Are you drinking the Kool-Aid of non-collaboration?

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
When studying a matter, either a problem or a solution, it is imperative to look at what is known and brace that against evolving beliefs. There is neither any absolute fact nor silly opinion, only ideas. The greatest problem-solvers don’t merely take a stance and stay with it; they evolve their ideas through productive collaboration with the past and present ideas of people. Yet, I’m afraid, in our world of seeming absolutes, we may not be maximizing our ability to find solutions through collaboration to solve the plethora of problems we face in our professional and civic lives.We tend to seek out and adhere to rules like always kick off fourth down, vote for only your party or sell to only your niche. Yet, will these “rules” always help us reach our goals? I don’t believe so. Good solutions are found by incorporating new ideas with old ones, and the best answers are found when very different people collaborate.Most people will not argue that collaboration, when done well, is useful. However, many people won’t, or can’t, collaborate because of how they approach it. Many of us will watch news stations that we tend to agree with or only assemble teams of people that share the same ideas we do.The effect may be a deeper agreement about a solution, making our position or decision stronger, but we are then only armed with more ideas to counter those that disagree with us. This only perpetuates the divide among us. A blended solution is a compromise, and compromise is considered weak. In the future, however, creating a blended solution, sometimes a compromise, at least creates an agenda to grow, shift or change toward an even better solution.Solutions and stakeholdersRecently I spent some time talking with New Hampshire native and business-thinker John Robinson about the future of collaboration. John had an idea to start a collaborative called Our Ability, which mentors people with disabilities. John’s initial approach was to assemble only people with disabilities – a good, sound, traditional approach to a venture.One evening after giving a speech at Barclays Capital, John was having a congratulatory dinner when it dawned on him that a collaborative between able and disabled stakeholders was a solution for advancing Our Ability’s mission.By bringing together the disabled, entrepreneurs and large businesses to think about job creation, John bridged people of different backgrounds and ideas to help everyone.Companies now have access to a large disabled population, improving corporate diversity initiatives. Disabled professionals now have access to jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities that they would not otherwise have had available to them. Since then, John’s approach has inspired the White House, and he just returned from Washington, D.C., where he advised on the Startup America Partnership.Rather than drink the Kool-Aid, John reached out and bridged his customers, corporations and the White House.During my meeting with John, we began a vigorous discussion about what it takes to collaborate well.Find common needs, not ground. While the needs may seem different, there is synergy among the causes. Invite all stakeholders and be honest about what everyone needs, acknowledge these needs and seek blended solutions.Don’t use the solutions to resist other stakeholders. You are not seeking fodder to fight or compete; you are building a platform for further cooperation and collaboration. It’s an evolving process of dialogue that builds on itself.Don’t think small or in a box. So what that you are small, local or limited in resources. Become world-class in your view and agenda.Isaac Newton and John Robinson share a common story in their success. They both built their mission on others. Don’t we all? Let’s solve some problems – together.Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm, is project manager of the Future of Everything. The project participant on this topic was John Robinson of Our Ability. For more information, contact 603-472-8103 or