Spaces as Collaboration Enhancers

Space.  We occupy it, move through it, and have a really hard time understanding it.  While humans have debated what space is and our human relationship to it for at least as long as we have recorded history, we do know some important things about space.  There are spaces that make it much easier for us to experience our fuller humanity, where it is much easier to be fully engaged.  There are also spaces that make it much harder to engage, to work with others.

While there are many researchers exploring our relationship to space, we each know, from our experience, what kinds of spaces invite more from us, engage us more deeply, and which kind shut us down, disengaging us.

As the types of problems that humanity takes on increase in complexity, it has become critical that people come together, each contributing their unique capacities to a collaborative effort.  When people try to solve complex social problems on their own, they find that they are often lacking capacities that are key to shifting the dynamics inherent to the problem.  Sometimes it takes a village, a collaborative effort.

Much of what is written today on “collaborative spaces” refers to social media or office arrangements for letting people work in the same space.  Only some of it focuses on how the nature of the space affects the collaboration.  We do know that most people prefer windows, comfortable temperatures, fresh air, and connection with nature.  We also know that people prefer spaces where they can more easily align with their deeper purpose, the energy that motivates their love for the future, and where they can more easily relate with others, and have access to the vital structures and substances they need.  Said in the opposite, spaces are deadening when they make it hard to be physically comfortable, when they disconnect people from their deeper purpose, when it is hard to relate with others, and vital substances and structures are inaccessible.

People need to be able to experience themselves in the space, physically.  That is because people are physical beings.  When people are deprived of their senses, not sensing where they are, they can go crazy.  People need to have access to air, water, food, movement.  That is because people are also biological, living, and they need access to vital substances in their space.  People need to relate to other living beings.  That is because people are also social beings, they need to be in relationship with other things and people.  People need to be able to choose how they align their intentions, their deeper purpose, with their creativity, their thoughts, their feelings, their intentions, their action.  That is because people are also choosers, they need to have certain freedoms to express themselves.  There are spaces that engage more of this physical, biological, social chooser and there are spaces that disengage it.

So, while the human connection to space is still not well understood, clearly the spaces where we interact make a difference.  Interacting in spaces that enhance the collaboration that we so deeply need today is a choice.  If you know the difference, it is your choice.

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How Influence Spreads Through Human Interactions — Recommended Readings

Centola, Damon. How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Ferguson, Niall. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. New York: Penguin Press, 2018.

How do networks work?  How does influence spread amongst people, through human interactions?

Historian Niall Ferguson digs into the archives, exploring how people have spread influence for thousands of years.  “Social networks have always been much more important in history than most historians, fixated as they have been on hierarchical organizations such as states, have allowed–but never more so than in two periods.  The first “networked era” followed the introduction of the printing press to Europe in the late fifteenth century and lasted until the end of the eighteenth century.  The second–our own time–dates from the 1970s, though I argue that the technological revolution we associate with Silicon Valley was more a consequence than a cause of a crisis of hierarchical institutions.  The intervening period, from the late 1790s until the late 1960s, saw the opposite trend: hierarchical institutions re-established their control and successfully shot down or co-opted networks.  The zenith of hierarchically organized power was in fact the mid-twentieth century—the era of totalitarian regimes and total war” (p xxv).  Professor Ferguson explores why different forms of human interaction are just different forms of networks–an arrangement of interrelated people.

Communications researcher Damon Centola explores the dynamics of how behaviors spread through social networks, mapping the pathways of network diffusion to accelerate social change.  “Diffusion, like schooling, is a collective social process that unfolds through the complex interactions of many independent actors” (p4).  The network dynamics that are required are quite different than what most people think: who is in the network, how they are connected, and how their influence flows, sustainably.

Extreme Human-Weather Effects

Is it normal for you to be engaged or to be disengaged?  By normal we mean that this is what you expect, what you expect of your life.  Do you expect, in any given day, to be engaged in what you do, in who you are, in how you interact?  By extreme, we mean furthest from a common point, furthest from the desired state.  Do you prefer to be closer to your desired state or the furthest from it?  Assuming that you prefer to be closer to it than furthest from it, why are so many people disengaged and disaffected today?  Maybe it is because they are experiencing the effects of extreme interactions.  How might we understand extreme interaction effects?  Let’s look at a parallel experience in extreme weather effects.

