Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Intellectual Agility Powers Collaboration

Read two interesting and very different articles recently on the behavioral side of collaboration: CIO's A Travel Guild to Collaboration, and Dave Pollard's How We Can Improve Collaboration.  Both try to address why collaboration works, why it's hard, and why employing a collaborative approach to get stuff done eludes many teams and organizations.

CIO Magazine's straightforward A Travel Guild to Collaboration mainly addresses B2B collaboration, as opposed to ad hoc collaboration in the trenches.  It's a good, basic summary of challenges to collaboration:

  • win-lose mentality and mistrust

  • negotiating ownership of resulting IP

  • security & springing leaks in the data fortress

  • integration issues faced when systems need to talk.

As well as common tips like:

  • clarify mutual value

  • build trust

  • provide the right tools

  • value of independent 3rd party tool hosting. 

Not a ton new here, but good quotes and case study references always reinforce what we ought to be remembering.  In particular these two quotes from MIT Medial Lab's Michael Schrage added some spice,

"Having lawyers drive collaborative initiatives is like having drunk drivers drive Pintos on New Year's Eve in Boston," and

"It takes a shared space to create shared understanding.  If there's no shared space, there's no collaboration.  Period."

A more passionate presentation was given by Dave Pollard in his How We Can Improve Collaboration.  He covers with a number of general points, some of which echo the CIO article:

  • competitiveness can obfuscate collaboration

  • we're really good at collaborating in emergencies --> it's instinctive

  • when collaboration is working, it's fun

  • collaboration must be practiced and requires course-correction

  • recognition people contribute at different levels and with different styles

He also rips into some anti-collaborative realities that everyone loves to hate, like,  "Hierarchy, our cult of leadership, and the inflated egos of
managers." He actually goes overboard in vilifying leaders as being inherently anti-collaborative when he says, "I would hazard a guess that excellent collaboration skill is almost
entirely absent in those we call 'leaders' in all aspects of human
endeavor."  (Not sure why he used such a broad brush to paint leaders?)

But most interesting is his discussion of "intellectual agility" as a core driver and prerequisite for successful collaboration. He defines intellectual agility by contrasting a failed collaborative experience with a successful one:

"What was different in this earlier, failed attempt at collaboration? In my opinion, John and I exhibit what I would call intellectual agility,
while our colleagues in the earlier session do not. .... Intellectual agility is the
ability to allow yourself to fully understand, appreciate, adapt to and
integrate others' ideas and ways of thinking with your own, and, on
occasion, to abandon your own preconceptions quickly and entirely when
presented with compelling evidence of a better answer."

He's spot on.  Intellectual agility is what makes a collaboration valuable, and moves it beyond a coordination or info sharing.  And it is hard to come by --> collaboration can be difficult!  But here's were we need intellectually agile leaders.  They're out there, and they'll multiply quickly from network effects if they and their organizations following Dave's advice to practice, value and reward intellectual agility and a collaborative approach to getting stuff done.

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