Author Archives: Geoff

About Geoff

Geoff is a very passionate and innovating international director. Embracing cultural diversity in business, Geoff is a thought-leader. Now, he has added being an author to his impressive resume.

With all the apps in today’s world do we have time for reflection?

I recently caught up with a really great friend and colleague for lunch in Liverpool Street – this area is in the heart of London’s financial district, the City area is crawling with people walking, running, pushing other people and everyone is creating this chaos whilst on a device.

My friend is a technologist and very successful entrepreneur, we have worked together for years on various projects and in particular future innovation of tech, so we started by discussing the app’s market. I stated that there seems to be an app for absolutely every situation: you can have a virtual girlfriend app, a sleeping app, an exercise walking app, even a speed listening app – we live in an app world.

He started to laugh and smiled – seeing that he had pushed one of my human to human push buttons, he said I do understand, but what did we ever do without apps? I mean, aside from enjoying the outdoors and talk to our families and spend quality time with our friends, that’s rhetorical. The transformation of portable phones from conversation devices to fully functional mobile computers has created a tiny software economy that produces hundreds of new apps every day. While the great majority of those apps fade into obscurity within days, some become part of a global conversation. It’s hard to imagine life without Instagram or Dropbox, for example. Others, though, become big stories for other reasons. Some apps are just such bad ideas that people cannot stop talking about them. Some become popular for no reason that we can see. And some are just amazing.

While the world has gone crazy for app’s its growth and huge userbases are significant, there’s a growing trend in messaging where companies are taking different tactics on how people young and old should keep in contact. From keeping things secret to deliberately keeping the conversation quick and lively, messaging has come a long way since simply sending each other texts. Going back as far as Your Away Message, we’ve seen that people aren’t just using these messaging services to tell people think, but plan.

However, while app’s are really interesting, anyone who has a smartphone bursting with downloaded apps is a rare breed and getting rarer. Apps are on the wane. According to analysts at Comscore, most people (65%) are not downloading apps at all, and get by with whatever comes pre-installed on phones.

Not that apps are not being used. They are, but we are now in a one-app world; 42% of people spend most of their time on a single app.

We will soon see a paradigm shift in terms of where people get their information from. By 2020, smart agents and virtual personal assistants (VPAs) will handle 40% of mobile interactions, and the post-app era will be in full swing.

“We are witnessing a shift from apps to new advanced forms of using artificial intelligence to create smart agents,” says Mark Armstrong, European MD of global app development platform Progress. “They can positively and autonomously generate the next decision or suggestion.”

He adds: “Autonomous decision-making will be taking place on a grander scale, and involves an ecosystem of complex data sets acted on dynamically, and based on user-preferences.” With that kind of tech on the horizon, apps are beginning to look archaic. Whether they had massive user bases, dominated the news media for a cycle, or just pissed people off a whole bunch, these apps made people straight up lose their minds.

So how do people reflect, relax and spend time in today’s world?

We live in a world of frenetic activity. Reflective practice is hardly possible or practical in this age of the busy corporate executive who is socialised to be a person of action, not of reflection. Action is required. Delaying decisions is seen as a sign of weakness, even if the delay may subsequently produce a better decision. CEOs want an answer rather than a question; they are looking for solutions rather than problems. Yet, is it possible that the frenetic activity of the executive is a drug for the emptiness of our organisational souls, that constant action may merely serve as a substitute for thought?

Society gives reflection and its counterpart, listening, short shrift. We do not seem to be interested in the whole story. We even perfect the art of interruption so that we can show our ‘‘proactivity’’ and gain the boss’s attention. There was a time before instant replay when humans had to get the whole message or it would be lost forever. We seem to be unwilling to perfect the art of public reflection, in which we show a willingness to inquire about our own and our colleague’s assumptions and meanings.

While accepting that there is simply too much information, that we can get hooked into bad habits, there has to be another way of thinking about all this without the “Stop the world! I want to get off” model. Ten years ago, all sorts of people were giving fairly apocalyptic warnings about where this online dependency would lead. We were warned of depression and detachment, of a world where no attention could ever be sustained. We would no longer pause or reflect. All of us would just be looking for instant dopamine hits online. And yet, it seems very few actually have opted out, and that opting out is something of a privilege.

