THE C WORD
WHY COLLABORATION IS OVERUSED, UNDER DONE AND VITAL FOR THE NZ ECONOMY
(*But why just write about it? Idealog decided to try a bit of collaborating ourselves, so we asked for help to illustrate this feature. Most of the photos on these pages – and on the cover – were sourced from our readers, friends, followers, and the people we've written about recently. (The rest were us.) We're all in this together.)
COLLABORATION IS a pretty overused word these days. Mulling over your idea with a colleague over coffee? Collaboration. Renting out your house through Airbnb? Collaboration. Sometimes it’s for profit. Often it’s about sharing ideas, connections, or knowledge. Or just helping out. Sounds good, right? Sit around a long table, drink coffee and draw on whiteboards. There might even be pizza. Remember, there are no bad ideas.
But what does it really mean to collaborate? Are New Zealand companies collaborative enough? And how are some of New Zealand’s most successful and innovative businesses using collaboration to help one another succeed?
As a nation and a culture, New Zealand prides itself on being inventive and resourceful. The myth of the tinkerer in the shed with some No 8 Wire is pervasive. But do these cultural touchstones become a hindrance in a technologically advanced world?
OUT OF THE SHED
Shaun Hendy thinks they do. Hendy is a physics professor working at Auckland University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He’s also the founding director of Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence focused on the study of complex systems and networks, and he co-authored Get off the Grass: Kickstarting New Zealand’s Innovation Economy with the late Sir Paul Callaghan.
He reckons to move beyond an agricultural economy, New Zealanders have to leave the shed mentality behind.
“We must start thinking like a city of four million people and build scale and diversity in our collaboration networks,” he says.
“We’ve got used to working on our own,” he says. “It’s part of our national myth that we can be self-sufficient and we all have a garage in which to tinker. The reality is, that’s not where great ideas come from anymore. A hundred years ago, New Zealand was very successful with that model. We were patenting more things than anyone else in the world. But the complexity of today’s technologies has caught up with us and individual people can no longer master everything you need to master to make something world-beating.”
One recent example of collaboration leading to extraordinary innovation is Precision Seafood Harvesting, a 10-year project between CRI Plant & Food Research and three major (and competing) Kiwi seafood companies: Sanford, Sealord and Aotearoa Fisheries. The $52 million partnership has produced a technology to replace fishing nets with collapsible PVC tubes with holes (think those colourful plastic tubes at kids playgrounds). Instead of trapping everything in their wake, these tubes allow undersized fish to escape, and “off-target” species (the ones the trawler isn’t wanting to take home) to be returned to the sea alive and unharmed.
Precision Seafood Harvesting says not only
It’s part of our national myth that we can be self-sufficient and have a garage in which to tinker. That’s not where great ideas come from any more. Individual people can no longer master everything you need to master to make beating.” something world-
SHAUN HENDY, AUCKLAND UNIVERSITY
is the system significantly more sustainable thanhan nets, but it should bring in a $100 million increase ncrease in export returns.
Hendy has studied patent databases around thehe world, looking for patterns between the number umber of jointly- owned patents and the total number umber of patents registered. He’s found that approximately pproximately 10% of companies that file patents atents around the world share ownership withith other companies or organisations. But astonishingly, stonishingly, that 10% accounts for more than two-wo-thirds of the world’s total patents.
In New Zealand, he found only three examples xamples of companies co- owning patents. That’s hat’s right, three. And one of those was a patent atent for a collaborative invention between Fonterra and a now- defunct biotechnology company, Genesis R&D Corporation.
“I’LL DO IT MYSELF”
Bram Smith is general manager of the Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet), a grouping of universities and crown research institutes collaborating to commercialise scientific research. He sees many of the same Kiwi-inshed problems in research organisations.
“What I hear a lot is ‘I don’t need to collaborate, I’ll do it all myself ’,” he says. “But in order to keep up with what the rest of the world’s doing, it’s not a matter of inventing everything here, we need to be importing innovation from overseas, adapting it for our particular needsneed and then exporting our innovations back overseasover to other markets.
“W We spend too much time locked in our workshopswork and not being inspired by what’s goinggoin on around the world, or not being inspired by what’s w going on in companies in our own co communities.”Canterbury University Professor Andy BuchananBuch is an example of a researcher collaboratingcolla with commercial organisations to m meet a community need – in this case for earthquake-resistanteart wooden buildings.
