READ TIME: 5 minutes
The following story is paraphrased from the book Abundance by Peter Diamandis:
An owner of a gold mine sent out his company’s most prized asset – the geological data normally locked in the safe – and made it freely available to the public. The result of the incentivized project ($500,000 to the successor) was three teams came in with pinpoint locations for the most gold. The prize money to the teams resulted in billions of dollars of gold on the open market. This situation is a great example of ‘tools of cooperation.’
Imagine a scenario within your organization where you send out your ‘industry secrets’ freely to let people solve the problems you incur. Most of your issues will be solved in-house with the talent surrounding the issue and project.
However, some problems may be beyond you and your team’s capabilities. Rather than struggling in the organizational vacuum, open up and let people in to help. I am talking about the tools of cooperation. These tools can be used to get people working together systematically.
In my experience crushing aggregate, the screen setup for separating the materials is the equivalent of the geological data in the gold mine example. Everyone has similar equipment, yet they cannot produce the results our organization could guarantee. The secret was in the screen sizes and arrangement.
No matter how specialized an aggregate would be, testing these setups proved to be the only way to get it right. If I suggested giving these screen sizes out to the public to help us solve the issue, I might have been terminated on the spot. To the organization, these secrets needed to be kept in-house for our eyes only.
Days would go by testing different arrangements to get the aggregates to pass specifications. I do not know the answer to this, but I wonder if days could have been hours had we sent out the problem to the public. Outsourcing and using tools of cooperation may not make sense in all aspects of problem-solving. However, some solutions can be enhanced through these tools.
They are grouped into four categories: power, management, leadership, and culture. Let’s explore:
In times of disagreement, you decide for the group. No more talking, debating, arguing, and so on. You lay down the law and move forward. Departments can take months to make decisions. At this point, you step in and tell them the next steps.
Within this category, subcategories of negotiation, strategic planning, and financial incentive appear. These tools help leaders insert their power when needed.
Power tools are only effective if you have the authority to use them. Without authority, you might as well be speaking to the wall. Leading a change program is nearly impossible without the authority to implement said change. If you are being undercut by other departments and authorities, your road to change will be bumpy.
Management tools include training, standard operating procedures, and measurement systems. Cause and effect agreement is important for this cooperation tool to work. If parties believe an operating procedure will help meet the targeted levels, cooperation follows.
Measuring success needs to be agreed upon as well. These metrics need to be accepted. If five widgets per hour need to be produced, yet the current equipment can only produce three widgets per hour, the five widgets per hour metric will not be possible. The metric for success does not make sense therefore cooperation is unlikely.
This cooperation tool focuses on results rather than process. It is not about how things get done, but the fact of getting out and doing them. Motivational speaking and vision are important aspects of leadership.
Vision statements convey this message accurately. Some accept them with open arms creating energy and inspiration. Others roll their eyes and get back to work. The agreement must be accepted as to what the employees want. If there is no agreement, there is no motivation.
I worked for an organization that wanted all divisions to work together, yet were structured in a way that incentivized separation. No department heads agreed on the vision and cooperation suffered as a result.
A strong culture can be self-managing. Many people within the organization possess similar thoughts, basic assumptions, and perceive events similarly. This strength means change is not likely. Cooperation lends itself to status quo rather than next level progress.
Other cooperation tools, like management and leadership, are used to maintain the existing culture. The beliefs within an organization like this are so deep that any conflict with said beliefs is a threat.
Cooperation within this type of organization will be natural or unnatural and change to the opposite nearly impossible. An organization where cooperation is baked into the culture will remain as such. A more siloed organization will be resistant to this new approach to cooperation and problem-solving.
Incentive-based problem solving may not fit your organization’s arrangement. However, using these cooperation tools to fit the organization may gain you enough leverage to begin the process.
Putting your issues out into the ether may receive no feedback. In theory, you would receive thousands of submissions eventually leading you to the breakthrough idea. In reality, you may receive none and remain at square one. It just takes one. If the initial feedback is not the right answer, it may lead to what you are looking for.
Industry secrets are not so secretive. During preconstruction meetings, estimators and project managers are always trying to pry open what information you possess. As they continue talking, you start to realize all of these companies have similar approaches. The difference lies in the resources. Your company may be better at problem-solving because your foreman has decades of experience and the equipment is newer.
Granted, there are technologies and intellectual properties that need to be protected to keep your advantage. Outsourcing those may lead to your demise. I find most construction industry secrets can be back engineered with enough time and effort. No one is going to the moon. Dirt moves from one site to another. Pipe is getting installed one at a time.
Opening Pandora’s box may not be as bad as the story leads you to believe. By letting the world in, you can receive feedback on everything large and small. This releasing of the chains allows the freedom of creativity to run wild.
Look at the gold mining example. This crazy idea turned into billions of dollars of revenues.