I was asked recently to contribute some thoughts under the heading of "Transdisciplinary collaboration". How do you encourage two different communities of innovators to work together? Is there anything that collaborators can do to deliver better projects when working across sector boundaries?

For me the critical thing is translation. I believe:

  • a single message for two communities doesn't work. We have to describe the challenge for each community in a language it understands;
  • that creates engagement but we have to be careful not to use up the goodwill these potential collaborators show; every step along the journey should be based on their needs. By example, organising one event is cheaper than organising two, but throwing two communities in with one another in the hoping of creating the elusive 'fusion' is not sufficient;
  • at the point where one groups acknowledges it needs the other, that's when we bring them together. The dialogue is sparked by each business seeing the value that another business (from another sector/discipline) can offer;
  • once projects start being formed we can help with project planning. Different disciplines plan projects differently, particularly the latter, crucial and often poorly executed exploitation phase;
  • the innovation process itself is gruelling and differences in culture can further damp down the excitement about the potential of the project that fuelled its early stages;
  • new or inexperienced companies need innovation mentoring, so they understand the space they're working in and how to keep going. It's not about teaching them how to be innovative (they know better than anyone) but it's about helping them to deal with the roadblocks they meet along the way. They can be encouraged to look to their partners for support, when too often they go silent and pretend everything is fine;
  • ultimately most transdiscipline collaboration fails because of poor communication, a lack of acceptance or a derth of realism. Project partners set high expectations of one another but sometimes lack the understanding of the other's working practice, constraints or capability. When those expectations are dashed, there's often not a discussion of how they can work together to improve the next revision and quickly a blame culture can emerge, which poisons the completion.

It's simple stuff, but in the Creative Industries, I've seen companies fall foul and also transcend these pitfalls. It's a great process.