Collabs: why the music industry might point to something exciting

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. Collaboration has always been part of the music industry, but its popularity is surging.

Ray D’Cruz

Despite compelling evidence that collaboration benefits firms and clients, many managing partners describe, with frustration, the challenge of changing long-held patterns of solo and siloed behaviours.

In her book, Smart Collaboration, Heidi Gardner painstakingly makes the business case for collaboration, well aware of the need to arm managing partners with persuasive arguments.

But could a change be coming as Millennials and Gen Z move through these firms? Our hypothesis is that these generations may be instinctively collaborative.

By ‘instinctively collaborative’ we mean that the starting disposition for members of these generations is to share and cooperate; no argument that needs to be made for collaboration.

Sources: Ultimate Music Database; The Economist

An example of an industry that now instinctively collaborates is the music industry.

As the chart and accompanying Economist article demonstrates, the music industry has undergone a massive transformation with a 1/3 of Billboard Top 100 hits now being the result of collaboration between artists (from the 60s through to the 90s that figure was less than 1/10).

Led by Hip Hop, other genres have followed.

For Millennials and Gen Z, the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s are their coming of age decades. Collaboration is a defining part of their popular culture movement. It even has a catchier expression: collab.

The underlying enabler seems to be ubiquitous social media, where sharing and joining doesn’t require some kind of pre-existing relationship – just the potential for common interest or connection.

In the world of music, artists leverage each other’s brand and social media presence. Sites such as Spotify use algorithms that maximise the value of these collaborations, pointing fans from one artist to another.

Cynically, one might say that represents a desire for short-term success. Why build a brand on your own when you can hitch your rising star to an established star? But it seems like a great example of ‘smart collaboration’ to us.

Similarly, Instagram collaborations see companies and social media influencers team up to promote brands. Like collaboration, influencing has been a recognised marketing strategy for decades. Social media just turbo charges it.

Translating this back into professional services is not a stretch. If the norm for Millennials and Gen Z is collaboration then PSFs can benefit.

With PSFs moving into the world of artificial and augmented intelligence, complexity demands a more holistic approach to solving problems. People who know technology and instinctively collaborate will be valuable.

But as these instinctive collaborators make their way, there are ways in which the promising flame might be extinguished.

First, Millennials and Gen Zers who come into firms that are secretive and untrusting may leave.

Second, those who stay may end up role modelling the less collaborative behaviours of their seniors.

The solution is a more open, inclusive and democratic style of leadership. A style that recognises the talents and experiences of Millennials and Gen Z, and is prepared to take some risks.