Category Archives: Collaboration

The Fruitless Pursuit of Organizational Self-Interest

Where are we headed?

I am amazed at the ingenuity that pulses through many companies borne from the vision of a sharing economy. Homes, cars, clothes, specialized equipment, bicycles and toys are just a few of the possessions that have morphed from sole ownership to group use.  In the recent past, it was unthinkable to share your home with strangers who were just ‘travelling through’. Just a decade ago, we saw the demise of Microsoft’s proprietary encyclopedic platform called “Encarta” , superseded by Wikipedia (tagline free encyclopedia), which used to be the brunt of jokes but now is a respected resource on the web.

Open source wins out and collaboration is the preferred business model.

It is a truism that organizations benefit from participating in a shared economy. This model does not result from new rounds of mergers and acquisitions, or from organizations that have already combined to minimize costs and impact. Some of those changes resulted from emergency situations, and was not part of a planned strategy. The culture that spawns innovation is different.

Organizations need to begin to think about their success in terms of others’ successes.

About a year ago, I was invited to a “Bring Your Parents To Work Day” at Amazon, and was treated to a day-long experience of multiple educational workshops in which representatives of various divisions shared the mission and passion of Amazon. Among other ideas, what sticks with me is how open the company is to collaboration with their customers and even with their competitors.

For sure, companies and organizations need to perpetuate themselves, but even Amazon’s Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos said “One day Amazon will fail” however employees need to postpone that eventuality by “obsessing over customers” and not worrying about its own survival: “If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end…..we have to try and delay that day for as long as possible.”

Even Apple has ventured into these waters. CEO Tim Cook speaks about the key traits of employees who are oriented to collaboration and not attached to personal recognition.

Yet, I do not see enough examples in the Jewish community of true collaborative models. Instead, there is a tendency to put up even more barriers, in an attempt to save whatever constituencies there are from falling away. I often have a hard time making distinctions between the nuanced missions of organizations who seem to have similar goals.

It just makes sense, in an era of diminishing resources, to be nimble and humble enough to actively seek partnerships. The willingness to share derives from an organizational culture that supports it, not as puffy words in a mission statement, but as a core part of the organization’s strategy and direction. Not simply as a survival mechanism, but because working together ultimately makes the most sense. Rather than duplicating resources, organizations can exponentially expand their reach if they buddy-up.

This take more up-front work, more of a focus on long term vision than short terms gains.  This concept is already noted in our tradition:

“One time I was walking along the path, and I saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him: On which path shall we we walk in order to get to the city? He said to me: ‘This path is short and long, and that path is long and short.” Talmud Eruvin 53b

Meaning, the choice is ours.
Do we want to take shortcuts that might put the goal even further away? Do we focus on the here an now, the short-term results and worry about the consequences later? Do we busy ourselves with the everyday so we can’t focus on strategies that make sense for the long-term?
We need to take the longer road, but doing that takes patience and commitment. It also assures us that we will arrive where we want to and be successful once we get there.