Thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution? Lessons from the Blue Layer

(Photo by Katarzyna Urbanek on Unsplash)

I have recently become obsessed with ocean stingers. But not just any ocean stingers  – the focus of my passion is Blue Bottles and their extended family. I spend much of my life by the ocean (a recent change) and of late there has been a carpet of millions of these delicate, beautiful and pain-delivering structures washing up on the shores at our local beach.

As children we were scared of them and a sting per summer was a rite of passage. We would also (I shamefully admit) jump on them just to hear their exquisite pop (the old school bubble wrap thrill I guess).

But now I only stand back and admire them.

It occurred to me that I really knew nothing about them so I decided to change that (#life long learning). And as it happens they are part of a marvellous, collaborative, symbiotic organism that travels our oceans clustered together in a true wonder of nature. They are all part of what is known as the Blue Layer (or Blue Armada).

The first amazing fact about this colony is that the blue of the Blue Layer is specifically for camouflage from the air and they are cleverly white underneath so fish find them hard to see.

They are many, not one, species. There is the By-the-Wind Sailor and Blue Sun which have a sail and short tentacles and do not survive as a single species but only as part of the colony. The aforementioned Blue Bottle has a single coiled tentacle that can be metres in length and they too do not exist as a single organism. There is the Violet Shell  which, unlike the other members of the Blue Layer, is a single organism. And it is actually a predator of  the other members. The Violet Shell is always born as a male and later changes into a female. The final member of the Armada is the Sea Lizard which abides with the Blue Bottle because its main source of nutrition is eating parts of its friend’s tentacles.

Segue into words of wisdom from the World Economic Forum who forecast that partnerships are the way forward for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And Tom Friedman, New York Times columnist and Future of Work aficionado, contends that ‘communities who form complex adaptive coalitions…are the proper governing unit of the 21st century’.

The Future Work Skills Academy is an agile coalition. A group of collaborators connected through the desire to unlock the potential of human workers in the age of accelerations. Without the spirit of collaboration this initiative would never have even the remotest spark of life. It is an example of an agile, adaptive coalition.

We as individuals and businesses need to start thinking like the Blue Layer; to form different collaborations and partnerships because without them we will not survive and thrive in this current, massive technological disruption.

So what sort of opportunities for partnerships are there and what are their benefits? As you know partnerships aren’t a new phenomenon so the following will be of no surprise. What is valuable to reflect upon is something that partnerships now offer that they perhaps haven’t in the past; a solution to the speed of change where, whether you are solo or part of an organisation, the factors required to exploit fast moving opportunities may be impossible to achieve solo. Agile partnerships are an answer (not the answer; you know as there are downsides to partnerships  – think of predators and your friend that eats your tentacles  – but I prefer to focus on the positive)

 Startups and Corporate Incumbents

Enrica Sighinolfi of the Opportunity Network says that partnerships between incumbent players and startups are the way forward for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Benefits: start ups bring specific know how and agility (and potentially lean operations) and corporates wisdom, capital, infrastructure and market access.

Multi-collaborators on one project

Jason P. Davis, INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise, writes in Forbes about the highly collaborative process required to produce a game changing gadget. Referring to the iPhone he highlights that it would not exist were it not for dozens, if not hundreds, of collaborations between Apple and its partners around the world.

Benefits: skills and competencies that only exist in a crowd.

Community and Corporate Partnerships

It takes a village to solve social problems. Grass roots organisations understand and are connected to the problem and the system it inhabits. Corporates have cash and expertise in product and service innovation. As an example, The Guardian reports that Recyclebank turned recycling into a game by uniting cities, citizens and companies around a system of exchange and rewards. Citizens are encouraged to recycle more by earning points that can be redeemed for discounts and deals on products and services from Recyclebank’s network of more than 100 corporate sponsors.

Benefits: dollars, knowledge and reach only exist when these two organisms form a species.

Two is Not a Crowd

Group collaborations not for you? How about teaming up with a partner? Need to be inspired by some past (and present) glories? Think Larry Page and Serge Brin of Google, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple, Jenn Hyman and Jenny Fleiss of Rent the Runway, Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King of Oprah Inc., Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

Benefits: Two people will bring different skills but usually shared values and vision. It’s a killer combination when it works.

Whichever you choose, choose something. The world is increasingly becoming more like the Blue Layer so join the Armada and thrive.

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