We no longer use phrases such as “digital natives”, because now we simply live in a digital culture. All the eye-rolling over teenagers having an umbilical attachment to their phones is somewhat pointless, isn’t it or is it?

It is possible to accept that social media may cause anxiety and unhappiness and that those networks do not often work out equally, but we surely have to move away from always opposing the real world to the online world. They are integrated. These huge shifts have reshaped the presentation of self, who and what we have access to, the boundaries between work and leisure, the very concept of privacy. It has happened. Simply telling people to switch off from a bad thing is unrealistic.

Professor Paul Dolan said iPhones and tablets distract us from our loved ones. He warned people could suffer ‘mental illness’ unless they ‘put them down’. In a talk on happiness he also said the married and religious are generally happier. Men in their 40s are among the most unhappy, he said ‘The secret to happiness is turning off your mobile phone and concentrating on your friends and family rather than text messages and emails, an expert on happiness has said.

Professor Dolan, from the London School of Economics, believes that the popularity of iPhones and other smart phones has seen people constantly having their attention drawn away from their nearest and dearest and to the devices instead. He warned that unless people changed their behaviour, they could suffer mental illness as a result.

He told an audience at the Hay Festival – a celebration of culture and social responsibility, in Cartagena, Colombia, that there are also now mental conditions called internet addiction and Phantom Vibration Syndrome, where you have a phone in your pocket and you think you have got a text message but have not.

He said: ‘We’re constantly having our attention distracted and distraction is a cost’.

‘When you switch tasks it requires attention. Paying attention to what you’re doing and who you are with and turning your phone off and enjoying being with your friends is much better for you than constantly checking your phone and checking emails’, The Telegraph reports.

Prof Dolan was once a member of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team. It was set up to suggest small ways that people could change their way of life to improve it. He said the solution could lie in introducing small changes to the environment in which people use their mobile phones.

Prof Dolan’s told an audience that unless high culture reasserted itself in the face of television and computers, society would face the prospect of an ‘authoritarian nightmare of a world controlled by technology.’

The number of text messages sent in Britian each year is around 38.5billion.

Final thoughts are that we do not need statistics to tell us we are over-attached to our technology. We already know this to be true, but we need to be reminded again and again: Technology has a power-off button. And the wisest of us know when to use it.
Learning to power-down technology is an important life skill with numerous benefits. It is becoming a lost art in our ever-connected world. But the wisest of us take time to learn the discipline. And live fuller lives because of it.

I challenge you to put away your phones when you are eating with people. Do not even set it on the table. Remove the temptation to use it and talk to the people around you. Truly listen to them, without distractions like phones. Maybe when you are using public transportation, talk to the person sitting next to you, asking that person how their day was, smiling at them and paying attention to them will be the highlight of their day. Your phone will never appreciate the time you spent with it like people will, even if it is during a short tube or train ride, and in the state of reflection and creativity, how can you reflect, be creative or even think if you have 200 messages a minute from social media channels or texting, is it time to turn you phone off for these brief but important interludes…….?

A great quote by Earl Nightingale:

“Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”

Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?

Some time ago I wrote a blog called “The Cruel World of Human to Human Relationships” – this subject has been on my mind for several months, and a very good friend of mine and colleague had coffee with me at my office recently, and reinforced the subject when he said: “Can you please tell me why we do not trust one another to speak human to human as we are today, why are people so crazy to email, Whats App, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn , all part of the new and wonderful ways we can now connect with one another electronically, each with its own culture and unique set of rules. In one sense, the planet has never been more interconnected. And yet, this over interconnected world, while wonderful, also comes to human to human relationships with a cost?”

I pondered and then smiled, telling him “If you watch around you on the daily commute or even walking down the street, you will observe people reaching out for their smartphone as soon as an alert either vibrates or arrives to check email and respond to texts and social media channels. Brain scans have shown that dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, is released every time we hear our phone beep. This means we can become addicted to using our phones to a certain extent and it can be tough to break the habit. You may need to put in place something to reinforce the change in behaviour until it becomes second nature. The rest of the day, people are constantly on a tablet, mobile device, laptop or desktop for personal or professional use. The whole world is messaging, browsing, friending, tweeting and sharing.”

