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Friday 16 August 2013

Populate your partnership with a new breed of collaborative worker

The future will be knowledge and experience rich but increasingly, the current fracking bonanza not withstanding, resource and materials poor. There will be more people and organisations able to do good in the world but also more conflict about what exactly 'good' is. All these extra people with have immense potential but they will also need to be fed and housed.

So the future can be summed up as both hopeful and scary, and it is people working effectively in collaboration that will help realise the former and avoid the latter.

In order to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and demanding future world partnerships and collaborations will need to be:

  1. Pioneering pathfinders
  2. Masters of the paradox
  3. Challenging and disruptive
  4. Influential players
  5. Socially enterprising
  6. Populated by a new breed of collaborative worker
  7. Purposefully transformative

Populate your partnership with a new breed of collaborative worker

Our human society is no longer simply evolving slowly over time. Technological progress and the globalisation it enables are forcing it to mutate at ever increasing speed into ever more complex, diverse and interdependent  networks of people, organisations and nations.

The time is fast approaching, if it has not already arrived, when any one individual will find it impossible to comprehend the world humanity has created. We must all become collaborators in order to attempt to understand and take advantage of the immense opportunities we have created for ourselves. We will need to transform ourselves into collaborative workers that are: 

  • Innovation ready
  • Culturally, socially and politically intelligent
  • Rich communicators
  • Assertively selfless
  • Agile analysts
  • Creators of collaborative processes and systems

Be Innovation ready

To be innovation ready we will need to be triple thinkers with umbrella shaped knowledge. As well as being able to think logically we will need to develop and value the ability to identify and act upon our intuitive responses to things. We will need to move beyond thinking in a logical binary way about what is good or bad about something towards thinking in an intuitive triple way about what is good or bad or intriguing about something. Additionally, we will need to have not only a deep understanding of one or two subjects (the long handle of the umbrella) but also a wider knowledge of a good number of others (the umbrella itself). This will enable us to make creative and helpful connections across diverse disciplines and activities. 

The social enterprise Elvis and Kresse works with the UK waste industry and the Fire Fighters Charity. It has demonstrated its innovation readiness by finding a new way to perceive and use waste. It takes waste from landfill sites and creates top of the range accessories such as handbags, so linking the waste and luxury item industries in an intriguingly new way; their principle range of products is made from de-commissioned fire hoses. The ability to make this linkage between two such different areas of activity demonstrates a wide umbrella of knowledge and expertise. It also demonstrates the ability to identify and act upon new possibilities: to find a third 'intriguing' perspective.     

Be culturally, socially and politically intelligent

To be culturally intelligent we will need be able to identify, appreciate and work with differing organisational, racial and national cultures. To be socially intelligent we will need to be able to notice the subtle nuances of personal interactions and comprehend the fluctuating dynamics within and between groups of people. To be politically intelligent we will need to be able to identify and exploit our own and others' sources of power and influence.

Peter Holbrook, the Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK, has demonstrated the above types of intelligence through his achievements so far and how he has positioned himself within the wider social enterprise sector. He has been appointed as a UK Social Enterprise Ambassador. He is also a board member of the Big Society Trust, the body that oversees the work of Big Society Capital, the social enterprise bank. Another significant achievement was his role in helping form the Social Economy Alliance, a group of 15 leading UK Social Enterprises that will seek to influence mainstream Political Party policies during the run up to the next UK Election in 2015. All these things could not have been achieved without well developed cultural, social and political intelligence.         

Be rich communicators

To be rich communicators we will need to be able to express ourselves through diverse media. We will need to become 3 dimensional rather than 2 dimensional communicators. We will need to be fluent in online communication and the use of social media and able to express ourselves not only through words but also pictures, sound and video. We will need to become multi-literate in diverse communication approaches. As the people we seek to influence tailor their communication channels to their needs and preferences we will need to mirror and keep pace with them, so ensuring our messages are not crowded out by the multitude of communication and media options available.

Peter Holbrook has a strong social media and online presence. He uses twitter to keep people abreast of his views and he also maintains a blog.