News about “extreme weather effects” is all over the news these days.  What is extreme weather? What are the effects of extreme weather?  Weather is the interaction of temperature and pressure changes in the air, water, and earth.  This is the interaction of the earth’s elemental spheres; the lithosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere.  Now these elemental spheres seem to be mixing, as they always do, in new ways, in extreme ways to which we humans might not be as resilient.

In parallel, a lot of attention is going to the globally disengaged workforce and strong political swings around the world.  The usual framing of disengagement and disaffection is to try to engage people, usually in the same, already-existing form of interactions.  Maybe it would be more helpful to realize that the reason so many people are disengaged at work these days is because they are experiencing “extreme interaction effects.”  Through more engaging experiences they have in other realms of their life, they now have an expectation that they will be treated like creative, contributing humans beings who learn, who are social, and who love to engage their deeper potential towards a purpose that moves them.  When the agreements field they are in becomes too turbulent, when the elemental spheres of human interaction mix in extreme ways, in ways that exclude the individual, the other, their unique, creative contributions, their learning and evolution, then they experience extreme interaction effects, human-weather conditions to which they are not as resilient.

Maybe people are more resilient in human interactions that require more and deeper connection, connection to a deeper, shared purpose, connection to their own higher self, connection to the other in support of their expression, connection to the gifts of the group, connection to the evolutionary process of creativity, connection to the infinite creative source.  Maybe disengagement and disaffection come from extreme interaction effects.  Maybe we can change the human-weather patterns, and thus increase our resilience and engagement, by choosing how we interact, away from the extreme interaction conditions of exclusion, scarcity, and collapse, towards the normal interaction conditions of inclusion, abundance, and engagement.  It is a choice, a choice you can make right here, right now.

What Power Is More Resilient, Coercion or Collaboration?

Why do some people coerce people into doing things?  Why do others invite people into creative, collaborative work together?  Which is more powerful?  Which one is more resilient?

Power is the amount of energy for a given period of time.  In physics it is calculated as the work done over a period of time.  More power can get more work done in the same amount of time.  Power, or the energy available, to get things done can be used to get things done for oneself or for others.

There is an old saying that power corrupts.  Having power often leads people to the power paradox: while they get their power–the energy to get things done–from others because of their work for others, they can also begin to use the power to do things for themselves.  In the power paradox, people who begin to use their power for their own ends, start to lose their access to and grip on power.  To maintain their relative power, they have three options.  They can get more power through co-benefit, by doing things that benefit others, who give them the energy to do work.  They can co-opt the energy of others through coercion, forcing others to give them their energy.  They can decrease the power of others, through coercion, tipping the balance of power back in their own favor.  So, people can increase their relative power by (1) doing good for others, (2) coercing others, or (3) decreasing the power of others.  With the first, power is co-generated–they get more power, and others keep their power.  With the second, power is diffused–they get more power, and others lose their power.  With the third, power is dissipated–others lose their power to heat, to self-preservation.  The first is generative.  The second and third are coercive and destructive.

Power gains that are based on destruction must be less resilient, over time, than power gains based on co-generation.  Resilience is the ability to continue to function when the context changes.  While coercion can appropriate the energy of others, it must be mostly in the form of the energy resources of others, the capacities they already have.  Energy gained through generative interactions often engages (1) the energy resources of others, and (2) their development of relationships and capacities over time, and (3) engagement of their creative potential.  While destructive forces can get (1), generative forces can engage (1), (2), and (3).  That has to be more resilient.

In our Institute for Strategic Clarity research on groups that focus more on coordination, cooperation, or collaboration, we find that collaborative efforts engage people around a deeper shared purpose, to which everyone contributes their unique gifts, their energy resources and learning and potential.  We find that cooperative efforts invite people to contribute shared resources, and that coordination efforts assign people to use their own energy resources to do their own work, which might be pieced together later.  In the three cases of coordination, cooperation, and collaboration, each group keeps their power, and is invited to contribute ever greater levels of it to the group effort.

