The following is based on an opinion piece delivered as a keynote by Peter Baumgartner, chief strategic adviser at Etihad Airways, during the European Aviation Symposium in Munich…
In everyday life, there is nothing unusual about the idea that by working together, everyone wins.
We teach our kids how to cooperate with others.
Later in life, cooperation is seen as an essential interpersonal skill.
In fact, it seems as if certain forms of cooperation have actually evolved naturally, and – even though I’m surely no expert on this – not just in humans.
Yet, curiously, this often changes very quickly in a business environment.
For “competitive” businesses, cooperation doesn’t always have the best of reputations.
The idea of “partnership” is, if at all allowed, reduced to its simplest form.
I would argue that this is a mistake, particularly in increasingly complex environments.
I firmly believe that creative, novel forms of working together will be the key to success.
For this, our mindset and culture must change.
We must recognise that we live in a fast-paced and highly dynamic “new normal”.
This is obviously true not only for the aviation sector.
We all know that even simple, traditional partnerships can help create scale, and extend and enhance vertical integration.
Yet we also need to explore new, creative forms of working together, particularly in today’s world of technologically-driven innovation.
The ability to develop and manage an ecosystem of horizontal, vertical and complementary partnerships is crucial – for everyone.
We know partnerships work, but we need to think bigger
If you allow the peculiarly Swiss metaphor: at Etihad, we have learned from working with partners that you do not need to buy a cow if you want a glass of milk.
Through partnerships, we created win-win-wins for us, our partners and our customers.
And we have become the engine of the system, not just a cogwheel.
Staying with the airline industry for a moment, we also see the emergence of joint ventures as an effective cooperation model, i.e. the evolution of a pure codeshare partnership or alliance membership beyond its traditional boundaries.
Ultimately, and therefore I mention it, these new structures of cooperation have a common vector: the possibilities of digital transformation.
This transformation allows us – and others – to branch out up and down the value chain while the “super fluidity” of seamless integration increases the value exponentially.
Technology and the way we handle data changes everything. Some of the most forward-looking partnerships today are between companies that collaborate to develop digital architecture and data capability.
They all aim at leveraging the power of innovation ecosystems, by developing an API driven plug-and-play environment that makes the most of dozens and sometimes even hundreds of specialized technology vendors.
That’s a game changer right there.
Culture is king
At the core of the solution, I think, lies open-mindedness.
Our world has become so complex, so fast-paced, so prone to disruption – it’s safe to say that working together makes everyone stronger.
This is a mindset, a culture, that needs to spread within the entire organisation.
You can’t outsource it to a team.
We need to foster a culture that can handle unprecedented acceleration of change.
A culture that can handle decentralisation, and a culture that values the importance of the trust factor – with internal and external customers – especially in the digital age.
In other words, to deliver these initiatives at a high pace and with accuracy requires fundamental cultural change.
The transformation of how we work together – often driven by technology – happens at a breath-taking speed.
To navigate this environment towards success requires management teams and employees to be empowered and enabled to adapt, anticipate and act accordingly.
Of course, we will inevitably encounter obstacles and failures; we must learn to act according to the Silicon Valley motto of “fail quickly and pivot”, even in environments where we will never tolerate any mistakes in many areas.
Be prepared to fail, learn from your mistakes and change course.
This, too, is a new mindset for many businesses.
As they say, together is better
The world changes, we all know that.
Let’s embrace these challenges with an open mind.
Consider the many ways and opportunities that open up to all of us when we think of new ways of working together.
I have experienced at Etihad that “together is better”.
And I really do believe that this is also true for every other business that I have encountered.
This day and age more than ever.
Peter Baumgartner is the chief strategic adviser at Etihad Airways, itself considered the World’s Leading Airline – First Class by voters at the World Travel Awards.
Find out more about the airline here.