It is often said that "walking is controlled falling." You've seen a toddler learning to take those first steps. They have a clear objective and incredible determination but they spend a lot of time with their bottom on the floor. Fortunately for them they don't have far to fall and have a bit of natural resiliency. There are some rough tumbles though, and some tears. It's important that someone create a good environment without sharp edges, hard surfaces or tripping hazards. And they get better with practice. Soon, with each step, their foot seems to catch them just in time. The whole body begins to align - arms and head for balance, eyes for threats, hands to catch (just in case).
So it is with recent attempts to enhance Collaboration and Innovation in the enterprise. So far there seems to be a lot of falling. It's not necessarily a bad thing. Like the toddler, we wouldn't achieve our objective without a few setbacks. Given time, we'll start to put one foot in front of the other and gain a little control. Of course, we want to minimize the damage (aka Risk Management). There are a number of things we should do to reduce those "sharp edges, hard surfaces and tripping hazards". Basic things like focusing on business objectives instead of technology; starting with a strategy and an architecture; and implementing a user adoption program.
But there's a problem with this perspective. Successful organizations cannot be content with being a toddler. We all see that the rules have changed. A common mantra in business journals is "innovate or die". Collaboration is an imperative for the savvy executive – whether they be IT or business. Novel technologies are emerging faster than we can grasp them. One directory lists 2830 Web 2.0 applications in 175 categories! Organizations cannot afford to toddle in this new environment. Real success amidst this rapid change requires that we become more like a stunt-person than a toddler.
"Really?" you might ask. "A stunt-person?"
Think about it. I'm not talking about a daredevil who takes foolish chances. I'm talking about the professionals. Stunt-people practice. They learn to fall gracefully. They take chances – sometimes big chances – but these are based on knowledge, experience, and a careful understanding of their environment, capabilities and goals. They have a plan. They manage the risks. And the smart ones know when to walk away.
Our organizations must develop these skills. We begin by creating collaboration and innovation ecosystems. These are environments where the occasional fall is acceptable and sometimes planned. We must nurture the staff who have the proper knowledge and experience and sheer intestinal fortitude. We acknowledge our limitations and reach outside to the experts when we don't have them in-house. Finally, like the professional stunt-person, we control our environment and manage the risks by implementing a comprehensive governance program around our collaboration and innovation initiatives.
We are falling headlong into an uncertain future. It's obvious to me that enhancing collaboration, facilitating innovation and managing the associated risks are critical activities for our survival and success. So the trick is to control that fall – to do it with grace and skill. If we work at it, then someday it will be as natural as walking.
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