In coercive efforts, the power of others is diminished.  It is co-opted by the coercive enforcer, taking the other’s energy, their will, and using it for the coercer’s purposes.  This can be done consciously and unconsciously.  In conscious coercion, the coerced know they are being coerced, that their energy is being usurped for another person’ purposes.  Bullying fits in this category.  In unconscious coercion, the coerced have often unconsciously accepted a set of agreements where their energy is used by the coercer for the coercer’s purposes, without the coercer knowing that this is what they are doing.  Many social settings fit this category, such as the use of fiat currencies to enrich the currency owners–we get loans and pay interest rates, with no clue as to how the monetary system works.

In collaborative efforts, the power of each individual and of the group is increased.  The energy is co-generated by the impact resulting from the engaging and leveraging of the unique contributions of each individual.  Everyone keeps their power and ends up with more.

In coercion, someone ends up with more, and others end up with less.  In collaboration, everyone ends up with more.  Which leads to greater resilience?

Top 4 Reads of 2018

The top 4, most-read blogposts of 2018 focused on the big questions that guide how we understand impact, collaboration, and leadership today.

Top 4 Blogposts

  1. 4 Questions that Changed the World, Again and Again
  2. From a Theory of Change to a Theory of Impact Resilience
  3. Collaboration Basics: Essential Agreements
  4. Leadership — How We Get to What We Have and Where We Could Be

The 1st blogpost looks at four questions that have repeatedly changed the world, continuously asking what resources we see as real, who decides and enforces how we interact, what values we use, and what rules guide our interactions.  The 2nd shows how these four questions highlight the linear, short-term logic of a theory of change, and that leading groups are actually working with a systemic, strategic theory of impact resilience.  The 3rd, with my colleague Ruth Rominger, describes what we are finding to be the basics of collaboration, why many groups do not collaborate, how they could, and the benefits of that collaboration.  The 4th differentiates three very different types of leadership, using the four big questions and three levels of perceived reality to show what leaders at each level are able to engage and transform into value.  This makes a set of explorations into how some people are beginning to lead their groups collaboratively towards great impact and greater resilience, by asking the big questions and choosing different agreements.

Confusing Unison, Harmony, and High Creativity

Recent studies suggest that too much harmony or collaboration is bad, killing creativity and value-generation.  They find that too much time spent agreeing with everybody else and minimizing differences leads to lower creativity and innovation.  While they might be right, I suggest they are confusing interacting in unison with interacting in harmony.

Unison means one sound.  Monophony.  This is where everyone makes the sound, the same note.  All the same.

Harmony means an agreement of sounds.  Polyphony.  This is where everyone makes different sounds, with different notes, that combine in a specific way.

It seems to me that the studies are criticizing too much unison and too much submission.  Too much process focused on getting everybody to the lower common denominator, where they can find something that they all agree on, and then submitting to someone else’s will, in honor of the group’s health, over-processing everything.  Unison and submission lead to people shutting down their creativity, their insights into new, unique contributions they can make towards the health of the group, and the others, and themselves.

It seems to me that the studies are then suggesting that people need to find ways to efficiently bring out their best, unique contributions, together, in a way that creates new value for those participating and for those who are recipients of the efforts.  These are the definitions of harmonizing and collaborating.  Bringing out the best of each other’s unique contributions (what makes us each different), each other’s own note, in a highly efficient way that generates something new.  To do this, efficiently and effectively, requires listening to one’s own voice, to the other’s voice, and to the resulting harmonic for the whole, continuously improving all three.  Not doing so is a waste of time.  So maybe the recent studies mean to say (1) that people are mislabeling harmony and collaboration [they mean unison and submission] and (2) that too little harmony and collaboration is bad, killing creativity and value-generation.  Maybe.