It’s great that we have the technology to connect with people across the globe instantly, but there is also a sense of disconnection. If there’s an internet-capable device with a screen anywhere nearby, the immediate world does not get our full attention.

Much has been written about the dangers of Internet addiction. From sport to merely surfing the web, the Internet is clearly the television of the 21st century, an electronic drug that often yanks us away from the physical world. Like any addiction, the real cost, for those of us who are truly addicted, is to the number and quality of our relationships with others. We may enjoy online relationships using social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, for example, but the difference between these kinds of interactions and interactions with people in the physical world is clearly vast. As long as we expect no more from these online relationships than they can give, no good reason exists why we can not enjoy the power of social media sites to connect us efficiently to people we would otherwise not touch. The problem, however, comes when we find ourselves subtly substituting electronic relationships for physical ones or mistaking our electronic relationships for physical ones. We may feel we’re connecting effectively with others via the Internet, but too much electronic-relating paradoxically engenders a sense of social isolation.

I cannot tell you how many times I have wondered what someone did really mean by their words, whether on social media, in a text or over email. Unless you see the person’s face, hear their voice and understand the environment, you have no idea the context surrounding the written words. Misunderstandings, miscommunication s, wrongful interpretations and assumptions result, which have an impact on how we view others.

Online Contact Falls Short on Empathy: As a corollary to the context issue, there’s an utter lack of empathy when using technology to interact with others. “I’m so sorry your you feel this way” or “I heard you lost your job; I feel for you.” Where is the compassion and solidarity with loss? It certainly does exist within the soul of the person who texted, posted or emailed this, but words do not convey that.

Technology Fails to Deliver Essential Personal Touch: Tech Overload leads to an increase in stress and psychological issues: technology has become an electronic addiction for some, taking them out of the physical world as they cling to the features it offers. And like many addictions, there’s an impact on the number and quality of human relationships. Conversations through social media and email take the place of traditional interactions and discussions; eventually, a person doesn’t even need to leave the house to communicate with others – and many people won’t. The phenomenon leads to social isolation that can be crippling for some.

For transferring information efficiently, the Internet is excellent. For transacting emotionally sensitive or satisfying connections, it is absolutely not.

Even when we are all careful to use the Internet only to exchange information, problems can still arise. People tend to delay answering emails or block and ignore calls when they do not have what they consider to be good answers or when they want to avoid whatever responsibility the email demands of them. But this is like being asked a question in person and rather than responding, “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to think about it,” turning on your heels and walking away in silence. It is far easier to ignore an email sender’s request than a request from someone made in person because an email sender’s hope to get a response or frustration in not receiving one, remains mostly invisible. But it’s every bit as rude.

IFS research sampled 143 married/cohabiting women. Each woman reported how often certain devices, like cell or smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs, interrupted interactions she had with her husband or partner. The women also rated how often specific technology interruption situations occurred, such as a partner sending text messages to others during the couple’s face-to-face conversations or getting on his phone during mealtimes.

Overall, about 70% of the women in our sample said that cell/smartphones, computers, or TV interfered in their relationship with their partner at least sometimes or more often. Many women also said that the following specific interruptions happened at least daily:

– 62% said technology interferes with their leisure time together
– 40% said their partner gets distracted by the TV during a conversation
– 35% said their partner will pull out his phone if he receives a notification even if they are in the middle of a conversation
– 33% said their partner checks his phone during mealtimes that they spend together
– 25% said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations

Technology has become an integral part of our lives with more and more of us emailing, texting, tweeting and Facebooking. A recent survey by Facebook found the first thing 80% of us do in the mornings is check our phones. The average user then goes on to check their device 110 times a day.

This must mean that we are more connected to each other than ever but what exactly does it mean for romantic relationships? Are we giving our partners the time and attention they need? Or are we spending more time than we should in our own worlds with our always-on technology?

Research conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on a sample of 2,252 Americans last year indicates cause for worry: 25% felt their partner was distracted by their phone when they were together and 8% had argued as a result.

