By Dan Sodergren 

I wasn’t taught at school to collaborate. I was taught to work by myself. To pass exams. To be successful. On my own. To not pass notes. And from what I understood from school. Collaborators were the bad people in history.

They were “collaborators”.

Today, however, in the tech world – collaboration has become a powerful buzz word – and a must do. But should we all collaborate?

First let’s define collaboration.

So what’s collaboration?

  1. the action of working with someone to produce something.
  2. traitorous cooperation with an enemy.

Isn’t it interesting that the definition of it – holds the two contrasting points. Both positive and negative*. My preferred definition, from Ephraim Freed, is a simpler on which is “collaboration” is:

“Two or more people working together towards shared goals.”

It’s simple but effective. Such simplicity is desperately needed as “collaboration” has become an overly-hyped term. This preferred simple definition includes three parts:

  1. Two or more people (team)
  2. Working together (processes)
  3. Towards shared goals (purpose)

This definition provides a simple and solid framework for understanding. For starters, collaboration takes place in teams.

A big group of people using social software together. This doesn’t mean they are a collaboration. It may be a conversation. It may be curation. It may be cooperation. It might even be knowledge sharing. But it is not a collaboration.

Why does this matter?

In Manchester collaboration in and between tech companies is being called for. But the purpose i.e. the reason why is not always shared between them. I would argue then that this is not collaboration.

Last year, the Manchester Evening News said we needed more collaboration. And highlighted Media City as a key place already doing this. Which is true. But does Media City have a shared purpose?

Places like The Landing and UTC@MediacityUK might collaborate. Particularly, on ideas like “live briefs” where The Landing sets tasks for the students of UTC. This IS classic collaboration.

BUT… does the whole place collaborate?

Other articles written last year, expounded about the need for more collaboration. In the MPA touting “collaboration and innovation in Manchester.” And how Greater Manchester has only just started citing ideas like:

“Cisco working with Manchester Science Partnerships to open a new innovation hub – Mi-DEA. The planned expansion of MediaCityUK and the construction of more digital, creative and fintech centres.” Are all collaborative.

All these things have come to pass – and more. We now have lots of places for collaboration.

But why should we collaborate?

One of the reasons is financial. As more we collaborate with each other the more productive we will become. And this has a bottom line implication. As according to a new report from Tech North. The tech economy in the north of England can grow to £5.7 billion through better collaboration between tech clusters.

Whilst these initiatives such as:

All contribute to enriching the tech, creative and digital sector in Greater Manchester. Are they all working in collaboration?

And do new ideas from non tech companies like UKFast around mentoring help the ecosystem? Are they collaborative? They speak about collaborating. As Tech Manchester is meant to be:

“A place for the tech community to engage and collaborate. Driving economic growth and raising the city’s profile on an international scale.”

Is this true? Only time will tell.

Talking don’t make it so…

We have to remember that talking together doesn’t mean collaborating. Communication is a start but it is not the end goal.

As our round tables at UTC@MediaCityUK have proven – they are just the start.

For them to do more we have to all collaborate together to create something new. We hope we will.

As ZDnet put it in its white paper. The difference between communication and collaboration is:

“One is a simple exchange of information. The other is the co-creation of shared outcomes that are richer than they would be otherwise. Because the participants respond to learning and insight during the process itself.”

Should tech companies be more collaborative?

Should the creative industries do more joint ventures partnerships and work together?

Do we in business have a shared goal and a shared responsibility to make Manchester and the UK better? Or are we paying lip service to the ideal. Remember communication is NOT collaboration.

What do you think?

Over to you to collaborate with this article.

And if you would like to collaborate with us collaborators in education – at UTC@MediaCityUK – do be in touch.

*In modern tech and digital communities, collaboration is taken as the vanguard. It is number one. The first definition. Seen as the one true light. Something that has to be done to be successful. Those who are seen not to collaborate are sometimes alienated, I can tell you from experience.

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