In the 1960s, Stan Lee, a real superhero of the comic’s world, and his artist friends created a popular universe inhabited by characters that are world famous today. One of these was the Incredible Hulk; a green monster, a product of radiation. The character himself was largely a reflection of the times. The 1960s were the pinnacle of the Cold War, nuclear armament, fear of nuclear radiation etc. The instant popularity of the character may be explained by looking at the link between the collective fears that people shared, initially in the US and then in other parts of the world. These fears, like all other primary emotions, find their way into the minute details of our daily lives. It is not too difficult to imagine then that a dramatic, albeit in the form of comics (which were not always considered the 9th art they are today), resolution of the fear had to be found in some form of fictional play. The Incredible Hulk was a therapy of sorts. So, what does the green monster have to do with collaboration?
The similarity is not to be found in the character’s personality, or in its role, when compared with the role of collaboration. Rather, it is the commonality of the process that leads to a creation of ideas that taps into common sentiment. Like the Incredible Hulk, collaboration has to be understood in a broader societal context. The idea that collaboration is ‘new competition’, or that it provides an excellent background for innovation, or even that it is a necessity for businesses of any kind to survive, are all largely true. But, they to do not explain many other factors that drive us to collaborate.
This is where I would like to enlist the help of sociologists and other behavioural scientists. We need to understand the deeper factors that have led us to embrace collaboration. In a way, collaboration is a social phenomenon. It is not new, but the way it permeates into daily life is. Think about it. If you listen to music on the way to work, you are quite likely to hear a song that is produced as a result of collaboration between two artists. Major hits today are often collaboration between artists. If you pay attention to your surroundings, you will notice that world is increasingly built by collaboration. The idea of collaboration is borne out of the intensity of societal challenges which are unique to the times we live in. The earth is round but the world is flat. We live in the world that is not divided into day and night as much as the planet itself seems to be. The point where once a distinct past, present and future existed on their own, is now combined into a new form. We relive the past, we meet some of our needs in the present, but also we bring our future into the mix in order to make sense of it all.
The attractiveness of collaboration is created out of a certain logic that is supported by one of the most innate features of human life: a sense of connectedness. What collaboration offers is the sense of security found in the fact that each of us are not solving problems (that we all share) in isolation. The comfort found in joint attempts to deal with the challenges of our time is a response to the very fact that we do not live in small communities. A human tragedy unfolding 20 thousand kilometres away is a tragedy on the doorstep or our emotional, psychological and intellectual life. Collaboration may seem to be of most relevance in an economic enterprise, but that is only because that is where we come together in the most active way. It is in the work setting that we more often get to play out our fears and hopes. Solving a problem at work is not the end game. Solving the problem in a work context is an emotional expression of our abilities as humans. Collaboration offers hope and results in outcomes that we call products and services.
When we see a new idea transformed into a reality and manifested in human activities, we need to remember that the force behind such an idea is a global, shared human nature. Collaboration is the force of human need, not a passing trend. Engaging with it is not a simple matter of doing business, but also making sure your business is not archaic.