Let’s Collaborate – what’s the worst that could happen? — Lionesses of Africa

by Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

Totally shocked at the news that we won’t see the incredible, inspirational, the one, the only Serena at Wimbledon again, let alone in other Tennis Tournaments around the globe after the US Open, given her announcement of her impending retirement, or as she says (here): “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”. What a career, what an inspiration – 23 major singles titles; four Olympic gold medals; 319 weeks at No 1 in the world rankings; to say nothing of the drive to follow their dreams she gave to millions off the court, that they too could break glass ceilings and follow their passions – no matter the obstacles.

Searching through the internet for mentions of Serena to feed our sadness, we came across a post from 2009 from our fav Nigerian artist, the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter India Arie.  Not really needing an excuse to watch her music videos, we turned the speakers on full blast and sat back.

Imagine our joy when we realized that the India had been invited to collaborate with the great guitarist Carlos Santana and the world’s greatest living Cellist, Yo Yo Ma, in a version of George Harrison’s incredible piece ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Now there’s a serious collaboration. Indeed as India said: “Collaborating with Santana is [and she pauses…] perfect.” [These pauses are important as Ebony magazine points out (here): “Arie understands the power of words, at times noticeably pausing to think before offering a response to questions.”]

…and I KNOW that song, I have always loved that energy, that very etherial energy of the song, and once I finally heard Carlos’ part, all of it felt even more [pause again] like a new love…Even more exciting.

…But Yo Yo Ma is WAY out there for me, I never even thought to wish to work with YO YO MA !!” You can listen to the excitement this all created in India when she repeats what she told her mother at the time by watching her interview here. This from the always modest – indeed modest to a fault, India Arie, a globally recognized singer songwriter who has herself set the world alight with her incredible music (having sold over 5 million records in the US and 10 million worldwide, winning four Grammy Awards from her 23 nominations, including Best R&B Album), acting like a teenager over a collaboration for a song that she knew inside out.

Being part of this album, is a sign that I am aligned with the kind of people I want to be. You never thought that you would even get to shake their hand and they want you on a record…”.

“I am aligned to the people I want to be”, if we make allowances for her crazy (to us) modesty, this to us, shows that she wants to be aligned with people that have her level of skill, passion, drive and most importantly, values.

It is interesting that this should be the song chosen as inspiration for such a collaboration, for it came to Harrison when reading the Chinese book ‘I Ching’, or “The Book of Changes”. As Harrison put it, “[the book] seemed to me to be based on the Eastern concept that everything is relative to everything else, as opposed to the Western view that things are merely coincidental.

Taking this to heart he resolved to write a song based upon the first words he saw on opening a random page in the book. Thankfully for the world the first words he first saw were “gently weeps” (‘Published by Penguin’ might not have worked quite so well, we feel).

However, this concept that ‘everything is relative to everything else’ is so important and that applies to business too and especially to collaborations where you are wanting to collaborate with those that bring something special to the business, yet at the same time have the same level of skill, passion, drive and values as yourself. Drop part of these in your search for a collaboration partner and the end result will sadly be dragged down and become relative to that lowest point.

Possibly this is why collaborations are often feared and many times ignored. The belief that we have to do everything on our own is wrong – perhaps we think it is the only way we can keep our high standards, high. This is misguided. We don’t have to build our expertise across many different skills. Indeed customers don’t come to us because we are a ‘Jack (or Jane) of all trades’, but because we are a Queen of a niche area. If you want to be a generalist, suddenly you come up against the Walmarts of this world – and there is only one winner there!

As Goldman Sachs point out in their report entitled: ‘‘A Survivor’s Guide To Disruption’ (here): “[b]y leveraging other firms to provide core business functions…companies can scale their businesses at a faster pace than before and access expertise or technology that would otherwise have been out of their reach…businesses can thus do what they need to do to compete, not only more cheaply, but also more quickly and – most importantly – better than they could on their own.

It is now easier than ever for companies to concentrate on their core business – that which makes them great. They can celebrate that they are an incredible singer with a voice that melts all from a thousand yards, whilst collaborating with one of the world’s greatest Guitarists and Cellists. Although India plays incredibly on the guitar, even she would admit she is no Santana, so why not use his gifts – likewise with the Cello.