Sacred Hospitality

Sometimes we human beings seem to be remarkable at bringing people together to achieve something, and many times we are not remarkable.  Sometimes we are very clear on what we want to do together, on why we need each other, and how we will interact to have the impact we desire.  Most people describe these experiences as highly engaging.  Whether an afternoon in the country with some friends or landing a robot on Mars, we are capable of uniting our efforts in beautiful ways.  I have been sitting for years with the question of why these uniting, high impact resilience, energizing moments are less frequent than most people want.  If we prefer this experience, then why don’t we do this all of the time?  If we need to collaborate to achieve some of our larger societal goals, why don’t we more often?  One answer I have found has to do with how we treat ourselves and others.

Everyone I have met over the last two decades, in over a dozen countries, has told me that they have had the experience of being highly engaged, energized in human interactions.  As I ask about their experience, it seems that in all of their stories, they experience being well hosted.  They experience higher vibrancy in how they are hosting their own self, in their being hosted by and hosting of the other, of the group, by a creative process, where they experience being connected to a creative flow.  Eventually, my colleagues and I saw that they were expressing the experience of vibrancy in five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  What we also began to notice was the level of co-hosting in each of these relationships, the recognition that other people were also hosting with them and with the processes of nature and spirit.  A whole lot was happening in the interaction–it was being hosted simultaneously by many different people, processes, and structures.  We started calling this co-hosting.

Recently my colleagues and I have become more aware of the deeper capacities in excellent co-hosting, where people more consistently are able to co-host higher levels of vibrancy experienced in the five primary relationships.  We are experimenting with this “sacred hospitality,” co-hosting with greater intention and attention, with the clarity that one is inviting a harmonic.

As we put the art of sacred hospitality into practice in our fieldwork at the Institute for Strategic Clarity and at Vibrancy, we are learning more and more about what people do and experience in this deeper practice of co-hosting, as well as learning more about the much higher levels of impact resilience available through deeper co-hosting.  So far we have found the following practices to work reliably:

  1. Nature and Spirit — your experience of the creative process and source
    • Ask yourself, “What do I experience when I connect in the creative process?”  Since this exercise is with you by yourself, I invite you to be honest with what you actually experience.  This is where the learning comes.  Looking at what you actually experience, comparing that actual experience with what you want, and adjusting what you do, repeatedly.  This is also the art of resilience, the ability to learn and adjust.
    • Ask others what they experience.  Share with them what you experience.  Ask them about what they experience. Do you see any similarities? Any unique differences?
  2. Self — your experience of your sacred hospitality of your own self
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my own sacred hospitality of myself?”
    • Share with someone else.  Share what you see, with someone you trust.  In this sharing, look for: (1) what you see in yourself, when you hear yourself sharing; (2) what you see in yourself, when you look at the other person you are talking with; and (3) what they see in what you share.
  3. Other — your experience of your sacred hospitality of another.
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my sacred hospitality of another person?  Of the capacities they already bring, right now?  Of the potential I can see in them?”
    • Share with someone else.  What do you see about your co-hosting of another?  What do you see about how the other person co-hosts another?  When we see it in another person, we are seeing own selves in them, in capacities we also already have or in emergent capacities that we could develop further.
  4. Group — your experience of your sacred hospitality of a group, of a we
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my sacred hospitality of a group?”
    • Share with someone else.  What do you see in common with their experiences?

These practices seem to work everywhere, and they are very efficient.  The questions for yourself can start with 5-minute reflections.  The sharing with someone else can start with 20-minute conversations.  We find that starting this simply often leads to great insights.  That is a high return on co-investment, a few minutes of reflection and conversation leading to transformative insights.  These practices are part of a toolkit of collaboration basics that we are developing through our observations and fieldwork.

