Embrace Your Enemies, and Collaborate!

Dave Savage is a mass of contradictions – hippy from the Kootenays (me too), businessman, capitalist, activist. In short, he is a disrupter. In his latest project, the book Break Through to Yes, Dave and his cohort (including my colleague Michelle Phanuef) tackle the collaborative juggernaut.  Collaboration is the holy grail of leadership and insight, and yet it can be elusive.

A few weeks ago, Dave began our luncheon discussion by inviting each of us to consider the question – How can we help you with your collaboration? This is Dave at his best – engaging and open. A cornerstone of collaboration is of course, asking for help, and setting aside egos.

Set aside your ego, and seek contrarian thinking. This message resonated with me from our recent talk.  It is required if you want to effectively embrace the 10 steps of collaboration outlined in Break Through to Yes. Collaboration is a system; it is not an event. The 10 essential steps provide concrete steps for building a culture, learning together and creating a breakthrough in thinking.

Dave wrote his book about collaboration through a collaborative process. He has engaged, and continues to engage, a wide range of people about collaboration with the goal of understanding it more deeply and, in his words, to evolve the discipline of working together.

How comfortable are you when you don’t know the outcome?

It is counterintuitive – not knowing implies ignorance or even negligence.  For Dave, not knowing is an invitation to learning. He asked us this provocative question, as he asks any CEO who wants to work with him. The goal is to view a problem with beginner’s eyes and to meet it without judgement. How comfortable are you?

How do you include the people who are trying to get you to fail?

Dave told us some good stories about engaging the enemy.  He has been challenged in one of his many guises – an executive from the oil patch? This is California! You can’t help us! What is that gas guzzler you are driving? Dave engages his clients to think provocatively and to embrace the enemy.  To embrace conflict, to seek diversity, to engage others with an open heart, requires designing collaboration to include those who are trying to get you to fail.

So, embrace your enemy, and collaborate!

Collaborating doesn’t always work for me…

The other day I was sitting in my dentist’s chair with a sore mouth. I have been back a few times since Christmas. Chasing pain in your mouth seems to be an inexact science. Have you had the cold test? If you have teeth like mine you face it with fear. Perhaps you should see a specialist, I heard. They can test you with dry ice, at -60 degrees! I don’t need any more encouragement to avoid that option.


I have a collaborative dentist. It doesn’t always work for me. 

I have a collaborative dentist. You would think, given my vocation, this would please me. But as I sit in the chair with a sore mouth and hear that there is not a definitive solution, that I will not be told what to do, that I have a choice to demand a root canal, ignore it, see a specialist (or, presumably, yank it?) I just think YOU tell ME! YOU are the EXPERT.

So I get it when I look at my client and their eyes glaze over when I say – this is a collaborative process. You are part of the solution. I am here to help you define a solution that will work for YOU. It sounds pat, and frankly, a little too mystical.

I just need you to fix it. Damn it.

Collaboration is an inexact science. Research proves again and again that organizations which collaborate effectively are more profitable, have more engaged employees, are more efficient. But we have all experienced the frustration that ensues from apparently endless committee work and questions which never seem to lead to concrete solutions.
I think we get frustrated because we confuse cooperation with collaboration. We use the terms interchangeably, but I can be cooperative without being truly collaborative. If I cooperate with my dentist, I will not challenge him. I will work with him. I will make my decisions. I will listen to his advice, but I don’t bring any more knowledge or expertise to the table to help inform our interactions beyond my own pain experience. True collaboration requires a much bigger investment. I need to challenge his process, advocate for my own health, research tooth decay and consult with other dentists, returning at my next appointment with my own expertise.

Do we all need to be experts to collaborate? Perhaps not. But true collaboration is a resource intensive activity that requires serious questioning and exhaustive challenge and openness. To truly be collaborative with my dentist, I need to be confident in the belief of my own expertise around my oral health, and be prepared to challenge and advocate in his process as well as his method.

Co-Construction Brings Rewards in the Workplace

Here in Calgary over the past month or two we have been seeing the most amazing skies.  I am fortunate to live in a spot where I can really see them, and almost daily I have been stopping to look up in wonder and take pictures. Skies, like people, can be extremely moody. In the shot below the dark moodiness is contrasted by the sunny yellow of the car hood (in case you are wondering, a 1972 MGB).  The darkness serves as a warning, and the bright hood reminds us to be optimistic.

The darkness serves as a warning, and the bright hood reminds us to be optimistic.

The darkness serves as a warning, and the bright hood reminds us to be optimistic.

If we are collaborating with others in decision making we may have very different perspectives and moods about our circumstances. We must heed the warnings and listen to people’s concerns, and we must stay focussed on our goal and the rewards difficult collaboration can bring. When we are able to learn from all perspectives and work together to reach an innovative goal which meets all needs, we are experiencing co-construction.

Nathalie Feuiltault is a Business Transformation and Human Behavior Specialist. Nathalie is currently pursuing doctoral research about co-construction. We were very fortunate last June to have Nathalie join us a at a Workplace Fairness luncheon to speak about co-construction.

Michelle and I practice co-construction all the time when we finish each other’s sentences – you have probably experienced that. Wikipedia too, could be considered a form of co-construction of learning (as it acknowledges itself). In the workplace, it is beneficial to be more strategic with collaboration so that you can mine the collective intelligence of the group.  At our June luncheon, Nathalie offered us 4 steps for Co-Construction:

  1. Appreciate. Focus on the positive, and strive to make it enjoyable. Practice mindfulness exercises. Be present and positive. Music and movement help.
  2. Dream. Act as If. Describe your outcomes as if they already exist. Visit the future. Imagine a goal met. What does it look like? Feel like? What do you see? Hear?
  3. Construct. Look to the past, and imagine key steps that get you to your goals. Move backwards to explore what you did to get you to the goal. What are the 3 key steps?
  4. Commit & Realize. Look at yourself from the outside to see what you did, and share the outcome. Sharing makes it feel more real.

Nathalie is a very engaging speaker who had us up and about exploring the look, feel and sound of collective intelligence. She helped us explore capabilities of group intelligence:

  • Mindfulness, and the capability to think systemically
  • Innovativeness and the willingness and capability to try different things
  • Connectedness and the capability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally.

We experienced it, saw it and heard it with Nathalie’s expert facilitation.

If you are interested in exploring co-construction and Appreciative Inquiry further, here are a few references for you: