When the Exxon Valdez crashed into the Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989, it spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil. Cleanup efforts began right away and it dominated headlines for days and in some areas, weeks.
But the efforts to cleanup the ocean in this area lasted more than 20 years. In fact, even after two decades there were over 38,000 gallons of oil still to be cleaned up. One of the problems was the rate at which barges that collected the oil, could remove it from their holding tanks. The oil was thick like molasses and combined with the cold, it was slow to move. Those responsible for the cleanup were looking for a chemical solution, so naturally they asked chemists.
However, the solution didn’t come from chemistry – it came from construction. To prevent concrete from hardening under the hot sun, construction workers use concrete vibrates – like a blender – to keep the concrete soft and easy to manipulate. The solution was to fashion a similar device in the barges.
Why did this solution take so long to come up with? It wasn’t the end of a very long journey for a group of people – it was one of the first brand-new ideas from someone not even involved with the cleanup solution.
The same good fortune can happen for you and your company by enlisting a network of collaborators to help you solve some of your biggest problems. Nowhere will this be more valuable than when you are facing a crisis. When you’re in the middle of a crisis and in need of a solution, it can be very difficult to see the forest through the trees. Seeing outside of the area of specialization you work in is extremely difficult; you’re already in a stressful situation and the creativity required to see an out-of-the-box solution will take energy you may not have.
By collaborating with others, you’ll be able to hear of their experiences and viewpoints that will most likely be very different from yours. They’ll have ideas you’ve never thought of and likely never will.
In a best-case scenario, you’re going to have a group of people you network with from outside your area of expertise long in advance and be able to tap this resource quickly. But if you don’t, start developing it now.