In essence, we start by getting clear that those of us involved in the process want better experiences and better outcomes, and that there is a deeper shared purpose that brings us together.  We then agree that the process starts with the self, with how I co-host myself.  I can only invite the levels of experience with others that I am willing to invite with myself first.  We then agree that we prefer the experience of abundance to that of scarcity, that we have choices in our agreements, and that we want to experience more deeply the co-hosting of the vibrancy available in each of the five primary relationships, at the same time.  Through a process of reflection, sharing, inquiry, and feedback, we are able to see what we want, what we actually experience, the difference between the two, adjust what we do, and repeat.  This is the process of tangibilizing the potential we see, through specific pathways to outcomes, which provides evidence about the potential and pathways we saw, adjusting, learning, and evolving.

Sacred hospitality.  Sacred comes from the PIE root *sak “to sanctify” to make holy, and holy comes from the PIE *kailo“whole, uninjured” or health.  Hospitality comes from the Latin hospitalitem for friendliness to guests.  So, sacred hospitality is how we invite greater health–better experiences and outcomes–through relationships, to the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.

We all want better experiences and results than we usually achieve, on a more consistent basis.  We like being well hosted, and we enjoy hosting others.  Whether or not people have been consciously capable of consistent sacred hospitality in the past, my colleagues and I find, across the world, the emerging capacity and desire in everyone to experience deeper levels of co-hosting.  It starts with each individual, taking on the sacred hospitality of their own creative expression, doing the same with others, and consciously choosing in the groups where they interact to co-host each other and the group.  The experience is far better, as are the results and the resilience of the impacts.  If we can do it, and if we prefer it, then maybe it is time to starting doing it.

Collaboration Basics: Essential Agreements

posted with Ruth Rominger, CHOICE Fellow and Garfield Foundation’s Director of Information and Network Design–Collaborative Networks

Those of us in the social sector hear a lot of talk about the value of collaboration. Why do so few actually do it? Because it is hard?  Because it takes too much time?  Or is it because we are operating out of old mindsets and assumptions?

Our research over the past three decades suggests that most people know how to collaborate and yet, they don’t. The evidence points to some common assumptions that get in the way, and a handful of key behaviors that show up in most authentic, effective collaborations. It is our observation that when you become aware of these assumptions and behaviors, you are poised for productive collaboration.  

What We See

People who collaborate effectively are actively engaged with others to co-create the time, space, and purpose for working together.  They share responsibility for hosting explicit processes to achieve desired outcomes. These include:  co-investment, integrated conversations, deep shared purpose, and uniting design.  We call this collaborative co-hosting. Here is a brief description of what these ideas mean:

Co-investment. People in effective collaboration come to the table with the attitude of a co-investor. Co-investors who take responsibility for process and outcomes, and want to bring all their available resources to the table. Collaborative co-investors look for opportunities to learn and grow, share their capacities, and see greater potential. It is possible to increase the effectiveness of any collaborative group by recognizing evidence of co-investment and reinforcing it.

Integrated Conversations. Collaboration is strongest if people who don’t typically interact with people in different sectors of a given system have small-group conversations that overlap with other small group conversations that build to whole group conversations, and continuously engage with each other through all phases of work. The behavior seems to maintain the flow of information throughout the system, which helps inform decisions at the core, in nodes (small groups), and at the periphery (with those people loosely involved, on the front lines, or highly impacted). And it makes it possible for decisions to be made at the most appropriate level, by informed and trusted individuals, pairs, or groups.  

Deep(er) Shared Purpose. There is nothing that motivates a diverse groups and individuals to collaborate more than identifying a deep shared purpose. Co-hosts create the opportunity to find and name a deeper shared purpose.  They welcome others who connect with that purpose.  They invite the contribution of each individual’s own purpose to the shared purpose, and the contribution of their unique capacities to the collaboration.

Uniting Design. Co-hosts design interactions and activities to unite, connect, reinforce, and reciprocate contributions of others sharing the deep shared purpose. They create the space to build trust, and see, with others, who their efforts can benefit. The collaboration focuses on learning together by seeing possibilities, testing them, and learning from the successes and failures.  More than looking for the one right answer to all of the problems, the focus is on continuously exploring the next step to generate common understanding of the subject.  And they contribute to others, to create a “whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

What We Do Instead

Even though most of us know how to co-host collaboration, we tend to overlook the potential, learning and growth, and unique capacities in ourselves, in others, and in whole groups.  Instead we focus on outcomes, attributing direct cause and claiming credit. What results did the work produce? Who gets acknowledged? The common practice—to directly associate an action to its outcome—tries to isolate one dimension, or one data point, at a time. At best, the use of logic models, good strategic planning, assessment, and evaluation of isolated data falls far short of what is needed to effectively change a complex system, and often lead to unintended consequences.

