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  • Sarah Goehrke

We're All in This Together: Collaboration and Competition

3D printing is all about reshaping and part of what is being reshaped is, necessarily, businesses.

Building objects with wholly new geometries requires a new approach to design; DfAM (design for additive manufacturing) is a major focus as adoption continues to rise. Designing for subtractive manufacturing won't do anymore when each component part is built up uniquely, and DfAM is helping designers and engineers come at part conceptualization from new angles. Building upon strong foundations of previous industrial revolutions, the ecosystem of manufacturing continues to require interlinked businesses coming together to create a cohesive system of supply. Suppliers of hardware and materials must work with software developers, with supply chain and distribution experts, with end users, with industry analysts and media -- the full ecosystem is a complex beast. 3D printing is set, many say, to disrupt the global manufacturing industry. If it's going to do so successfully, ecosystem thinking is a necessity.

One of the aspects of the 3D printing industry that held my attention beyond the initial hype was the deep commitment to collaborative approaches to business. This nascent industry, flying beyond partnership-based approaches seen before, is recognizing the importance of working together to innovate, to adapt -- to succeed.

We're all in this together.

For 3D printing to succeed, we need to see this spirit remain at the forefront of efforts. Industry events often see buzzwords arise in programming, and "collaboration," "partnership," "cooperation," "co-creation," and "relationship" have each taken it in turn to shine in the spotlight. Beyond sounding buzzy, though, these concepts reflect a required reality of a young technology suite.

The spirit of collaboration in 3D printing extends into the larger conversation surrounding the industry, often led by the journalists and press covering it. This conversational leadership brings with it a responsibility to present relatable, accurate content -- much of it building as well on collaborative thinking.

During an international industry event last autumn, another journalist and I walked into a networking evening event together. Several attendees remarked that they were surprised to see us come in together, on friendly terms; our publications were rivals, and here we were ready to break bread. In what shouldn't be a surprise, journalists talk. That is, after all, a key word in our job description. We also see one another frequently, often attending the same press conferences, grand openings, conferences, summits, and on-site happenings; it never once occurred to me to regard other journalists, including those working for "the competition," negatively.

A sad reality of 2018 is that the press in general is getting, well, bad press. It's a tough time to be in the media. While tech journalism is well removed from some of the higher-profile beats involved directly in the more tempestuous happenings on the global stage, we still have "press" on our badges, and that builds a kind of camaraderie. Largely, the press rooms at events are filled with some of my favorite faces; there are some truly wonderful individuals working in 3D printing media, and I am honored to stand among them and call them my colleagues.

Yes, of course, I love gaining exclusive access to early news, sitting down for private interviews, breaking news ahead of its hitting the wire with an early embargo lift; what writer doesn't? I also love, after publishing my own coverage of an event or announcement, reading others' take on the same to see how our experiences and impressions compare. It's not us-versus-them; it's us-and-them.

Real success does not come at the expense of anyone else's failure. And if it does, that's not the kind of success I want.

In discussing "oh, but aren't they the competition?" over the last few years, I've developed a handy response: If you're only reading what I put out, you're wrong.

If you're only reading what they put out, you're wrong.

You'd be wrong to read only one source. In anything. In 3D printing, in global politics, in business news, in celebrity news.

In an age of at-your-fingertips information, those of us privileged to have regular access to the internet have constant access to news. There's simply no excuse for reading only one resource. Have a favorite -- great! Have a few favorites -- better! And on one news site, be sure to read multiple bylines.

The beauty of widely available coverage is the breadth of voices contributing to the conversation.

Each article will come to subject matter from a different angle, with the writer bringing a unique mix of experience and analysis. Of course the validity of each of these sources needs to be vetted; like tends to attract like, though, and many of the strong sources will naturally group together into easily discernable patterns of trusted resources.

For industry participants, adhering to a competitive, rather than collaborative, mindset can also be a limiting factor. Okay, so you hit #1 in your area; now what? Try to stay there, certainly, but how? No technology (and no publication) is an island; it needs others to work with, to build with, to continue to grow and move forward.

As I see it, being "the best" should have a qualifier: be the best resource you can be. Be the best part for the whole, and recognize (and value) the other pieces of the puzzle.

"Best" is inherently subjective, as well, and focusing only on that is ultimately running a losing race. No single solution will be the best for every application. The balance between 'thinking outside the box' for innovation and 'staying in your lane' for execution can be a fine one, especially when these concepts can seem at odds.

We all -- individual and company alike -- bring something unique to each table where we take a seat. It can be tempting to compare and contrast, to feel the need to measure up; but it's healthier to have a productive cooperation. I'm with Bill Nye, and prefer to learn from those around me.

Plunging from one dedicated outlet into a more freelance-structured system as I launched Additive Integrity was daunting. Just a week after public launch, I am already so invigorated.

The opportunity to work with more "competitors" is opening up a realm of fantastic possibility, and I am so excited to work more closely with several individuals and endeavors I have already long considered to be colleagues. Collaborating, understanding the best-fit placements for news, interviews, editorials, trend reports, and more, and putting each piece into this puzzle has proven a surprisingly refreshing challenge (and reinforced my love of spreadsheets and white boards).

In the next few weeks, I am looking forward to formally announcing new long-term partnerships and some collaborative projects through Additive Integrity LLC.

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