Another person who demonstrates a strong awareness of the importance of rich communication is Lucian J. Hudson, Director of Communication at The Open University, who also works hard at maintaining a varied and strong online presence.

Be assertively selfless      

We will need to work hard at being assertively selfless. In the past it was perhaps enough for us to stand up for our own rights whilst respecting those of others. Now and in the future the concept of assertiveness needs to develop and mature into one that more fully embraces the greater good, the fact that it is sometimes necessary for us to choose to allow others to win at our expense and for us to carry on helping and supporting them none the less. How we use our assertiveness will need to be guided by what is best for the collaboration and the achievements of its aims, rather than what is best for us and our organisations. To be collaborative in an increasingly complex and interdependent world we will all need to be assertive with ourselves and others and work hard at dampening down the power of individual and organisational ego.

Game designer Jane McGonigal has done some interesting work exploring the nature of mass collaboration and what happens when those killed within a game are required to carry on playing in support of their killers' strategy and goals. It is too early to say what conclusions can be drawn from this gaming experiment, but perhaps they will suggest that the nature of human interaction and collaboration is subtly changing to take account of the increasingly complex, ever expanding, interdependent and fast paced world we live in. Perhaps from now onwards we will increasingly need to find ways of meeting our own needs through willingly collaborating in support of others' aims.

Collaborative learning is increasingly being used within education. At the Victorian College of the Arts in Australia Dr. Mark Elliott set up a Collaborative Learning initiative called the Collaborative Contract. This involved encouraging students to work with each other on self-identified projects that cut across departments and disciplines. The majority of the learning was done through participation and by sharing experiences within the student groups, aided and supported by tutors. The nature of the learning meant that the traditional relationship between student and tutor was levelled out. Students had a significant say in how their learning and projects developed and the tutors had to take a step back, allowing students the space to explore and learn for themselves. Tutors took on the role of additional collaborators with expert knowledge that could be used to support the strategies and goals of the students. This change of role meant tutors had to alter how they perceived themselves as educators. Their more facilitative and supportive role meant they needed to suppress both their 'need to educate' and the sense of ego that comes of being a recognised and established source of knowledge and expertise. The key learning for tutors can be summed up by this heart felt comment from Dr Mark Elliott: 'Don't prescribe the nature of collaboration to artists!'

Be agile analysts

To be agile analysts we will need to be able to sort the intelligence wheat from the information chaff quickly and accurately. Doing this is less about becoming fluent in the use of analytical software and techniques and more about building a large easily accessible network of contacts and then trusting its judgements about what information is useful, significant and important. For this reason agile analysers also tend to exhibit strong networking and collaborative leadership traits. Key amongst the latter traits is a willingness to trade the reassurance that comes of judging things ourselves for the agility we gain by allowing and trusting others to do it for us.

In creating (or co-creating) Wikipedia Jimmy Wales demonstrated why he is an agile analyst who can focus on what will become significant. This ability has been recognised by the UK Government, which uses him to advise it about the future use and distribution of research and how policy making could be opened up to the wider population. By assembling an extremely large network of wiki contributors and then trusting them to make judgements about the quality and importance of an immense amount of information, Wales provided himself (and the rest of us) with an immense sea of wisdom that can be dipped into to inform thoughts and actions. 

Be creators of collaborative processes and systems

We will need to begin to see collaboration as a worthwhile skill and activity in itself and become expert in creating collaborative systems and networks that people can join, engage with and develop. Much as a composer writes a piece of music for others to interpret and perform, the collaborative worker of the future will need to be expert in creating collaborative systems within which people can interpret problems in their own unique ways and collaborate to create innovative approaches and solutions.

Dr Mark Elliott and his ground breaking work on mass collaboration, as demonstrated by the activities of his company Collabforge, is a good example of someone who perceives the creation of collaborative vehicles and systems, such as online accessible websites, wikis and social media, as valuable ends in themselves. 

The United Nations is valued as an institution because it is essentially a global collaborative theatre within which the majority of the world's nations have the opportunity to act together.

For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition

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