Instead of making explicit the group’s deep shared purpose and core values, we tend to focus on the values of one or a few key stakeholders, subordinating all others, often unconsciously.  We too often attribute value to a single success factor, a preferred group, or ultra-individualism in the name of freedom, to the exclusion of seeing and valuing the rest.

Why We Do This

Research shows two dominant reasons for why we continue to do this. We do not recognize scarcity-based assumptions that are embedded in the system and limit our ability to see other possibilities. We unconsciously accept that our world has scarce resources, and thus see scarcity in our life, at work, with strangers, friends, and family. This is just the way it is: there is not enough to go around, and we have to compete with others for what little there is.  Our research, based on an Agreements Health Check survey (http://instituteforstrategicclarity.org/take-the-survey/) with responses from 124 countries, shows that people unconsciously accept and selectively see scarcity.

We also tend to accept that most of our environments are energy depleting. Research in sociology shows us that underlying agreements of how we treat each other are deeply embedded in our social systems, which makes them very hard to see.  For example, we tend to design our companies hierarchically for efficiency. We measure efficiency by the value of outputs earned from the cost of inputs. We seek efficiency to maximize profitability for shareholders.  And we accept maximizing shareholder values over other stakeholders, because the current system is designed for shareholders to decide who has access to their capital. We have accepted an agreement that capital is the most important resource, over all else. Most of us are not aware that these are only agreements, and these agreements and their consequences are embedded in the current system. They exist only because we have unconsciously accepted that this is the way it is, and by doing so, we miss the opportunity to create something different.  While most agreements that exist today simplified reality to so that we could achieve the great contributions to society of the past two centuries, these same, simplifying  agreements now limit the capacity of our society to make the next step many collaborative efforts seek.  With gratitude we acknowledge where we have been and step towards where we need to be.

We Can Build Other Agreements

We have the ability to shift our reality.  When we recognize the agreements underpinning current reality, we can shift them. For example, we can build new agreements about what types of resource and collective potential are available to work with. We can choose who makes decisions. We can choose what values we base our decisions on and how we enforce them.  We can choose how we interact with others.  

We can choose the benefits of co-hosting collaboration.  We can shift from old agreements to collaborative agreements.  Following is a guide we have developed, based on our experience to date, to  assess and strengthen strategic, systems-changing collaboration.

Assessing Collaborative Strength

Collaborators’ Basics

Value Is there evidence that collaborators… Evidence
1 Co-investment
  • Bring a variety of resources  to the table
  • Invest in their own development
  • Tap into their full potential
  • All collaborators co-invest
  • Co-investors bring full complement of their resources: their capacities, their learning, and their potential
  • Clear model of Return on co-investment, from greater impact and resilience, for each co-investor
2 Integrated conversations
  • Integrate the parts of the system through overlapping conversations, where representatives from one conversation are part of another
  • In and across the parts and phases of work
  • Information flows through their system, intentionally and fluidly informing decisions
  • Decisions are made at appropriate levels, by trusted individuals, pairs of individuals, or groups
  • Structure of integrated conversations directly related to the deeper shared purpose
  • Clear structures and processes for continuous information flow through integrated conversations
  • Clarity of what perspectives need to be in each conversation
  • Participants demonstrate 100% responsibility for being prepared and engaging in each conversation
  • Rapid learning and adaptation within and across integrated conversations
3 Deeper shared purpose
  • Identify the deeper purpose that motivates action
  • Invite others motivated by the purpose to contribute what is unique and specific for that purpose
  • Statement of deeper shared purpose that deeply motivates co-investors
  • Direct connection of each integrated conversation to the deeper shared purpose
  • Clarity in each integrated conversation of how it is connected to and furthering the deeper shared purpose
4 Uniting design
  • Design interactions and activities to unite
  • Design to reinforce unique contributions of each person towards the purpose
  • Clarity of specific, unique contributions needed for each integrated conversation
  • Each integrated conversation inquires into and brings out the best of needed  perspectives