This fact was clearly recognised by Carlos Santana who invited India and YoYo to collaborate on this incredible song. He was not ‘bolting’ on just anyone, but the leaders in that particular field (Carlos will be the first to admit we are sure that his voice would not have quite the same impact as India’s!), this collaboration then goes out under his name on his album it so it appears that this is all one big happy, incredibly well run company or family under his inspirational leadership. This is so powerful.

You know that the partner will not let you down because they really are leaders in their field. Plus they have invested in areas you were unable to either afford (in time to train yourself, or in money), or never realized you needed…

By leveraging other firms to provide core business functions…companies can scale their businesses at a faster pace than before and access expertise or technology that would otherwise have been out of their reach…businesses can thus do what they need to do to compete, not only more cheaply, but also more quickly and – most importantly – better than they could on their own.

This…allows firms to organize themselves around their sources of competitive advantage…Today, the best firms are typically organized around what they do well and – to the extent that they can – rely on other firms to do the rest.

This is even better if you find a company willing to ‘white-label’ their expertise. Just as India and Yo Yo’s brilliance appeared on Carlos’ album, so you can do a deal with a company that is also willing for you to use their expertise, but everything appears as if part of your organisation.

This has impact in two major areas:

1. You suddenly appear much larger than you are. Much like the Polyphemus Moth that has two large black rings on its wings that look from a distance as if they are two large eyes belonging to a very large animal and so predators better stay away.

2. Customers are more relaxed because you have the size to support them on their journey at a time when secure and stable supply chains are so valuable.

You can concentrate on having the very best product or service, happy that the rest is being looked after by a group that is also concentrating on being the best in their area. You are not chasing the dream of being the best at everything, be it product, or service, or trucking, or shipping, or last mile delivery, or even a call centre! Or you collaborate your business that trains SMEs with an accounting firm that specializes in SMEs, so that each part shares in the success of the other whilst making customers ‘sticky’.

The possibilities are endless.

What makes a collaboration or indeed, any partnership, great?

At the core of this is VALUES.

Whoever you choose to partner with, or white label from, or any kind of collaboration, at the core are your Values. Here you can never sell yourself short. They must think like you. Rumours of bribes or corruption (a problem across the globe) is a no no. Treat their staff badly? – Another no no. Shout loudly at the crowd or Umpire? No chance… Whatever values you have – must be reflected in all parts of your business and all businesses that your business touches. This is so central to any successful collaboration.

Values – like the ones shown in tennis by Andy Murray who calls himself a feminist – “Have I become a feminist? Well, if being a feminist is fighting for a woman to be treated like a man, then yes,  suppose I have.” and constantly shows this in his actions by calling out reporters who ignore or forget the incredible achievements by women and especially the Williams sisters…One such interview (here) he corrected a reporter who was gushing about how great it was for Murray to have been the first to win two Olympic golds, to which Murray calmly pointed out that Serena and Venus had each won 4…

Serena sees this too. “I do not think there is a woman player who is not totally supportive of Andy Murray. He has spoken up for women’s rights, especially in tennis, forever. He has such a wonderful mother, who has been such a strong figure in his life and he has done so much for us on our tour. We love Andy Murray.”(Here)

So what happened when Serena who had been slowed down by knee pain needed extra match practice coming into Wimbledon? She turned to someone with her own values and collaborated with Andy who was recovering from hip surgery, to play in the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles. Being such an inspiration to so many, Serena recognised that with whomever she partnered, had to have her own values, likewise we are certain, the same for Andy (here).

If you align with someone or a business that has your level of skill, passion, drive and values and yet has a different but much needed skill set – what’s the worst that could happen? For Serena and Andy it was being knocked out in the 3rd round – but they clearly had fun, they did what they set out to do (gain much needed court time under pressure) and Wimbledon had for the first time put the mixed doubles on Centre Court, making them and many within the Tennis World sit up and notice the excitement…

Stay safe.

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