Work is a deeply personal manifestation of the sum of human possibilities. Humans work for various reasons, some of which are not always explicitly clear. Sometimes this lack of insight can last over very many life cycles. We know that work is a means to something else. From food and shelter, to friendship, social status and more. However, how much of our working life is spent in the habitual maintenance of beliefs and desires that are informed by compromised myths? We inherit meanings just like we inherit pieces of antique furniture or family silver. Work and its meaning in our lives is no different.
I can’t then help but wonder how work attitudes can change our relationship with each other. My natural inclination is to analyse this from a collaboration perspective: what our lives would be like if we ‘believed’ in collaboration; if we did not see it just as a means to an end but as an end in itself. Would we enjoy work more and create more? Would we be happier? Would we find new ways of reimagining our life, work, friendships and sense of belonging? Collaboration in my view is an approach to self-development on both a deeply personal and on a professional level. It is not a fad but rather a major stage in our evolution. Recognition that competition is only possible when we collaborate requires a very different outlook on life; and then, logically, on work. I find it interesting that the major changes in strategy in an organisational context are almost always dependent on the degree of willingness to shift our attitudes outside of work. For instance, in the last couple of decades we have seen emergence of a range of new strategies that focus on human engagement at work. In some instances we have seen genuine innovation, in others less enthusiastic but still important practices in the way we try to get the best from people at work.
The dominant narrative of work as a means to almost never ending opportunities for personal and professional enrichment has been an integral part of our work culture and society in general. However, the idea of work as it has been defined and (arguably) successfully applied to date has now become deficient. I think that the nature of ‘work’ itself may not be as important as the way we perform it. In reality we cannot hope for change of a magnitude such that everyone could work as they dream of throughout their whole working life. What is possible is that collaborative inclinations can even out the playing field; the worker is firstly seen in the context of him/her being a considerable part of the web of collaborating individuals whose contribution is to build a collaboration culture and enhance the collaborative strategy of any enterprise, and thereby add fundamental value to healthy competition.
The collaborative approach to work has long been ignored because the commercial imperatives have been based mainly along the lines of competition and collaboration being mutually exclusive. Collaboration has almost always been interpreted as weak competition. Nowadays, we recognise, in fact, that competition can only progress when collaboration is a component. The contemporary worker is simultaneously a contemporary consumer who evaluates the quality of goods and services we purchase by the way they are produced. This means that collaboration is increasingly becoming part of a work ethic which feeds into a collective demand for goods and services which are produced by workers who are provided an opportunity to be collaborative practitioners rather than just job description driven employees.
The challenge is obvious. How quickly can we develop organisational leadership that is thoughtful, creative and innovative on one side and expertly capable, duly diligent and courageous on the other? Accelerating collaboration as one of the building blocks of an organisation’s MO is a clear sign of who the next generation of business leaders will be. Understanding that the old truism of ‘a job for life’ has now been replaced with ‘collaborate for life’ would be a decent start.