4 Steps to Create Inefficient, Ineffective, Obsoleting, Disengaging, De-energizing Groups

It turns out that, as humanity, we have excelled at learning how to create inefficient, ineffective, obsoleting, disengaging, de-energizing human interactions.  We have it down to four simple steps.  First, focus only on outcomes.  Second, git-r-done.  Third, experience life elsewhere.  Fourth, stick with the process in “the book.”  That’s it.

Now, you might think that nobody does this.  Not really.  Evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  See the links above.

And, we have found lots and lots of groups, all around the world, that are doing the opposite.  They are evolving ways to create smart, cool, in-service-to-purpose, witnessing, inviting-engaging, energizing collaborative spaces.

So, it is not a given that we have to do not smart and not cool.  Many normal people have figured that out.  Let’s start doing smart and cool, like them, and stop doing not smart and not cool.

You Are Different AND Relevant: That Is Why I Need You

“In a community of knowledge, what matters more than having knowledge is having access to knowledge”…”The different bits of knowledge that different members of the community have must be compatible” (Sloman, S, and P. Fernbach. 2017. The Knowledge Illusion, New York: Riverhead Books, pp.124, 126).

To know what I need to know, I can either input everything I need to know into my brain and remember it, or I can know that it exists and where to access it when needed.  It turns out that our brains are leaky.  We forget most things that we see, and we remember wrong many things we think we remember.  And we are relatively good at finding out where to access knowledge, according to Professors Sloman and Fernabch, who I quoted above.

From the perspective of collaboration and co-hosting, the need to include others’ perspectives is the second step of the O Process for collaborative co-hosting.  The first step is to identify the deeper shared purpose that brings everyone together, uniting their will towards a common future.  The second step is to include those voices, those unique perspectives, that are required to generate the possibility of this deeper shared purpose.  Most things that bring people together, like K-12 education, medical care, or food systems require many different perspectives to come together, in a specific way.  The second step of the O Process invites in those different perspectives that we need.  We need them because they are different, because they see the world differently, and they contribute a different perspective.

While this second step seems obvious to everyone I work with–the need for differently-minded people–most do not act as if it were obvious.  Most who say they get this, then fill the room with like-minded people, not differently-minded people.  I also observe that most people in most meetings are not clear why their specific perspective is needed in the room, nor are they clear on why the voices or perspectives of the other people in the room are needed.  Not being clear on why I or others are in the room leads most people to not listen carefully, to not listen intently, and to not inquire into the differences someone else is seeing.  Conversely, when we are clear that we need other specific perspectives, then we are intent on understanding what they are seeing, what they are uniquely bringing to what we are seeing together.  Completely different processes, experiences, and outcomes.

When I combine this observation with the three levels of collaboration I have described before, I see three ways people relate to their own knowledge and accessing that of others.

  1. When the group process is designed for segregation, I am clear that “I need” something.  I am paying attention to what I need to give and get from any given situation, at most looking to see what I can get from others, if they are aligned with giving me what I need.
  2. When the group process is designed for flocking, I know that “I need others.”  I pay attention to what I need and what others need, as we move in the same space, sometimes working on our own and sometimes cooperating.
  3. When the group process is designed for uniting, I see that “I need specific others.”  I am clear about what we are collectively trying to achieve together, our deeper shared purpose, and the need for very specific perspectives to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  I pay attention to the deeper shared purpose, to each person’s perspective, and to how these perspectives shine light on what we want to achieve.  I need each person to be different, united in a deeper shared purpose, and committed to collaborating with each other on that purpose.

I need you, because you are different, and because you are relevant, like I am, to what we want to give our will to, to the future we want to achieve.