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A borderless network for innovation

MiKE Project Manager Laurel Osman brings us this update on their activities:

We recently went out to film 12 participants for a short video we’re doing on MiKE. The participants ranged from CEOs, CTOs and heads of eCommerce, to a Chancellor, a new online fitness startup and even some high school freshmen. We were surprised to learn that a common theme in the interviews was how much each person enjoyed working with people they wouldn’t normally have access to.

That got us thinking. What’s the relationship between collaboration and innovation?
It seems that the rules governing innovation have changed dramatically. Outsourcing and partnerships with customers and suppliers have transformed the innovation process from ideas that percolate within a company’s own four walls to collaboration across a borderless network.

We’ve learned that the more open the collaboration, the faster and better the ideas are. Knowing this, we see a goal of MiKE to bring collaboration to a whole new level. We’re calling it a “human innovation ecosystem,” which at its core, means an environment for open collaboration between enterprise, education and entrepreneurs.

What the heck is a human innovation ecosystem?

The key factors driving the strength of our innovation ecosystem are:
1. diversity of talents,
2. trust across barriers,
3. motivations that rise above short-term rationality, and
4. a culture that promotes rapid “promiscuous” collaboration and experimentation.
These are the values we’re creating within MiKE, but more importantly, the values we want to create in the Milwaukee region.

In order to create an environment for other organizations to collaborate, MiKE has had to set an example by relying heavily on its partners to move the initiative forward. Our partners include major corporations like Kohl’s, Briggs & Stratton, Harley-Davidson and MillerCoors, along with arts advocacy groups, technology and design firms, and entrepreneurs.

We’ve learned a tremendous amount working with such a diverse group of participants.
The challenges:

• Milwaukee can be a city that values consolidation over collaboration. We have many similar organizations tackling overlapping issues, which can be viewed as a strength, but has also led to misunderstandings in the community.

• Brand confusion. Because there are multiple organizations, it has been hard to generate clear awareness around the MiKE brand. MiKE is new, launching with ArtPlace funding in September 2011, and many of its key partners are also new to the community. We’ve become aware of the need to avoid “alphabet soup” and sometimes put the MiKE brand first, understanding that we need to be sensitive to our partners contributions and always give fair credit.

What’s been easy:

• Trust among the organizations. Our partners see the big picture and the big goal: revitalize Milwaukee to create a future that is brighter than today. Without that common goal, we may not be as far as we are today.

• Idea generation. There is never a lack of things to do, and because of our trust, ideas come openly and without fear or ownership.

• A physical home for collaboration has been invaluable. Location impacts work culture and we’re lucky to have a collaborative space, OPEN MiKE, in downtown Milwaukee.

Why place matters for collaboration:

OPEN MiKE, our lab, offers a third-space to our constituencies. In any given week, you’ll see corporate board meetings, startups, independent designers, and high school groups using the space.

By opening the lab, we’ve embraced the signs of a changing way of working. People increasingly work in places other than their offices —and on teams that draw expertise from virtually anywhere in the world. The days of locking yourself in an office and emerging with a fully-baked plan are over. The lab creates an open invitation, to anyone, for collaboration.

Our advice:

Collaboration is necessary for innovation. It creates buy-in, iterative work makes things move faster, and in the end, you have a better product because it was developed from diverse perspectives.

We’ve also recognized the need to set a clear vision from the beginning. Many of our partners are not driven by earnings and revenue, but by values and mission. If that clear vision isn’t laid out in the beginning and agreed on, collaborative partnerships will not survive even the smallest of hurdles.

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