What is radical collaboration? And how will it help us change the world for the better?

Hannah Oldfield
Once upon a time, an entrepreneur called Seth had a crazy “what if..” thought.

What if a robot could pour a pint? And what if I could control this pint-pouring robot with my mind

Instead of leaving the thought in the pub like most of us would, he decided to make it happen.

He brought together engineers, neuroscientists and product designers. He put all the brains in one room and asked – is a mind-controlled beer-pouring robot possible? And, if it is, how do we get there?

This is the essence of radical collaboration. 

How can we reach outside our usual zones of influence to learn, grow and innovate?

When CHY was trying to engage with young people around mental health, we spoke to Seth about the idea of radical collaboration in a bid to try a fresh approach. 

“People with different skills, brains and life experience can produce wondrous things,” says Seth. “Gather a group of automotive advertising executives in a room and ask them to come up with car innovation and, surprise, surprise, you end up with the same old ideas. Try that again but throw in a psychologist, a choreographer and a robotics expert and see how that changes. When you’re no longer constrained by area-specific expertise, you can dare to dream – and that is at the heart of all true innovation.”

As well as talking to the usual young people’s charities and groups, we looked at how Seth’s digital marketing company was using technology to sell entertainment – music by artists like Ariana Grande and Dizzee Rascal – to young people through their campaigns. What channels were they using? What approaches? What was working? What could we learn?

As a result we developed four mobile apps that engaged people on mental health issues, experimenting with gamification and augmented reality to make it fun and engaging for our audience. One of our proudest achievements was “How Happy?” – a super simple app that tracks workforce wellbeing to let companies know what’s working and where they can make improvements. It’s recently been piloted and doing well.

Would we have managed all this on our own? No way. 

Has it been a steep, scary but ultimately valuable learning curve? Hell yes.

As social value consultants, we are collaborators by nature. We need to connect with people, and connect people with each other, to do good.

But, like in a lot of industries, there’s a real danger of getting caught in the “tried and tested” trap. Speaking to the same people. Hearing the same ideas. And getting nowhere.

That’s where the “radical” part comes in.

What could we achieve if we were a little bit braver? Could we lower the drawbridge and let our competitors in for a conversation where we learn from each other? And what about industries we know nothing about? Can we approach them and say – we love what you’re doing, can we learn from you? And what might we be able to give you in return?

Of course ”radical” might look very different in different organisations, depending on how conservative your company culture or sector is to begin with, and how far minds need to open to make things happen in a different way.

Radical for your organisation might be as simple as questioning the way things are done – could we do this better? How can we? Who can we ask that might have some insight? How do we make that happen?

It might be calling in expertise from outside of your sector, potentially somewhere completely different to the normal spheres you work within. If you’re designing a new development, how about getting in touch with psychologists as well as architects?

Or it could be coming together with a competitor over a mutually beneficial goal and leaving egos at the door – for the good of the industry, the community, or the planet. And it will do you both good too – almost certainly.

We’ve seen impossible collaborations happen over the course of the last few years to help the public through a hugely challenging time. If we can work together to help people during a pandemic, how else might we do good by collaborating and learning from each other to iterate and improve?

Incidentally, here’s that mind-controlled beer-pouring robot in action

Just goes to show that however outlandish your dreams may seem, making them a reality may only be a radical collaboration away…!