The Strong Ties and Creative Edges of Collaboration

To be successful, you have to collaborate with others, but, and this is a big but; not all collaborative efforts are equal.

Future of Work

“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.”

– Reid Hoffman

I’ll stick my neck out here and say that out of all the terms associated with Millennials and the new world of work, collaboration has become the coolest. Collaboration has given life to hackathons and innovation labs. It’s introduced a new word into the English language (collab). Collab has further spawned a hashtag (#collab) that is being used on Instagram! Pop-culture aside, collaboration is a hugely important factor for innovation occurring and continuing to flourish.

As the world has become ever more connected, research and literature on the topic of collaboration has become plentiful. In the world of business, collaboration has become strongly associated with team work, efficiency and start-up culture. However, collaboration isn’t just about working efficiently together. Depending who is involved, collaboration produces different effects.

Working On The Edge

In ecology, edge effects are changes in population or community structures that occur at the boundary of two or more habitats. It’s often in the spaces where these two habitats meet where new life-forms are created. Plants that colonise and thrive in these boundary spaces tend to be shade-intolerant and tolerant of dry conditions. The animals who make boundaries their home tend to be those that require two or more habitats. It so happens that edge effects can be measured and found among humans too.

Research by Richard Freeman (Professor of Economics at Harvard) and Adam Galinsky (Professor of Business at Columbia Business School) shows that collaborating with people who are different to you, produces more and better quality ideas. When a team of scientists, who are ethnically diverse, publish a research paper their paper gets referenced more often amongst their peer group. Students who show the most creativity in the final year of university are those who had the most interactions with people from different countries. Better yet, they dated someone from a different country. Research from Tufts University shows that when you introduce racial diversity into a group, everyone in the group starts to broaden their perspective and review more options. When a creative director at a fashion house spends a significant amount of time abroad and immerses themselves in a different culture this has the ability to facilitate creative innovations and predict the creativity of the entire fashion line.

How Strong Ties Bind

Weak ties indeed have their strengths but strong ties have their advantages too.

Research looking into the networks of entrepreneurs shows that strong ties, people we feel close to and interact with at least twice a week, are important for trust, loyalty, openness, reliability and altruism. In addition, research conducted by Google found that the most successful teams were those where all members felt psychologically safe within the group.

Different Collaboration Strategies Have Different Effects

Regardless of whether you’re looking into weak or strong ties, both roads lead to Rome. To be successful, you have to collaborate with others, but, and this is a big but, not all collaborative efforts are equal.

So here’s a simplified way to remember what strategy to reach for the next time you’re putting a team together. If you want great ideas, work with strangers. If you want stuff done, work with friends.


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