A few weeks ago Long-Term Living published an article titled: “National collaborative will foster innovation in senior housing and financing models”.  I was intrigued because Senior Housing Forum is all about conversation and collaboration.  

A few weeks ago Long-Term Living published an article titled: “National collaborative will foster innovation in senior housing and financing models”.  I was intrigued because Senior Housing Forum is all about conversation and collaboration.  The article is about a new initiative sponsored by LeadingAge, an organization I am very fond of.  The goal of the initiative according to the article is . .

“. . . to develop replicable and financeable solutions that address the needs of varied senior populations, are comprehensive and are integrated with larger community initiatives.”

A worthy goal, but I found myself wondering if in fact, a collaboration by a bunch of entities can really pull it off innovation.  It may seem contradictory to the Senior Housing Forum goal of fostering conversation and collaboration, to suggest that a collaborative effort may not be the the best way to innovate.  While I hope I am wrong here is my case:


Collaboration by definition is the process of gathering together a group of stakeholders; people who share decision making to solve a problem or set of problems they are mutually invested in.  The idea is that by working in a collaborative fashion, new and better ideas will emerge and perhaps as importantly, because there are many minds are looking at both the problem and solutions, it is more likely that someone will identify  weaknesses in proposed solutions.

Two Big Collaboration Problems

Collaboration is a good way to solve well defined problems where there is already a set of possible solutions.  It is a terrible way to innovate.  There are two reasons why collaboration is an ineffective . . .  even impossible path to innovation:

1.  Unequal Power –  Good collaborative efforts put considerable time and effort into making sure all stakeholders have a voice.  The process may even include a framework that allows the minor stakeholders have a disproportionately strong voice. Yet for all of that, some participants will have much more influence than others.  In some cases it is strength that comes from position and in other cases, it comes from having a strong charismatic or forceful personality.

2.  Accommodation –  The word collaboration suggests that everyone has a voice and every voice has value.  This means that as solutions begin to emerge there is an innate tendency to make sure everyone has contributed to the solution.  That each person can say about some part of the solution “That was my idea”  or  “my contribution.”  This means that ultimately, the solution(s) will regress to the mean, in other words regress to something that accommodates everyone even if not optimal.

Collaboration that Leads to Innovation

Yet for all of that, it is possible that collaboration can lead to innovation.  Here is how it can work:

Preamble: Innovation requires dreamers and not everyone is an innovator/dreamer.  Innovators, are readers, they are curious, they are willing to fail, to even embrace failure, knowing that failure will lead to success. While some people are more adept at dreaming than others, anyone who wants to can learn to be a dreamer and innovator.

  1. After the collaborative group dissects  problem and develops solutions the innovators can go to work.
  2. Some individual or very small group (one, two or maybe three) takes a look at the problem and the solutions, and begins to think about things.  They begin to use both the problem and the solutions as a springboard for dreaming.
  3. As the dreaming evolves an idea emerges and ultimately blossoms into something brand new, something fresh, something amazing.  Something truly innovative.

How are you doing at innovation?  What is the most innovative thing you have done in your organization in the last year?

While writing this article I came across this fantastic article from Fast Company: Research-You’re Doing It Wrong.  How Uncovering The Unconscious is Key to Creativity.  It provides some intriguing insight as to how senior communities and organizations might approach both future development and sales and marketing efforts. -Steve Moran If you like this story it would be a great honor to me if you would subscribe to our email list.

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