The figures were worse for younger people: 42% of 18-to-29-year-olds said their partners had been distracted by their phones and 18% had argued over the amount of time the other was spending online.

Our “emotional invisibility” on the Internet perhaps also explains so much of the vitriol we see on so many websites. People clearly have a penchant for saying things in the electronic world they’d never say to people in person because the person to whom they’re saying it isn’t physically present to display their emotional reaction. It’s as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralyzed or removed when we’re communicating electronically, as if we’re drunk and don’t realize or don’t care that our words are hurting others.

Social media websites are wonderful tools but are often abused. A few common sense rules for the electronic world apply:

Do not say anything on email you would feel uncomfortable saying to someone in person
Do not delay your response to messages you would rather avoid
Relationships are affected by online communication
Balance time on the Internet with time well spent with friends, family outside interests

Finally, what we all need to remember is that real world relationships are absolutely vital to our mental health – it’s true that technology has given us the ability to stay constantly connected, constantly at work, but it’s not technology’s fault. Let’s instead look in the mirror and realise who’s really to blame here. It’s time to take control of our technology and our lives so that we can rediscover the wonderful treasures that are buried in those separate realities we once had. Remember, there’s a time to plug in and a time to unplug. Choose wisely.

All in all trust is a huge issue with online presence, the impact of technology on human interaction paints a pretty gloomy picture. But it is a valuable discussion to have, as it teaches us the value of balancing our offline and online communications with others, personally and professionally. I guess the best approach is to make yourself available through technology only when appropriate, so that it supplements our relationships rather than replacing them.

What happened to handwriting? What happened to privacy on a date? What happened to friends-of-friends? What happened to picking up the phone randomly to say hello or I love you? What happened to turning up to a date with flowers, and not sending a virtual picture of a rose?

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”

Is Customer Loyalty Sustainable in Today’s Digital World?

I had a very pleasant lunch with a very good friend of mine in London recently – he operates a very successful marketing company, where he mentioned: “do you think customers actually stay loyal to brands?”

I said back in the early 2000 era, we were all looking to deploy strategies across customer lifetime value – brand satisfaction and brand loyalty played a key part to our business survival toolbox. In today’s world customers staying loyal to companies for long periods are numbered.

The amount of trust consumers put in brands is decreasing all the time, and a typical consumer will now switch brands without hesitation if they get a better offer. The famous rule of 20% of customers accounting for 80% of the turnover has turned into more like 60/40 rule (40% of the customers generate 60% of the turnover) and it is slowly evolving towards a 50/50 rule where loyal and disloyal customers generate the same amount of income.

The conventional wisdom about competitive advantage is that successful companies pick a position, target a set of consumers, and configure activities to serve them better. The goal is to make customers repeat their purchases by matching the value proposition to their needs. By fending off competitors through ever-evolving uniqueness and personalization, the company can achieve sustainable competitive advantage.

An assumption implicit in that definition is that consumers are making deliberate, perhaps even rational, decisions. Their reasons for buying products and services may be emotional, but they always result from somewhat conscious logic. Therefore a good strategy figures out and responds to that logic.

But the idea that purchase decisions arise from conscious choice flies in the face of much research in behavioral psychology. The brain, it turns out, is not so much an analytical machine as a gap-filling machine: it takes noisy, incomplete information from the world and quickly fills in the missing pieces on the basis of past experience. Intuition, thoughts, opinions, and preferences that come to mind quickly and without reflection, but are strong enough to act on, is the product of this process.

This behavioural shift is putting some fundamental, established marketing tactics in doubt, but are we as marketers powerless to stop it?

Why customer loyalty is down
1 – Companies can not keep up with rising consumer expectations. Declining customer loyalty has been an issue for most companies in spite of heavy investments in service improvement. Consumers do not compare a company to where they were a year ago; rather, they compare companies to the ‘best-in-class’. If Amazon does not question a faulty delivery and deals with the problem immediately, consumers will expect the same of their local supermarket.