BuchananBu and his team are developing ways of ususing structural timber that can compete with concreteconc and steel for large span and multistoreystore buildings, giving architects more options in innovative in building design.
Buchanan’sBu research has been funded by $5 millionmilli of private investment from the likes of CarterCart Holt Harvey, Nelson Pine Industries, and others,othe plus another $5m in government funding.
BuchananBu has now set up the Structural TimberTim Innovation Company, which is looking to co commercialise this research with industry partnerspart around the world, particularly in marketsmar like Japan and Canada, where there is lots of wood and high earthquake risk.
MINEMIN THOSE KIWI NETWORKS
There’sTher no reason for New Zealand businesses to be battling away on their own, says Nick Houldsworth,Hou chief marketing officer of Vend, whenwhe easy access to our communities and companiescom is one of the biggest assets New ZealandZeal has.
“It’s I a small market and people know each otherothe and it’s pretty easy to build connections,” Houldsworth says. “New Zealand culture lends itself well to start-ups because it’s a very flat culture, where people are generally accessible. And it’s a meritocracy – if you have a great idea, people want to hear about it, whereas in other countries there may be more hierarchy and layers to get through.”
“People are inspired by success,” he says. “If you get a couple of people who are doing very well in a particular sector, people want to follow suit. And they recognise that the best way to get advice is to work with others and to build on the success of others.
“If you want to chat with Rod Drury, you can find him on Twitter and he’s generally pretty responsive.”
If you want to chat with RodRo Drury, you can find him on Twitter and he’s generally
If Rod Drury isn’t your man, there are other ways entrepreneurs can pick each other’s brains: two of them being crowdsourcing and shared workspaces.
Crowdsourcing is better known as a way for start-ups to raise money, often by showing a prototype or design to prospective customers, and then asking them to pre-purchase the prospective product.
But it’s not just money entrepreneurs are after. Increasingly, people are crowdsourcing expertise, asking strangers, often with no financial reward, to contribute their skills and knowledge to a project.
The internet is full of examples of crowdsourced collaborations. Take Egyptianborn designer Karim Rashid, who used his Facebook page to ask his 400,000 fans to help him design a seven-storey building in New York. As well as choosing their preferred ideas, commenters provided feedback and ideas for Rashid, some of which he incorporated into the final project.
HELPED AT HIS OWN GAME
Closer to home, Wellington entrepreneur (and game design rookie) Mark Major used crowdsourcing platforms 99designs, Reddit and Facebook to get experts to help him with design and features for his new iPhone game, Plummet Free Fall. The game has been downloaded more than 350,000 times and was number one on iTunes in four countries, including Russia.
People are also coming together in a more physical way through use of co-working spaces. Designed to give lonely start-ups the power of the group, shared spaces offer cheap infrastructure, but also a community of other people working in a similar situation.
In a quick Google search, Idealog found almost 20 such spaces, from the well- established Icehouse incubator and BizDojo networks, to newer facilities like the Hanger in Queenstown.
De rigueur is a cool name (The Aviary, Iron Bank, Innovation Precinct etc), a fast internet connection and (one suspects) a bit of alcohol to get the combined creative juices flowing.
Freelance PR guy Paul Brislen, who works out of GridAKL in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter says encouraging collaboration is a deliberate act. “There’s a team of people from BizDojo in the Grid every day ensuring there’s always someone talking at lunchtime, there’s always opportunities to meet new people, so everybody’s engaged and everybody’s involved.”
On a bigger scale, organisations like Export NZ and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are also actively fostering collaboration between New Zealand companies.
The Family of Twelve consists of 12 independent New Zealand wineries focused on promoting Kiwi wine overseas. They join together organise tastings and events in key markets and to get prominent critics, sommeliers and retail buyers to visit New Zealand.
Importantly they share not just costs and logistics, but knowledge and contacts.
Meanwhile a strong push to get Kiwi avocado
If you’re an exporter you are hamstringing yourself if you don’t have a rich collaboration network in New Zealand. Your competitors will, in general, be enjoying a much more collaborative environment.”
SHAUN HENDY, TE PUNAHA MATATINI
growers to “communicate and collaborate like never before” is already reaping rewards, industry body CEO Jen Scoular says. A newlyunited sector has doubled sales to $135m for the 2014-15 season, and wants to double them again by 2023, she says.
