“Collaboration drives creativity because innovation emerges from a series of sparks – not a single flash of insight.”
– Keith Sawyer, Group Genius
|Photo by Chris Denbow|http://www.flickr.com/photos/mojodenbowsphotostudio/2408750389|
Having last week blogged about when we might want to de-emphasize innovation and think about the small steps we can take towards change, today I embrace the “i word.” In doing so, I tip my hat to Keith Sawyer and to my Interaction colleague Andy Atkins for helping to clarify my thinking around the connection between collaboration and innovation for social change. Both are obviously quite popular concepts at the moment, and there is some discussion about how well they go together. For example, one of my colleagues had a conversation with a corporate leader last week during which this leader shared his deep belief that collaboration inhibits creativity and that flashes of insight occur in the individual’s mind. While the last part of that statement may be true, what leads to that flash and where one goes with it would seem to have everything to do with interaction with others.
Where are new ideas born? While some develop through formal processes and innovation think tanks, throughout history, many of the most transformative notions have arisen from informal conversations over a glass of wine or cup of coffee in a café, living room, or neighborhood pub. In this way, sewing circles and “committees of correspondence” played a role in the birth of the American Republic, and debates that took place in cafés and salons helped spawn the French Revolution. Read More
|Photo by futureshape|http://www.flickr.com/photos/futureshape/2037704163|
(In the spirit of April Fool’s)
A town is hit by a fire that catches in the church district one evening. As the fire spreads, so does word among the members of the neighboring congregations. Before long, people have assembled in front of their respective houses of worship and are deciding what to rescue from inside. A roving reporter goes from group to group to see how they’re responding. She notes that the Catholics have already salvaged the communion cup. Moving to the Episcopal Church, she witnesses a man emerging from smoke to cheers as he hoists the Book of Common Prayer. The reporter heads next to the Unitarians, and as she approaches cannot see a particular object among the group assembled in the street. Observing the expressions on peoples’ faces, she becomes alarmed that someone may still be inside the church, which is on the verge of collapsing. As she gets closer she hears the group in heated debate about who should be on the ad hoc committee to make the final decision about what to rescue . . .
|Photo by jaycross|http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaycross/247126875|
“How do we help people move toward authentic inquiry when their default is aggressive inquisition?” This question was offered up in a tweet by Larry Dressler a week ago and presaged my planned post today. My departure was going to be a return to the work of Marcial Losada mentioned in a previous post, which shows that optimal group performance is attributed in part to members striking a balance between asking questions and promoting their own points of view. Low performing groups tend to get caught up in self-absorbed advocacy. “Aggressive inquisition” can simply be a form of advocacy, intended to attack and tear down other ideas. This is not the spirit Losada is talking about. And yet, it can be challenging for some to avoid simply campaigning for their own proposals.
I’ve recently seen a few videos that have made me think about whether collaboration is a “natural” thing. (I tend to run from this kind of thinking – usually finding discussions of what is “natural” or what is “human nature” ways of making room for all kinds of human constructs.) My brother recently shared this video of Bottlenose Dolphins working together in what’s called “mud ring” feeding:
|Photo by jaybergesen|http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaybergesen/232023995/|
As it turns out, the practice of brainstorming has something of a bad reputation, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from its prevalence in many well meaning groups and organizations. Research has shown that bringing people together to start brainstorming ideas yields fewer ideas overall, and fewer novel ideas, than having individuals first go off and think on their own and later compile their lists. The reason is that group think and social pressure can tend to tip and narrow group brainstorms in certain directions that rule out “out of the box” thinking. Furthermore, there is a tendency for many groups to want to come to agreement about certain ideas, preferring a sense of group cohesion and victory, over pushing one another and risking conflict and hurt feelings.
The photo above was sent to me by my father, who is also the photographer. In fact, he is also the sign maker. This statement currently sits by the roadside in front of my parents’ house in upstate New York. When I asked what sparked this action, he wrote:
I recently read an interesting New York Times article by Nancy Ancowitz that a friend sent me about the ways that extroverts are privileged in meeting processes and work environments. It’s something we talk about at IISC as well. What are the ways that we can design and facilitate meetings so as not to privilege extroverts over introverts – or people with different learning styles – or people with different abilities or aptitudes?
There’s a lot known. And there’s a lot still to discover. Much of generic group process (if not attending to these kinds of things) favors those who freely express ideas in groups. Day-long or multi-day meetings can be great for extroverts, who get energy being in groups – and challenging for introverts, who need alone time to recharge and process internally. Introverts will participate more fully if given time to consider material ahead of time. Extroverts tend to be exactly the opposite – or can quickly scan something in the room and go. Brainstorming is a natural thing for extroverts (who are comfortable putting forth ideas without necessarily knowing how fully “cooked” they are), but not so much for introverts (who tend to want to spend internal time thinking through an idea before putting it out).
The work of social change takes place in history, we are not the first ones doing this work, nor will we be the last. We are part of that noble arch bending itself towards justice. In the United States the history of social change is punctuated by the prophetic voice of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King called us to beloved community and at the Interaction Institute we look at collaboration as a way to meet his call. I like to call this the lens of love.
“What’s love got to do with it?” This is a question that gets raised with increasing frequency in our work at IISC. Recently, while training a group of health care reformers from around the state of Maine, I presented what we call our “Profile of a Collaborative Change Agent,” which outlines the core attributes of those who, in our experience, are able to maintain a win-win outlook even in the most trying of circumstances. Sitting conspicuously at the heart of the Profile (see below) is “the L word.” Nodding heads and knowing smiles, in Maine and elsewhere, are an indication of the growing willingness to seriously consider the role of love in social change work. Read More
The Interaction Institute for Social Change is a vibrant place, a real learning community; we are always seeking to be on our learning edge. Our internal strategic process has led us to wonder how to define ourselves for this new era without necessarily losing our 16 years of experience and the power of our proven collaborative methodology. A couple of things have become even more clear through this process. It is clear to us, to our clients and partners in the work of social transformation that collaboration is what we do.
We might be working with a single organization or a group of organizations, we may be designing a learning event, a high level facilitation or a citywide change process, but whatever it is that we are doing – collaboration is at its core. We help people come together and work together.