovators: How a group of inventors, hackers, geniuses and geeks created the digital revolution, says that the release of Torvalds’ Linus kernel “led to a tsunami of peer-to-peer volunteer collaboration that became a model of the shared production that propelled digital-age innovation.” Interestingly, although Torvalds only wrote about 2% of the code for the Linus kernel (as at 2006) he wrote more than most of the other contributors.

The Innovators story magnificently illustrates the power of collaboration and strategic partnering, demonstrating how the minds that have shaped the 21st Century have worked together both formally and informally to radically transform our world. Even though the computing community has its heroes and personalities, most of the major breakthroughs have been accomplished by clusters of un-named people competing sometimes, but more often cooperating to realise the vision of a computing machine first articulated by Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, almost 200 years ago.

Despite the power of collaboration and strategic partnering, history records that its most significant outcomes often occur as much by accident as by design. Cummings (2015) records that the extraordinary events of the Arab Spring, occurred as a “new narrative emerged through the intentional and accidental collaboration of social media users, international newspapers and European and pan-Arab satellite television.”

I smile as I consider how open plan offices have become the simplistic primary strategy for silo-busting and fostering interaction and creativity by innovation- and 4th Industrial Revolution-obsessed leaders. These approaches seem to align with the views of Keith Sawyer, author of “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration” who asserts that creativity is ALWAYS collaborative.

I am skeptical of the panacea of office redesign, but curious about how we more intentionally create organizational cultures and environments which foster serendipitous and purposeful collaboration. Our research has demonstrated that whilst physical structures can certainly change behaviours, collaboration is both a driver and an outcome of systemic change and as such can be more intentionally facilitated through cultural shifts and engineered processes.


Cummings, E.A., 2015. The Spark That Lit the Flame: The Creation, Deployment, and Deconstruction of the Story of Mohammed Bouazizi and the Arab Spring.

Derrick, D., Ligon, G., Lundmark, L., Pleggenkuhle-Miles, E. and Elson, J.S., 2017, January. Collaborative Distance: Multi-level Analysis Framework for Recommending Structure and Safeguards. In Proceedings of the 50th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Isaacson, W., 2014. The innovators: How a group of inventors, hackers, geniuses and geeks created the digital revolution. Simon and Schuster.

Sawyer, K., 2017. Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. Basic Books.

Susha, I. and Gil-Garcia, J.R., 2019, January. A Collaborative Governance Approach to Partnerships Addressing Public Problems with Private Data. In Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

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