“As an industry we want to share data and knowledge and provide people in the avocado industry access to insights that will help improve decision-making and orchard productivity.” It’s a logic you can’t argue with, Hendy says. “The smart move is to try and be more open and try and get a return from your ideas and your technologies as they go out into the world,” Hendy says. “If you’re an exporter going into offshore markets, you’re hamstringing yourself if you don’t have a rich collaboration network in New Zealand, you’re at a disadvantage against your international competitors who will, in general, be enjoying a much more collaborative and innovative environment.”
But don’t just collaborate, says Serge van Dam, a Wellington entrepreneur currently chairing three SaaS start-ups, Wipster, Montoux, and Coachseek.
COLLABORATE WITH PURPOSE
Extend your network, van Dam says. Build relationships. Be interested in what others are up to and don’t be so secretive about what you’re doing, he says. Trust other researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs and companies. BusinessBusi and innovation aren’t zero sum games.
“TThere’s an emotional impetus to working togethertoge because we want to see New Zealand performperf on a global stage and there’s this almost natural,natu circumstantial advantage that we can draw on,” van Dam says.
“WWe’ve just all got to be willing to not just use loosel terms like collaboration, but be very specificspec about how we can help each other. WhetherWhe it’s introducing people via email, or givinggi access to a contact list or sharing experiencesexpe to make other people smarter, I thithink we’ve got a real opportunity to make each other better. The world’s an enormous marketplacemar and a rising tide lifts all boats. If everyoneever gets smarter, we all benefit.”
SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE
Software as a service is a perfect breeding ground for collaboration. There’s the background of the internet to start with – that open source nirvana of geeks saving the world. Then there’s the fact many Saas companies are born from the desire to solve a single problem, which may have once been one small aspect of a comprehensive (and expensive) software suite.
“By solving a single pain point you can make a much better product, much faster,” explains Nick Houldsworth, chief marketing officer of cloud-based point of sale software service company Vend. “But customers still need different systems to be connected together.”
Vend is one of over 400 service providers integrated on the Xero accounting software platform. Xero CEO Rod Drury says that by opening his system to other app developers, Xero doesn’t lose sovereignty. Instead other companies add functionality to his products.
“Anything that can be automated will be automated,” he says.
And while the level of collaboration varies greatly between those 400 providers, Xero actively works with start-ups to increase the value of the system as a whole, and to foster talent in the ecosystem, Drury says.
“We love having companies camp out in our offices and taking advantage in the investment we’ve made in them.”
Vend started as one of those companies, realising quickly that by collaborating with an existing service provider, they could concentrate on solving a specific problem while also having access to Xero’s growing customers base.
“So there was a pretty compelling reason for us to collaborate, both from creating a unique proposition for the market, but also achieving a new channel to market for ourselves,” says Houldsworth.
“We were finding new retailers and they were finding new accountants and we knew that if we could combine forces we could find new customers together.”
But the two companies don’t just collaborate vertically. They also collaborate horizontally, sharing practical knowledge and market insights.
“In those early stages it’s really helpful to have a collaborative working relationship not just to find new customers but to just get better at your craft,” Houldsworth says. “Because you’re effectively trying to sell a similar product at a similar price point to a similar audience, and in a lot of ways are trying to figure it out as you go along.
“So the more you can share ideas, the better equipped you’re going to be tackling some of those problems.”
And as Xero helped mentor Vend, Vend is helping younger companies which are providing ancillary services on its own platform.
“We’re always happy to share information because we’ve had the benefit of learning from others as well,” Houldsworth says.
“We also get to learn things in reverse, even if the company is smaller than us. They’re often trying new tactics that we’re not thinking about.”
Earlier this year Xero and Vend were selected to help Apple develop and promote the business capabilities of the iPad. One of the biggest companies in the world collaborating with two companies started half a world away.
Apple doesn’t want to have to build its own Xero or Vend; it wants to make its iPad better by helping make Xero and Vend better.
It’s not just cloud-based software that’s proving fertile ground for collaboration.
A group of New Zealand’s primary industry leaders decided to look to Silicon Valley to learn how to collaborate and better adapt to a volatile commodities sector.
In 2012, John Brackenridge, CEO of Merino New Zealand, and Keith Cooper, CEO of meat company Silver Fern Farms, visited Professor Baba Shiv, an expert in marketing and “neuroeconomics”, at Stanford University in Stanford, California.