2 – Loyalty programs are missing their mark. Many companies thought there was a shortcut to creating customer loyalty: the loyalty card. However, all the latest studies agree that loyalty cards slash profit margins on existing customers. Instead of creating loyalty you’re really losing money.

3 – Digitisation makes everything transparent. The fast adoption of smartphones and tablets has further enhanced transparency. Today, more than half of the consumers use their mobile devices to compare prices while shopping. The online world has made price transparency very accessible, a trend that spells danger for any company out there.

4 – Focus on individual touch points instead of on the customer experience as a whole. Companies are divided into various departments, with every department being responsible for the customer’s experience of one specific aspect of the customer relationship. There’s hardly any contact between the sales and after sales departments and invoicing is housed three floors down.

5 – No unique relevance to consumers. When customers are disloyal, they are really saying that a product or service was not relevant enough for them to remain a customer there. Too little thought is put into the role a brand has to play in consumers’ lives. The relationship is too rational in nature instead of emotional.

So exactly what is the solution?

According to popular theory, there are two ways to escape the commodity market. On the one hand a company can work more efficiently, making it possible to sell its products cheaper. On the other hand, you can offer a unique added value, thereby reestablishing differentiation so you can charge higher prices again.

If we look at the history and look at people behaviour, historically people engaged into brand loyalty, but how do you get customers to become loyal to your brand in the first place? Here are a few suggestions:

Build targeted messages

With social media being the center of many people’s day-to-day lives, consumers want to see that brands care about them. Consumers are constantly bombarded with ads, so yours can easily get overlooked. How do you stand out? Try targeting your ads, using campaigns that appeal to your audience’s specific interests, and customizing your messages with a personal touch.

Develop a loyalty programme

Customer loyalty programmes are a huge factor in retaining loyal customers. 44% of customers have between 2-4 loyalty cards, and 25% have between 5-9 loyalty cards. 43% join loyalty programmes to earn rewards, and 45% say it’s a primary driver for purchasing from a brand. As you can see, loyalty programmes are a huge deal with customers, and it pays by getting them to come back to your brand whenever they decide to shop.

However, be aware that you’re more likely to retain customers through a free rewards programme. The majority of people (52%) aren’t willing to pay a membership fee.

Adopt a mobile strategy

Brand loyalty has gone mobile. Seventy-seven percent of smartphone users say that mobile offers have a positive impact on their brand loyalty, according to AccessDevelopment.com. This can include surprise points and rewards or exclusive content.

Another 66% of consumers say they’d have a more positive opinion of a loyalty programme if it was available on their smartphone or in a mobile wallet app. Furthermore, 73% of smartphone users are interested in having loyalty cards on their phones.

What happens if you fall behind your competitors and don’t offer a mobile solution to your loyalty programme? You’ll likely see a decrease in customers. 66% of companies that saw a decrease in customer loyalty in the past year didn’t have a mobile app.

Implement feedback

Another reason brands lose customers is because they don’t respond to their needs. In today’s fast-paced social landscape, customers expect brands to respond to their feedback, and quickly. 97% of customers say they’re more likely to become loyal to a company that implements their feedback. By ignoring them, you’re sending a message that their loyalty doesn’t matter, and with that, they’re likely to move on to a brand that shows them otherwise.

Although ideas about brand loyalty have shifted from generation to generation, people are still brand loyal today. However, you will have to adopt strong social and mobile strategies to retain customers who rely on the internet landscape to make buying decisions.

Finally, my personal opinion is that the subject of whether sustainable competitive advantage has disappeared, is greatly exaggerated. Competitive advantage is as sustainable as it has always been. What is different today is that in a world of infinite communication and innovation, many strategists seem convinced that sustainability can be delivered only by constantly making a company’s value proposition the conscious consumer’s rational or emotional first choice. They have forgotten, or they never understood, the dominance of the subconscious mind in decision making. For fast thinkers, products and services that are easy to access and that reinforce comfortable buying habits will over time trump innovative but unfamiliar alternatives that may be harder to find and require forming new habits.

Simon Mainwaring once said:

“Companies and their brands need to reach out and speak directly to consumers, to honor their values, and to form meaningful relationships with them. They must become architects of community, consistently demonstrating the values that their customer community expects in exchange for their loyalty and purchases.”

