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By Market Intelligence Team

What is it about collaboration that gets so many comments from execs in the field? Recently my colleague Dee Brown wrote a piece on the challenges and promise of collaboration for organizations in the behavioral health & human services field. She shared a comment overheard at a recent conference: “Collaboration is when two consenting adults agree to do what they do not want to do.”

OPEN MINDS Circle member David Cunningham, chief executive officer of the Rimrock Foundation in Billings, Montana, took exception to Dee’s slightly droll view of collaboration. His view is that executives in the field need to not only accept collaboration, but become excellent at the art of collaborating. He wrote, “In this shifting landscape, addictions programs will require honest business partners who are equally and ethically results-oriented. Partners must meet the parameters of experience, expertise, and honest persistence with a focus on the future. Partners must have a core commitment to marketing capabilities and commitment to innovation. Partners must understand that when it comes to protecting consumers, your results are at stake as much as your reputation. Our combined collaborative successes in developing new ideas really come from reassembling knowledge in new ways. But you need to have the knowledge in your mind before you can build these new ideas.”

After further consideration, David added, “The more internal information we have available for us ‘inside of the box,’ the easier it becomes for many of us to think outside of it. There is secret magic in operating with a different set of realities. That is the inexplicable, competitive advantage of clearing your mind so it is then possible to know what to do next in this 21st ‘Century of Change.’ A key element of this mindset is not taking oneself too seriously while keeping the major management focus on quality patient care and team leadership.”

In these shaky economic times, I think David’s comments have particular traction. Executive teams today need to identify their core competencies and think about all of the possible ‘benefits’ that those competencies provide to a broad range of new consumers and new payers. To build new services, creative partnerships that “reassemble” those core competencies are the key. Good partnerships and collaborations are the fast track and can lower capital cost to new services and new markets.

For more information on David Cunningham and the Rimrock Foundation, check out “Increasing Your Organization’s Relevance in a Challenging Market: Strategies (and Successes) to Prevent Organizational Obsolescence: The Rimrock Foundation Case Study,” a presentation given at the 2009 OPEN MINDS Strategic Planning Institute

If you have any commentary on collaborations (or a successful collaborative model that you would like to share), please contact us by e-mail at


 Monica E. Oss,

Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

OPEN MINDS Circle members may access OPEN MINDS senior associate Dee Brown’s original commentary, “The Challenge of Collaboration is to Do What We Do Not Want to Do,” free to all registered Circle members.

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Premium members of the OPEN MINDS Circle may access “Increasing Collaboration Between Corrections & Mental Health Organizations: Orange County Case Study,” to learn about the Orange County Corrections Department (OCCD) project to develop joint strategies between stakeholders to link corrections detainees identified with mental illnesses with treatment.

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