Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cross-functional Collaboration

Now that I am reading a book on ideas, I have been thinking a lot about ideas in general. One practice that I’ve actively encouraged and pushed during my years as a knowledge manager is cross-functional conversations/collaboration. And, based on what I’ve learned, I’ve always associated this concept with innovation. I don’t think I’ve ever explained exactly why it leads to innovation apart from the generally stating that cross-functional collaboration leads to fresh thinking and unbiased ideas. I think it is worthwhile to examine the theory and dwell upon exactly what happens because of which cross-functional conversations/collaboration leads to innovation.

- When people who are unaware of each other’s area of work meet, they are bound to ask some very fundamental questions of each other. Many of these would be questions starting with “why”? People who are into something for long rarely muster the courage and the wisdom to ask why they’ve been doing what they’ve been doing. But when someone else asks such a question, we are forced to answer it or at least attempt to answer it. And this involves re-thinking the basics among other things. Going back to the basics can result in innovation as this entails a movement towards effectiveness.

- If the two teams/individuals from cross-functional areas are adventurous enough, innovation can happen when ideas from the two fields are combined. There are a plethora of examples of real world inventions that arose from combinations of ideas from two different fields. For example, I remember reading about the combination of a suitcase and wheels leading to the creation of trolleys.

- Cross-functional collaboration can lead to innovation in the area of problem-solving. When people with quite different ideas get together and attempt to crack a problem that one of the fields/teams is facing, it is likely to lead to unconventional ideas that would otherwise be considered silly and weird. If the problem is faced by one field, the other field may not think twice about suggesting ideas that are in no way biased by previous experience. The field that is facing the problem is not only likely to be biased by their experiences but also likely to be emotionally vulnerable thus preventing it from thinking wild. All that is required for such solutions to be applied is for the team in the field which is facing the problem to be open-minded.

- My final thought on this topic is cross-application. Anybody exposed to even a little spiritual thinking may have learned that underneath all the variety that this world sports, at the core of everything lies the same soul. For that matter, even science points to the similarities of matter at the lowest level. If we look hard enough and observe the similarities and differences between the two fields, borrowing an idea or a concept from one field and applying it in another may lead to innovation in the latter. Biomimicry is an example. Many of the revolutionary things that man has achieved are based on what he has learned from the other forms of life on earth.

Would be great to know your thoughts on this topic. Is there something I’ve missed out?

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