The Value of Collaborating with Strange Bedfellows

February 5, 2019

Recently, this topic of collaborating with strange bedfellows has come up repeatedly. There can be significant value and strategic advantage created in collaborating with unlikely partners if there are clear objectives, trust and an open mind. Just think about Amazon’s collaboration with the U.S. Postal service. Amazon is clearly famous for rapid, same-day, even Sunday deliveries whereas the U.S. postal service is definitely not known for agility and speed yet they understand and are proficient with the ‘last mile’.

Kash Gokli & I host the Harvey Mudd executive roundtables, and the topic of collaborating with competitors as well as unlikely partners arose in our recent roundtable. In the ‘right’ situation at the ‘right’ time, it can maximize service and value. Also, I am a Board member of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and member of the Southern CA Logistics council, and this topic of collaboration has arose on multiple occasions. We recently led a collaboration session with 10 academic institutions. Of course, they all compete from several respects yet there are opportunities for 1+1+1 = 25. And this is just the beginning. When it is put together with collaborations with industry and government, perhaps 25 can turn into 100 or 1000. Last but not least, I met with UCR students last night to encourage their involvement in manufacturing and supply chain and invite their participation in APICS-IE. We had this exact conversation about collaborating with their competitors (Cal Poly Pomona, CSUSB etc.). Are you exploring collaborations with strange bedfellows?

One tip to implement this week: 
Perhaps it is as simple as opening your mind to new possibilities. Think about the person or entity you would most want to avoid joining your collaboration. What if you gave it a chance? For example, I remember a distinct time a few years ago when I was involved with a group. Someone in the group brought up a new member who would be the last person I’d want to join our group. I felt like I was collaborating with a diverse set of people, and we were making great progress. I just didn’t like this person. Although I didn’t say it, I cursed my bad luck on the way home because I just wasn’t excited about collaborating. 

Fast-forward several months and it turned out that the new participant added unique value that probably would not have occurred otherwise. Although I still wouldn’t want to have dinner with this person outside of our work together, I’m glad I gave it a chance or I would have missed out on fantastic benefits and a learning opportunity. We have all been there, and sometimes we are right to be hesitant. Can you achieve a shared goal? Is trust possible as it relates to the objective? Assuming so, I vote for exploring the opportunity. Perhaps it is the next Amazon/ U.S. Postal Service collaboration.

Collaboration goes hand-in-hand with resilience. In today’s markeplace, there is no doubt the resilient will thrive. If your key supplier or customer is devastated by a natural disaster, power outage or unexpected shutdown or other disruptor, have you thought about collaborating with strange bedfellows to serve your customers? You cannot wait until the issue occurs! Creating a resilient end-to-end supply chain is of paramount importance. For more information, check out our new resilient supply chain series and contact us if you’d like to have an assessment of your organization.