The Collaboration Instinct: Part 3/3

Collaboration is a natural disruptor. It leads us to re-examine assumptions we rely on to maintain our modus operandi. It challenges our adopted views on roles we play and our capacity to be transparent. It would be naive to ignore the fact that collaboration is something that not everyone sees value in.  Many are sceptical and some even cynical. So, why is this the case?

In my view it’s because we may not be ready to examine the dogmatic views we live and work by and feeling uncomfortable or even threatened by change. The idea that collaboration can make an enterprise more competitive, stable, sustainable and/or innovative is not meant to be interpreted as a panacea for an enterprise’s lack of clear strategy and good execution. To awaken the collaboration instinct and realise its potential there has to be a lot of introspection among management and general staff in any business, regardless if it is for profit or not. Again, I would recommend the timeless work on conventional wisdom that J.K. Galbraith elegantly espoused a while ago. My infographic on the subject (published in an earlier post but reproduced again here) may help people to understand how new ideas can be adopted.


As mentioned many times before, collaboration per se is not new; however the context and intensity of purpose is. Thus, to collaborate is to significantly disrupt your way of working. The collaboration instinct must not be interpreted as meaning that collaboration can naturally happen in every situation. Like every strategy, it is more along the lines of what is referred to as “System 2” thinking. Many people would be somewhat familiar with this concept but may not necessarily have a clear ‘definition’ in mind. So, in my mind the best way to clarify is to recall the explanation by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner in economics.  Kahneman states that System 2 thinking is a type of thinking process whereby our attention is focused on “effortful mental activities”; as opposed to System 1 thinking where we operate “automatically and quickly with little or no effort”.

The collaborative instinct is not automatic processing.  It requires thought, intensity of purpose and a degree of strategic sophistication. Without that we are more likely to confuse true collaboration with ‘working together’.

In collaboration there is no room for cynicism. Limiting the collaborative effort to “what’s in it for me” is limiting its potential. This is in no way meant to suggest that self-interest cannot be the primary goal. In fact, if anything and as paradoxical as it may at first seem, collaboration with limited drive for self-interest is less likely to produce substantial net benefit. Collaboration is a special form of partnership that enhances multiple partners’ chances of achieving their goals. However, the difference is that before the goals can be realised, the usual defensive, protective and calculated approach to collaboration must be controlled and greater investment made in attitudinal change.  This is in turn rewarded with greater transparency, trust, stamina and commitment.  In collaborating with this approach, partners are clear on one very simple principle; ensuring that their collaborating partner meets their goals increases everyone’s chance of success.  And this is the essence of the collaboration instinct.

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