The Mississippi Hospital Association and the Department of Health are already collaborating on a few projects I want to mention first. Our Center for Rural Health is through a flex grant provided through MSDH. The Center is charged with helping Mississippi's rural hospitals with strategic planning and performance improvement.
Before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi hospitals, the Mississippi Hospital Association and the Health Department worked together closely. Before the storm, we were all working to survey hospitals to see where open beds were and where transfers could be accepted around the state. During the storm, MHA staff were at the Operations Center with health department employees. After the storm, we all worked together to make sure hospitals were operational as soon as possible.
Even before Katrina – really since 9/11 – hospitals and the health department have been working together to make sure our state’s hospitals are prepared to respond in emergency or disaster situations.
OK, I’ve given you a few examples of some of our current collaborations, but we all know we need to collaborate. We just don’t have the time. Or the energy. Or the last time it was just a bunch of meetings and nothing happened. But on the paper I’m handing out now, I want you to think of just one project you are working on right now that you know that you should be collaborating with hospitals on but you’re just not…for whatever reason. Maybe the hospitals weren’t interested. Maybe you don’t want the hospitals interested. We’re not concerned with the why now, just the what. So write down on this piece of paper the name of the project. If you don’t have a project, feel free to write down the name of someone else’s project. Or just make one up – I’ll never know the difference. (Time set aside for this. Leave image up on screen. Collect examples and read them out loud.)
First, you have to make sure you have the right partners for collaboration. You have to do a little investigating and digging. You need to make sure that all parties have a common goal or will create mutual value in the end. Or it will never work.
We’ve all seen the mess that’s left over from bad collaborations before. You must have a shared vision, a shared commitment, leadership and those willing to take action together at the collaboration table – or melee ensues.
Even if the bad collaboration wasn’t as bloody as all that. We’ve all been involved in the “collaborations” that were pure and simply Meeting Hell. And as Thomas Sowell said, people who enjoy meeting should never be in charge of anything. (So maybe that should be the first question you ask when selecting the group leaders for collaboration.)
When you have the right group though, collaboration can be a form of art. It can bring about changes and outcomes that never could have been accomplished alone. When done right, it’s a thing of beauty.
OK. We’ve had a brief introduction to collaboration. Now we’re going to have a word association test. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “collaboration”? (Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask. Keep it to yourself. I’ve gotten burned one too many times with the word association test. Let’s just say your peers are much stranger than you imagine sometimes.) But if you’re like most people, you conjure up images of people working together happily and productively – co-workers at the office, partners in the supply chain, interdepartmental teams. We collaborate on research projects or a new communications campaign. Google CEO Eric Schmidt says “When you say collaboration, the average 45-year-old thinks they know what you’re talking about – teams sitting down, having a nice conversation with nice objectives and a nice attitude. That’s what collaboration means to most people.”
But collaboration – the meaning of the word itself – is changing…because the times they are a changin’, as Dylan said. Frankly, you don’t have to collaborate with Mississippi hospitals anymore. If you wanted, you could say, “Sorry. We prefer to collaborate with Minnesota hospitals. They are nicer. We like them more.” And it could be done today. Ten years ago even, you could have said that, but Mississippi hospitals would have thought, “Yeah, buddy, you just try it. See what happens.” But none of us here would roll our eyes if someone said that today. Because it’s possible.
Due to radical changes in technology, business, the economy and the world, no man – or business or company or health department or hospital or community – is an island anymore. New forms of mass collaboration are changing how goods and services are invented, produced, marketed and distributed in our back yard and all over the world. This change presents great opportunities – and great obstacles too – for every company.
In the past, collaboration was mostly small scale. It took place in a meeting room. It took place in our communities and in our workplaces. In relatively rare instances, it approached mass scale (like Vietnam-era protests). But today the tables are turning. The growing accessibility of information technology puts the tools required to collaborate at everybody’s fingertips. Some examples of this new rise are household names now. Last year at this time, MySpace had 100 million users. YouTube. Linux. Wikipedia. A few examples of mass collaboration that most of us have at least heard about by now.
And it’s not just blogs and teenagers I’m talking about. Companies are embracing this new collaboration model too. If you’re a retired, unemployed or aspiring chemist, Procter & Gamble needs your help. CEO A.G. Lafley instructed managers to outsource 50% of their new product and service ideas. Now you can work for Procter & Gamble without being on the payroll. Just register on the InnoCentive network – like 90,000 scientists from around the world have – and help solve R&D problems for cash rewards.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Yeah, but that’s research and development. If someone comes up with a good idea, they pay them. What does the company have to lose?” So here’s an example from an industry that protects their data about as closely as we do – the gold market. Rob McEwen, the CEO of Goldcorp Inc., a small Toronto-based gold-mining firm, was struggling to keep the company afloat. The company’s mine was drying up and without substantial evidence of new gold deposits, the end was drawing near. He gave his geologists $10 million for further exploration and sent the packing in for northern Ontario with orders to find gold on the property. Most of the staff thought he was crazy but they did as he said – they went to the deepest and most remote parts of the property. And test drilling did find rich new deposits of gold – as much as 30 times the amount they were currently mining. But McEwen was frustrated because his geologists could not seem to provide an accurate estimate of the gold’s value or an exact location even. He was frustrated, so he decided to take a little time off for personal development. (This story will make you feel smug for coming to this meeting here this week. You can call it “personal development” on your expense report when you get back.) McEwen wound up at an MIT conference for young presidents and the subject of Linux came up. He listened to how Linus Torvalds and a medley group of software developers created a world-class operating system over the Internet. The lecturer explained how Torvalds revealed his code to the world – allowing anonymous programmers to critique the code and make contributions of their own even. He had an epiphany at the meeting – a Jerry Maguire moment as I call it. If Goldcorp employees could not find the gold, maybe someone else could. So he races back to headquarters and tells the head geologist, “I’d like to take all of our geology, all the data we have that goes back to 1948, and put it into a file and share it with the world. Then we’ll ask the world to tell us where we’re going to find the next six million ounces of gold.” Understandably, the in-house geologists were a bit skeptical. Mining – like health care in some ways – is an intensely secretive industry. Apart from the minerals themselves, geological data is one of their most preciously guarded resources. (I mean people got arrested recently for trying to steal the Coke formula and this guy’s just going to put it all out on the Web.) McEwen knew it was a radical idea. You simply don’t give away proprietary data in his industry. But in March of 2000, the Goldcorp Challenge was launched with a total of $575,000 in prize money available to those with the best methods and estimates. Every scrap of information about the 55,000-acre property was revealed on the company’s Web site. Over 1,000 virtual prospectors from 50 countries go busy crunching numbers. Within weeks, they were flooded with submissions. And not just from geologists. From graduate students, consultants, mathematicians, military officers. The contestants had identified 110 targets on the Red Lake property – half of which had not been previously identified by the company. Over 80% of the new targets yielded substantial quantities of gold. Since the challenge was initiated, eight million ounces of gold has been found. The contest also shaved about two or three years off the company’s standard exploration time. It also took a company that was in the hole by $100 million into a $9 billion profitable business. And his shareholders are very happy too. One hundred dollars invested in the company in 1993 is worth over $3,000 today.
