It is not enough just to understand collaboration. It is not enough to like collaboration. It is not enough to collaborate. Collaboration professionals must be card-carrying collaborators. Now, the last time I carried a card of any kind that I was proud to display (tactically, with only a small part to be seen sneaking from my pocket) was when as teenager I belonged to a book club. Now, I wish there is a membership card for us collaborators; or is it collaborationists?
Displaying a certain inclination towards collaboration is not a simple matter. As a student of collaboration, I think the practice is deserving of conversations in every setting, from staff meeting rooms and Boardrooms to water coolers and coffee stands outside city highrises. Even dinner parties and Saturday mornings when we shuttle our kids from one sporting engagement to another. Relentlessly! That is the way collaboration should be pursued.
I think that collaboration is one of the maturing disciplines that differ from many others we need in our daily work. We know that good communication and marketing skills are skills we don’t exclusively use only during our work hours. Those skills are useful across the work-life spectrum. So are financial skills or even ICT. That is perhaps why the relevance of certain skills we gained in the workplace have become part of daily routine; their usefulness transcends the 9-5, Mon-Fri, paradigm. You see, what I’m getting at here is this; for collaboration to deliver its best it has to be part of our total life. We should practice collaboration in our family life and our community as well as in our professional work. Coherent application of collaborative skills is what makes it much easier for businesses to invest in resources, training, etc. that pay dividends.
As Tim Gunn [a respected creative] says, “Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife.” To me this simple observation is another clear sign that a trend that challenges the century old division of life, work, family, community, working week, etc., is accelerating and in its spin creates a whole new level of opportunities for individuals who realise that the future belongs to those who adapt fast and smart; adaptation that without a shadow of a doubt will hinge very strongly on one’s ability to be a learner, creator, innovator, collaborator and a resilient participant in a semi-permanently disruptive world.
Douglas Adams [creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] devised an often quoted rule of how people deal with technology and I see that same rule fitting nicely into emergent business drivers. Here’s what Adams said (from Wikipedia): “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
Maybe it’s my own way of synthetising ideas, but I cannot help but think that Adams’ heuristic approach is really spot-on when applied to many things. Emergent business drivers such as collaboration between enterprises, or the resilience of workers are much more connected to technology and thus the relevance. So, next time collaboration comes up around the table, do not say ‘that’s work stuff, let’s drop it’. Instead, pounce on the opportunity to enlighten people. They’ll thank you later.