While there, Brackenridge and Cooper realised that many primary sector CEOs didn’t even know each other, let alone work together. The two started inviting primary sector leaders for a week-long annual boot camp at Stanford, where alongside university professors and Silicon Valley leaders, they talk and think about how New Zealand’s primary industries can shift from being commodity producers to generating more value through better understanding the changing consumer behaviours.
Since 2012, the boot camp has grown to 50 participants, including CEOs and senior managers fromfrom Zespri,Zespri Sealord Sealord, Fonterra Fonterra, and
We’re always happy to share information because we’ve had the benefit of learning from others as well. We also get to learn things in reverse, even if the company is smaller than us. They’re often trying new tactics
about.” we aren’t thinking about.
NICK HOULDSWORTH, VEND
In Italy, the companies which have survived, the ones which have prospered, are the ones that have collaborated, even with their arch enemies, as long as they are in the same space.” philosophical
JOHN BRACKENRIDGE, MERINO NZ
others, hosting a diverse range of speakers from American designer William McDonough to former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
As well as being inspired by the speakers and the Silicon Valley ecosystem, Brackenridge says by nurturing relationships and establishing trust, primary industry leaders have begun working together to help each other in overseas markets.
The most prominent practical outcome of the boot camp is Primary Collaboration, a geographic grouping set up by Andy Borland, managing director of Scales Corporation, helping New Zealand primary industries access Chinese markets. The collaboration includes fishing company Sealord, Silver Fern Farms meat, Synlait Milk, Villa Maria Estate winery, Maori food and beverage producer Kono, and Pacific Pace, itself a collaboration between three Hawkes Bay apple-based companies Mr Apple, CrasbornGroup and J M Bostock Group.
Brackenridge is excited about the project. “You’ve got New Zealand’s biggest apple producer, New Zealand’s biggest seafood company, New Zealand’s biggest meat company and one of the biggest wine companies all saying, ‘Rather than going into Shanghai in a silo, why not go in collectively and share insights, share resources, learn from each other?”
After this year’s boot camp, Brackenridge travelled to Italy, where the economy has had to radically transform, after losing much of its manufacturing business to China. Brackenridge sees Italy, where collaboration has become a necessary part of success, as a model for New Zealand’s primary industries. “The companies that have survived, the ones that have prospered, are the ones that have collaborated, even with their arch enemies, as long as they’re in the same philosophical space,” he says. “We need be able to collaborate with somebody who’s getting market insights and knowing when to collaborate and when to compete.”
Collaboration is a process not an outcome, Brackenridge says. “The outcome is greater value, greater consistency, less volatility, as a consequence of us being far more sophisticated in our value chains and our branding, and therefore less dependent upon commodities.
“And the way to do that is through better investment in talent, better awareness of digital, and the utilisation of a far more collaborative approach to market.”
PUBLICPUBL / PRIVATE COLLABORATION
The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) was launched in 2011 as a grouping of university and Crown Research Institutes. It now includes 15 partners which represent 6000 New Zealand researchers (67% of the total). Its aim is to get scientists and businesses working together.
KiwiNet General Manager Bram Smith, says getting collaboration happening is all about establishing trust, and the only way to establish trust isi through relationships:
“When we first set up we were really worried about confidentiality, so we had quite complex arrangements around making sure that if somebody disclosed information, it wasn’t shared or didn’t blow any competitive advantage. “But what happened was over time, that really started to break down. People started to build trust and pursue confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements only when it was really necessary.”
A key part of getting that sort of trust is encouraging people to form personal relationships, he says. “Organisations don’t collaborate, people do. So you’ve got to enable people to form personal relationships and get to know each other. You can’t just force people together and expect them to collaborate.”
In June this year, KiwiNet held the inaugural NZ Mathematics in Industry conference, where six companies paid $6,000 each to have 100 of the country’s top mathematicians take on their real world mathematics problems – together.
“It’s great for the business because they get really sharp minds working on their opportunities,” says Smith. “It’s great for the mathematicians because they get good experience of the kinds of problems businesses have and how to solve them. And it creates a really good culture of getting people collaborating together from across multiple organisations to pursue innovation opportunities and solve technical challenges.”
In less than a week, some problems were solved, or well on the way, and some mathematicians were offered contracts to continue their work.
“We see researchers who could do so much more for companies around them if they could get out and talk to them, if they could immerse themselves in what those companies are dealing with,” Smith says.
“And we see so much more that companies could do if they had more capacity to engage with the science community. A lot of what KiwiNet does is just get people together in the same room so they can get to know each other and form relationships.”