A few years ago I was on a trip with my Mum in Switzerland. She is a Girl Guide leader and from a young age she taught me how to lay a fire and to ensure it would go all night with no more than two matches. We were staying at a Girl Guides Chalet and some Boy Scouts were visiting for a traditional campfire. The Scouts had tried unsuccessfully to get the fire started. So, naturally we stepped in.
Instead of a haphazard pile of wood, we built a council fire, which is structured as a square based pyramid, with alternate layers of sticks in each direction. Once the fire was lit it continued to burn through the layers, leaving wonderful coals for our marshmallows later in the evening.
Like a fire, collaboration needs structure, if the ideas are to burn beyond a spark. Valuable ideas aren't created in a vacuum, rather they emerge from within a cultural context and have their foundation in existing knowledge. Beyond the serendipity of random interactions, a structured collaborative process can help to build on these foundations, rather than discard them.
Last week I wrote about how collaboration for innovation needs to be safe. It also needs to be structured, to make the most of collective learning, both past and present.