No innovation without collaboration

Collaboration – one of many popular buzz words in the corporate and design literature today.  And with good reason, collaboration is without a doubt one of the most effective, critical aspects of creating a properly functioning innovative company culture.  Yet, it’s a surprisingly elusive concept.  As a former professional musician, I can tell you that collaboration is one of the best means of creating better output, but is surprisingly misunderstood or underutilized in today’s corporate culture. 

It’s not necessarily something taught in schools these days.  How many leadership courses have a module on collaboration?  How much time do kids in high school and college actually spend collaborating on intense projects together?  The kind of grinding, ego-dueling, emotion-ridden projects where cross-disciplinary employees duke it out to come up with the innovations that will change the rules of the game for their industry.

But what about the Steve Jobs, you might say, he didn’t need to collaborate with anybody.  Sure, the rare loner genius can afford to push his or her own perspective and dominate the innovation pipeline.  The rest of us gain incredible benefit from the added perspective, insight, and intelligence of our colleagues.  Besides, even Steve Jobs knew he had to collaborate in order to achieve his goals – hence persuading Jonathan Ive to come and work for Apple in 1992.

This underlies the extreme difficulty of maintaining collaborative relationships with your peers.  It’s a combination of intellectual, emotional, and rational intelligence that makes effective collaboration extremely difficult to teach and utilize regularly.  For example, how many music groups do you know can stick it out for 5 or even 10 years.  Music is an intensely collaborative and creative endeavor, and pop culture is riddled with examples of our favorite bands calling it quits.

How to make your collaborative efforts more effective

  • Leave your ego at the door.  The quickest thing to ruin a collaborative jam session is allowing people to dominate the conversation or start judging ideas.  Conversely, everyone needs to be objective about their own and others opinions and comments.  If your idea doesn’t gain traction or if someone comes up with a better one, recognize it and move on.
  • Compromise and communicate clearly.  Decide on which points you are willing to compromise.  Give up on a few of your points and gain something on others – showing flexibility on your end will be reciprocated by others.  Support decisions made by the group.  Listen to people when they speak and address their points.  Making your points concisely and clearly will give yours thoughts weight and enhance the flow of the conversation.
  • Trust your band members.  There will be times when new ideas and perspectives will feel uncomfortable.  You may feel an instant negative reaction to something.  Give it time, ask yourself how it could work, exercise empathy.  If you’ve been objective and still hate the idea, say so tactfully and with concise rationale.
  • Give praise where it’s due.  Recognition, esteem, and self-actualization are powerful drivers, particularly in the workplace.  Honest praise for great ideas is the best encouragement I know to turn that trickle of ideas and insights into a torrent of concepts.

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