Are we really understanding our customers or ignoring the facts?

In my 27+ years in business, and heavily involved in the entrepreneurial community, I have observed the success of many businesses, and the fast failure of others. All these companies had superior products or service – so why did some fail?

This story epitomies the dilemma business people are facing in the world of big data. Sure, they have information on customers. This information is piling up in all sorts of places. For the most part, business owners are desperately making sure they do not miss any opportunity to record every touch point customers have with the company. But then what?

This is the entrepreneurial opportunity of the next five years. Turn your understanding of your customers into opportunities for real, meaningful connections with them. Listen to what they are really saying, not just their responses to surveys, but what they tell you when they do business with your company.

Your most precious asset, no matter what business you have, is your existing customers. You expended considerable effort to entice these companies to do business with you. So why not intensely focus on their behaviour as they do business with you? Rather than comb through the endless data about them, talk to them, humanise your approach.

Too many companies squander the treasure that is real customer feedback. The solution is systematically measuring the customer’s human voice and integrating it into a culture of continuous feedback.

Customer-experience metrics have proliferated over the past decade, and chances are that your business relies heavily on one or more of them. But many companies struggle with metrics. For some, the problem is a disconnect between the metric and business performance; for others, it’s a loss of confidence among front-line workers when the metrics do not seem to explain big swings in customer satisfaction. Further, in some companies, there is confusion about whether transactional or relational measures matter more, and, in others, a simple lack of results from too much focus on one top-line metric.

Alex Singla on Customer Experience – ‘Do the math’

McKinsey director Alex Singla illustrates how a typical institution has multiple chances to build customer satisfaction. Learn more: http://www.mckinsey.com

Loyal customers may represent no more than 20 percent of your customer base, but make up more that 50 percent of your sales. You need to be communicating with these customers on a regular basis. These people are the ones who can and should influence your marketing decisions. Nothing will make a loyal customer feel better than soliciting their input and showing them how much you value it. Still you need to consider the fact, that not all regular customers are loyal to your company. You need to be able to classify your customers and identify the loyal ones correctly if you plan to make marketing decisions based on their interests.

Taken together, these complications leave many companies tone-deaf to the voice of the customer and represent a formidable barrier to building the foundation of a successful customer-centric strategy. Happily, our experience shows that it matters less which top-line metric a business relies on; almost any one will do. Rather, what matters is how the business inserts the metric into a systematic capability to collect, analyse, and act on feedback in an effective and complete measurement system of the customer journey. Building that system can take time, but gains to a customer-centric culture and the bottom line can accrue quickly.

Customers have choices when buying a product. They seek options from trusted friends and family. Experienced shoppers explore what others are saying on social media and online customer reviews. Your companies product may be just one of many options. We can benefit from listening to our customers’ opinions about their level of satisfaction with competing products. Take the time to thoroughly explore what others are saying about your competition. What we hear might provide us with information critical to helping us deliver better solutions.

In summary, all great and successful company leaders have a clear understanding of their customers. It is the basis of why a company exists. It’s the foundation of an organisation’s vision and strategy. You have an exceptional product but if you fail to consider how it fits the needs of your buyer, you don’t have a business. We need to learn what our current and future customers need and make sure we deliver exactly what they want for a price they will pay. Customers, if we listen to them, will tell us all we need to know to develop the right products and services to grow a viable business. Great businesses, large and small, follow this model today. They talk to customers constantly, always taking note of any changes in thought or behaviour.

A great quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Collaboration with a big C

On a midsummer afternoon in 1957, a church fundraiser altered the course of music history. It was just after 4:00 when a group of teenagers took the stage. Rumour has it the boys were so anxious about playing in front of their neighbours, they downed a few beers before launching their set.

This may explain why several songs into the performance, their lead singer forgot his lyrics, struggled to improvise, and somehow mangled, “Come little darlin’, come and go with me,” into, “Down, down, down, down to the penitentiary.”

Most of the audience was oblivious to the flub. But not everyone. One listener was watching intently, impressed by the band’s antics. His name was Paul McCartney. And he’d just had his first glimpse of John Lennon.

