How five of the world’s best business brains approach collaboration

It feels as though collaboration is currently experiencing a golden age, with brands big and small looking to work closely with one another and reap the mutual benefits. Here some of the top business leaders in the world explain just why it’s so important...

You are reading an article from The art of collaboration series, to read more you can visit the series homepage.

Richard Branson, Virgin Group – Collaboration should not be seen as a dirty word.

Richard Branson has gone to great lengths to point out the positive impact of collaboration, not just in business but in many other aspects of our lives. However he’s also made it clear that it can, at times, offer a negative influence.

“In business we work together with other business people to create projects we can be proud of. There are times where collaboration is not appropriate in business if it interferes with healthy competition. But generally, collaboration is overwhelmingly seen as positive by everyone involved,” explains the Virgin Founder. “In politics, collaboration is often seen as a negative. Politicians should start collaborating more with their rival parties to rebuild their countries. They shouldn't be viewed as 'collaborators' for doing so, but praised for working together to achieve progress.”

Elon Musk, Tesla – Never be afraid of collaborating.

Earlier this year Elon Musk’s decision to make Tesla’s arsenal of patents available for all to use was received with a mixture of widespread acclaim and hostility. However as some onlookers observed, it was just another sign of the thriving levels of collaboration currently running throughout the many different sectors where Musk has a presence.

"If you think this controversial move by Musk and Tesla doesn't make sense, think again," observed business commentator Topher Morrison. "We're now living in the collaboration economy and your competition is now your ally. It's time to stop competing and start collaborating. Partner with the competitors in your industry by creating key relationships with the right people who have the right skills and can properly complement your strengths."

Jeff Bezos, Amazon – Don’t forget customer collaboration.

While most CEOs will automatically think of collaborating with brands from different sectors, and even rivals, many will forget to forge a close working relationship with their actual customers. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is an example of someone who works hard to ensure that customers are not forgotten, insisting that an empty chair is present at meetings to represent the customer. By encouraging their presence at the forefront of employees’ minds Bezos believes that both innovation and collaboration will benefit as a result, after all, if you were one of the Amazon customers wouldn’t you want staff at Amazon to collaborate? “The customer is the most important person in the room. We don’t focus on the optics of the next quarter; we focus on what is going to be good for customers,” explains Bezos. “I think this aspect of our culture is rare.”

Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post – The world is getting smaller, collaboration is easier.

Upon opening a series of international editions of the Huffington Post, Editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington noted that the increased connectivity being experienced by so many across the world has enabled collaboration to come much more naturally than ever before. While this may ring truer in the news industry than others, it’s clear that every sector has felt the impact of change.

"I'm sure there will always be a New York Times and La Repubblica. But we must also recognize that in certain circumstances any citizen can become a correspondent or a journalist," observes Huffington. "The world is getting smaller. What happens in China or in Europe is important for everyone. I want a constant collaboration between our different sites."

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Megan Smith, Google[X] – Tackle a lack of diversity through increased collaboration.

One time Virgin Disruptor panellist Megan Smith had some strong views on collaboration as she stepped into her role as the White House’s new Chief Technology Officer earlier this year. According to Smith, collaboration can play a key role in having a positive impact in the diversity issues which many organisations are currently facing

“Learning to value each other is a big part of creative collaboration,” notes Smith. “I think that underrepresented minorities and women are largely invisible. When we don’t know something, we fill in the blanks. And, in doing so, it’s easy to leave out someone else’s experience, needs, or ideas.”

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