So it’s not just hospitals and health departments. The pace of change is such that no company can any longer depend on internal capabilities to meet their external needs. And we can’t depend on a tightly controlled relationship with a handful of business partners that we’ve always dealt with either. To innovate and succeed in the future, collaboration is going to be an essential business skill – just as important as budgeting or planning or research.
So if all this is true, why aren’t we doing more collaboration? Well, conventional wisdom says we should control and protect proprietary resources and innovations – especially intellectual property, especially data. If someone infringes on our intellectual property, we get the lawyers out.
The new philosophy says that a rising tide lifts all boats. Welcome the data pirates with open arms. Make the lawyers walk the plank for a change. Of course, companies need to protect critical intellectual property, but we cannot collaborate effectively if we hide everything. And the power of sharing is not limited to intellectual property – it applies to computing power, bandwidth, content and scientific knowledge. Sharing of computing power has brought about such innovations as Skype, which collects the computing power of its users and allows them to speak free of charge on the Internet. A self-sustaining phone system free of charge that relies solely on its users willingness to share. The first time Michael Powell, then chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, used Skype, he concluded, “It’s over. The world will change now inevitably.”
One thing that hasn’t changed lately is that winning organizations will be those that tap human knowledge and translate it into new and useful applications – which is really the essence of collaboration. But the skills and tools and processes to do that are changing. Collaboration itself is changing – and we are going to have to change with it. We won’t stay competitive in today’s environment if we don’t. Remaining innovative is going to require all of us to radically rethink collaboration. Quite simply, we must collaborate or perish.
At the beginning, you all saw my title for this presentation is “Everything You Need To Know About Collaboration You Learned in Kindergarten.” And besides bombarding you with LEGOs, I admittedly have shirked my title. This is all taken straight from “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” One of the first things you learn in kindergarten is that you should take a nap every afternoon – and I didn’t want you to do it DURING my presentation so I tried to keep you guessing a little. We also learned in kindergarten that warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. And I don’t have either of those, so I’m going to run through the lessons quickly and let you head out and find some on your own. Just promise me you will wash your hands before you eat your snack, please.
Share. You can have no collaboration without sharing something. It has to be mutually beneficial to all parties and all parties have to be willing to share – data, credit, workload, leadership. Share. In addition to sharing, remember not to take things that aren’t yours without asking either.
Play fair. Don’t try to pretend it’s collaboration if it’s not. “Give me all your data. Do all the work. Give me credit.” is not collaboration. We’ve all been there. That’s not collaboration. There is a word for it – it’s just not collaboration.
Don’t hit people. If you have entered into a collaboration, play nice. Don’t try to act like it’s mutually beneficial to all at the beginning and then start yanking the toys away once the collaboration begins. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Any of us with young children know what happens when you hit people – either they hit you back or they go to Mommy crying. Either way, it’s probably not going to end well for all parties involved. And if you just can’t help it, if someone just needed hitting, try to say “I’m sorry” with a straight face at the least.
In kindergarten, if you put things back where you found them, you are an instant hero. Remember to do the same in your collaborations. Take responsibility for your part and let it be known that you expect others to do the same. We all clean up our own mess. Or as Pat Fordice would say if she were still with us today, “I ain’t your Mama.”
Live a balanced life. But also make sure your collaborations are balanced. That you have a good mix of number crunchers and leaders and creative types. That’s where the magic comes in – finding that perfect mix of people. And let that perfect mix play some too. Wander and wonder in their thoughts. As Fulghum says, “Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.”
When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together – like the Village People here. Don’t be great collaborators behind closed doors but then duck out when it’s time to introduce your findings to the world. You will need to stick together on the outside too for successful collaboration.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we. So do collaborations. Re-examine your current partners. Make sure you aren’t collaborating over a corpse. There does come a time to mourn and move on.
And, finally, remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK. Look before you collaborate. Make sure that you are not collaborating just for collaboration’s sake. Look for a shared vision, a shared commitment and a willingness to lead and take action – whether you’re partnering with hospitals or others. OK, it’s now time for naps. Go back to your room, find your blankie, and if you can’t sleep at least lay there and close your eyes with the lights out. Thank you for having me.