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Collaboration: the key to new ideas

By Eleanor Shaw - Posted on 22 March 2018

Having set out some areas of entrepreneurship in Scotland to examine in yesterday’s blog, Professor Eleanor Shaw now takes a more in-depth look at the questions she asked.

In today’s blog I’ll attempt to provide some responses to my initial questions and identify some of the things I believe Scotland can do to help it leap frog up global indexes for productivity, innovation, GVA and also, well-being, happiness, more even wealth distribution and, of course, inclusive growth.

So first of all I will look at: What can we do to be more joined up, more collaborative?

  • As a small nation, we can be even more joined up and collaborative. Sure, competition is healthy but with a focus on the bigger picture, the benefits of more and more impactful collaborations which raise the competitiveness of Scotland as a nation are within our grasp. Knowing what our partners do and how they can help our institutions, our students and even our clients, can help ensure we are making best use of Scotland’s collective skills set, ‘know how’ and  ‘know who’. 
  • As well as our world leading research institutions and colleges and our enterprise agencies, we have some great peer-to-peer networks and business and entrepreneurial communities including Chambers of Commerce, Entrepreneurial Scotland, WeDo Scotland, Future X Innovation and the recently launched Entrepreneurs in Residence. These are just a few such industry and entrepreneur-led collaborations – there are many more. All of these are, of course, a tremendous asset for Scotland but I do worry that we are not always leveraging these assets for Scotland’s collective advantage.
  • As well as stronger signposting of the numerous ways in which industry and enterprise can collaborate with our research institutions and colleges - especially for smaller-sized organisations - I wonder what type of step change we could create if we focused on raising our competitiveness through greater collaboration and less of a focus on competitive rivalry which typically creates a downward spiral and a race to the bottom.
  • This takes me to another of my questions, What can we do to encourage a Scottish psyche that’s built on open, growth-focused mind-sets?

Collaborating with our ‘competitors’ or with partners we don’t know well can be challenging. I think however that we can overcome this if we encourage a Scottish psyche that’s built on open, growth-focused mind-sets. In fact, I’ll go further: I think if our knowledge exchanges are going to be more impactful; if they are going to better leverage the inventions, research findings and knowledge generated by our universities and colleges and by our scientists, engineers and coders, it’s essential that we shift our national mind-set.

Let me support this recommendation with some research from a recent Nesta study which sought to understand why some small nations - those with populations of less than 10 million - are more innovative that others. Remember, the National Records for Scotland estimates our population is just short of 5.5 million.

Common to the economies involved in the Nesta study - which included Finland, Estonia, Israel and Singapore - is ‘an openness to the world, its ideas and opportunities’. 

As a nation which invented the telephone, colour photography, Watt’s improved steam engine, the first fax machine, chloroform as an anaesthetic, the Wilson Cloud Chamber and Dolly the Sheep, and founded the great traditions of national parks (which John Muir started in the US and are now a global phenomenon) - to name just a few Scottish innovations - we have demonstrated that Scots can be open to new ideas and we should seek to regain the confidence we oozed when we spearheaded the outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments we contributed during the Scottish Enlightenment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We would do well to remember this innovative, entrepreneurial history and seek to build on this history rather than reminding ourselves of what we almost seem to take an unhappy pleasure from: our ‘Glorious Defeats’ - particularly in relation to our sporting disappointments.

Where do we start and how do we do this? 

Of course, parenting, education and socialisation are all critical. Writing on this in the Harvard Business Review, Stanford Professor Carol Dweck published some interesting findings: children who ‘relish’ failure are more adept at identifying opportunities, they are more entrepreneurial and they believe they can learn new skills and talents. In contrast, children who regard failure as the ‘end of the world’ have a fixed mind-set and believe that people either have talents or don’t. Given this, people with a fixed mind-set often see no point in trying to acquire talents and skills they do not believe they possess.

Now you may be asking, ‘why is this relevant’? Well this is where Dweck’s article gets even more interesting – Dweck wanted to find out whether organisations have fixed or open mind-sets. Her research with Fortune 1000 companies has indeed found this to be the case. Dweck and her research team identified that organisations with a growth mind-set are more likely to be more innovative and collaborative.

If then, there is a link between open, growth-focused mind-sets and collaborations and innovations in and between organisations, this is an important breakthrough in our understanding that could be vitally important to Scotland, helping it celebrate the successes of collaboration rather than a fixation on our ‘glorious defeats’.

Add to this, the impending tsunami that is AI and we desperately need open-minded, growth focused talent that can help us be disruptors rather than be disrupted.

So what lessons can we learn from successful innovative parts of the world? I’ll be addressing this in tomorrow’s blog.

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