To borrow a term from political spin doctors: ‘optics’ may matter a lot, but in collaboration they can actually be a major cost to your enterprise. The attraction of ‘looking good’ (I’m sure a communication guru would come up with a number of better ways to express it) is easy to grasp. Since Plato’s days to the recent work of contemporaries like Daniel Kahneman, we have been told that humans will pay a premium for things based on their appearance. The zillions of dollars spent on research in order to arrive at a point where evidence is the basis for our decisions still does not effectively compete with the “people are guided by ideas and very little else” observation by JK Galbraith.
Collaboration is the perfect concept for attracting those who think that a little bit of mingling, together with the sharing of some obsolete data, and topped with plenty of glossy marketing spin can pay huge dividends. Often it is not the bottom line that managers are after when choosing to collaborate, but rather the good impressions created when collaboration is believed to be part of the culture of an organisation. There’s no harm in generating good impressions. That is, until someone bothers to check.
I think these factors are way too great for any one person or institution to change. Culture is changed slowly and in a mediated and contested way. In this never-ending contest lies a grain of hope, opportunity, and for me personally, motivation to do the best one can. For a start, collaboration can play its best card when it disrupts; disrupts us, our systems, values, assumption, beliefs and actions. Sometimes collaboration is best when it destroys (creatively, as Schumpeter would say) in order to create. When creation, or innovation, happens through a collaborative approach to competition, then results normally are spectacular. This is not an exaggeration for added effect. It is a self-evident truth. Great things continue to be created when people collaborate in their own workplace and also across multiple workplaces. We haven’t yet reached the tipping point or had the ‘a ha!’ moment needed to realise that collaboration is a professional discipline that should be taught in universities. We should start now!
This brings me to my central point. Most people who choose to be doctors love the feeling of helping someone and the science of the human body, but do not love the paperwork that is a mandatory part of the job. However, a professional approach through education and training has done wonders for most if not all those disciplines that have emerged over decades or centuries, and that have been largely focused on things that are less attractive but in many ways far more critical. It is then that we will start to value collaboration less for its ‘good looks’ and much more for its professional, strategic and accountable outcome-impact driven practices. Collaboration built on what I term the ‘collaboration instinct’; good training, a professional attitude and strategy-centred practices, will no doubt be a front line that will carry some businesses further. My advice is this; get authentic about collaboration and you’ll be better looking.
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