In the technology-focused Bay Area, collaboration is the key to “building a better human existence,” says Brad Maihack, ’78 Business Administration. The retired executive spent more than 40 years directing business operations and leading global teams at Hewlett Packard and at a range of high-tech and innovation-centered Silicon Valley companies. He also is a former executive-in-residence for SJSU’s Global Leadership Advancement Center’s Social Innovation Initiative, which he funded, and the co-creator of SJSU’s Social Innovation Leadership Forum.
The Job Maestro asked Maihack for tips to help “unleash collaborative innovation,” which he says happens at the intersection of art, design, tech, engineering, business, social sciences—and our individual human experiences. Learn how to bring technology, business models and design ideas together to serve people in need.
- Be clear about what you personally want to accomplish.
- Make sure your goals are clear to your audience. People need to understand what you’re talking about to really collaborate with you.
- Attract the right people who share your passion and specific focus. You need an interdisciplinary team that can see the world through different lenses and therefore understand solutions from different points of view, whether that’s finance, technology, human services, sales or distribution.
- Understand the ecosystem for which you’re innovating. It’s amazing how many people attempt to solve social problems and they don’t even know what the current social services or community infrastructure are, who the stakeholders and clients are, or the people who are currently providing support and funding. Invite the community in and be proactive in engaging the right partners to find a place in the ecosystem where you can be successful.
- Experience the problem. Everybody on your team has to understand the problem of the community, rather than just trying to drive a solution. Have your team go out and experience a day in the life of the community or the client. Live it, watch the person go through their day, read about it. Understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. Understand what the challenges are. When you come back together, you will be talking about a very clear problem as seen from your own points of view. Then you can start to brainstorm possible solutions or elements of solutions, create a small set of innovative ideas to evaluate and prototype, and then go back to your clients to test those ideas.
- Listen and be patient. Social innovation can be slow. You have to bring people along. Seek to really understand and appreciate very diverse points of view, and be confident that you’re not giving up your point of view because you’re listening. The first meeting you go to is not a debate. You will hear opportunities present themselves that you may never have thought about.