Half a century later, Lennon and McCartney’s collaborative works are credited with launching a new era in music history, one in which it became acceptable to combine genres, play a sitar alongside a violin, and use technology as an instrument. We know the Beatles were creative, but how they got that way remains something of a mystery. So just what were they doing right?

Collaboration in the workplace is when two or more people work together through idea sharing and thinking to achieve a common goal. It’s teamwork operating at a high level.

A lot of social networking doesn’t necessarily equate to a lot of collaboration. People may frequently share information online, but they could still be holding back or more concerned about achieving their own goals or creating a particular image of themselves. Of course, getting to know people through social media can be a useful step towards collaboration; for example, where fairly casual and insignificant initial contacts lead on to offers of help or advice. And those who are comfortable using external social media will be more likely to quickly grasp and embrace the benefits of internal social collaboration tools.

There’s so much information out there about the impressive capabilities of social tools that we might be forgiven for thinking these are a prerequisite for effective internal collaboration.

In fact, there are a number of completely different factors that could be seen as the actual building blocks of strong performance in this area within an organisation:

Belief in a common cause – which requires strong and effectively communicated organisational vision and objectives

Openness to learn – which also means understanding your own strengths, weaknesses and where you could improve. This might seem obvious but unfortunately and, as illustrated by a recent Harvard Business School study, we don’t seem to be very good at self-awareness. This research, which gathered data from over 357,000 people, found an average correlation of .29 between self-evaluations and objective assessments (a correlation of 1.0 would indicate total accuracy). And the correlation was even lower for work-related skills. Over-rating our capabilities and our ability to accomplish tasks within a particular time frame could make us disinclined to collaborate, or have a negative impact on outcomes of team working

Trust – believing that your views will be listened to, considered and that you won’t be ridiculed or otherwise be put at a disadvantage for expressing them.

For collaboration to work over the long term, leaders must invest one-on-one time with the key implementers of the strategy and support them with adequate training and coaching, education is critical for ensuring technical capabilities and modelling collaborative behaviour.

My definition for collaboration is as follows:

Collaboration is working together to create something new in support of a shared vision. The key points are that it is not through individual effort, something new is created, and that the glue is the shared vision.

Coordination is sharing information and resources so that each party can accomplish their part in support of a mutual objective. It is about teamwork in implementation. Not creating something new.

Cooperation is important in networks where individuals exchange relevant information and resources in support of each other’s goals, rather than a shared goal. Something new may be achieved as a result, but it arises from the individual, not from a collective team effort.

All three of these are important. All three are aspects of teamwork. But they are not the same!

We can find examples of effective teamwork in all types of environments; sports, military, and even historically in politics (e.g. Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet). All high performance teams have common characteristics. But depending on their purpose and intent, they might rely more on coordination or cooperation than on collaboration.

When is Collaboration important?
In a network environment, where there is not interdependence, collaboration is not essential to the creative process. Through cooperative sharing of information and resources, creativity emerges through individuals and is hopefully recognized and supported.

However in an interdependent organization, collaboration is the bedrock of creative solutions and innovation.

If Yahoo is to reinvent itself, collaboration will be essential.

Collaboration will not occur by decree

Can collaboration occur at a distance?

Absolutely, if leaders are intentional about building collaborative environments, model collaborative leadership practices, and create opportunities to bring people together for occasional face-to-face conversations.
Collaborative leadership is based on respect, trust and the wise use of power. Leaders must be willing to let go of control. Collaboration does not naturally occur in traditional top-down, control-oriented hierarchical environments.
People need the freedom to exercise their own judgment. There has to be room for experimentation, failure and learning from mistakes. And there needs to be an opportunity for people to think together, valuing each other’s perspective and contributions, in order for creative new ideas to emerge.

Finally, Collaboration is all about achieving the best possible outcomes so it is important, when taking action to improve collaboration, to trap these as they unfold. Examples might be: new groups collaborating leading to the development of an exciting new product idea or service improvement; getting something to market quicker than would previously have been possible; better online collaboration, reducing the need for meetings and conferences, with resulting time and travel cost savings.

Dan Tapscott once said:

“Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.”