Operating Partner and CEO in Residence at Gridiron Capital and the Best-Selling Author of The Elephant’s Dilemma.
Since making the shift to Gridiron Capital, one topic I’ve been thinking about a lot is collaboration, especially since the pandemic. The pandemic normalized the use of technology that many of us had never used before, like Zoom, and installed remote work as a viable option for most businesses rather than some luxury available only to “other companies.”
We’re in a new era of “working together,” and while I didn’t think a global pandemic would be the forcing function that got us here, we’re here regardless. The way we work together within our company has changed forever, but don’t overlook the other major shift that’s been occurring over the past year: Many of us are now more willing to collaborate externally, rather than just with our co-workers.
It’s amplified the “network effect” I’ve written about previously. Here’s a great example: I shared my recent Forbes article about the “war for talent” on LinkedIn and a person with whom I’ve had little interaction commented with his thoughts, which added to my understanding of this topic. I replied that we should collaborate in the future, and we started messaging each other about our thoughts on business-related topics.
Would I have been open to that kind of collaboration before Covid-19? Perhaps, but after 18 months of exploring new ways to work with others, that LinkedIn interaction felt natural. In fact, I’d say it felt a lot like the future. I’m not sure exactly what collaboration will look like five, 10 or even 20 years from now, but I do believe it’ll be shaped by three notable forces.
1. Comfort With New Technology
Think about the recent space flight for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; there was no flight crew on that shuttle, only passengers. That means Bezos and crew were relying on collaboration with distant partners, and to a greater extent than we’ve ever seen with space flight, the technology powering that collaboration. Do you think the world’s richest man would fly into space without pilots if he wasn’t completely confident in the tech enabling that flight? Of course not.
This one example illustrates an increasing comfort level with technology that years ago would’ve seemed alien: voice assistants who can turn on our TVs, cars that can drive themselves (and us) and bots that can help business owners with customer service. Just today, I discovered a writing assistant powered by artificial intelligence that helps surface relevant information as you type. Technology replacing and augmenting human effort is perhaps the most exciting and most terrifying aspect of the future of collaboration; its impact will only accelerate in coming years.
2. Lower Barriers To Collaboration
Not only are we becoming more comfortable with technology, but we’re also seeing barriers that previously existed being wiped out by new technologies. Thanks to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), you can meet in the same room with colleagues who live anywhere in the world and even move objects around as needed. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is betting the company’s future on building a “metaverse,” which according to The Verge is “a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space.”
The point is: Collaboration has never been more accessible, and that accessibility will only increase in the coming years as technology continues to advance. Today, we have rudimentary avatars for our VR meetings and must wear bulky headsets, but what will that experience look like in 2040, and more importantly, what kind of creative problem solving will it unlock?
3. A Constantly Shifting Baseline
As technology pushes collaboration into new frontiers, what we’re aiming for is not an endpoint. There is no finish line with this effort but rather a baseline that is constantly being reset. That’s why it’s critical for organizations to set themselves up to support rapid innovation — the speed at which we’re moving is only going to increase. Nobody can afford to rest on their laurels.
That’s what I’ve observed in my time with Gridiron so far; we stress-test concepts and work as a team to figure out the best outcome. After we work together to distill information into something that is easy to digest, we create a forum for discussing it and put a structure in place to reevaluate, reassess and adjust based on our collaborative efforts — all while using tools that make the experience seamless.
I mention my company as a way to illustrate the type of concerted effort and collective attitude that is needed to keep up with where collaboration is and where it’s headed. Because the envelope is constantly being pushed, we must be agile, open-minded and focused.
Pre-Covid, I’d argue the balance of technology versus demand was shifted toward technology. We had the tools to collaborate, but not necessarily the willingness to use them. Now, because of the year we’ve all endured, the demand is keeping up with (or even outpacing) the technology available to meet that demand. We’re willing now more than ever to extend that hand to the stranger on LinkedIn and brainstorm with them.
Five years from now, I may be collaborating with an AI that helps me write an article while dictating everything to a voice assistant and having my car drive me to work. I know it sounds crazy, but that future is closer than we think.