(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)
'The miracle of learning became slowly apparent to the tutors. Our progress became visceral the further they went, because nobody had told them that classical music needs years of proper teaching and good instruments to yield results.'
'This shouldn't be happening, but it did.'
'They did what they did because nobody had ever told them they couldn't. Their motivation and faith remained unbounded throughout the five years.'
From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin
The first quotation is Paul's reaction to the significant progress his players made during one of the NYOI's Summer Courses. The second quotation is an NYOI music tutor's reaction to a concert given by the orchestra in Scotland during their UK tour. The third quotation is from Paul's reflection's upon his entire five years working with the NYOI.
The point here is a simple but significant one: start with and continue to make positive and ambitious assumptions about what people can achieve, especially when they work in collaboration.
It could be argued that making positive and ambitious assumptions is less specifically relevant to collaborative good practice and more generally relevant to developing the attitude needed to attain new skills and be creative and innovative in any number of situations or contexts.
However, the nature of many collaborative projects (including those fundamental to the creation and development of the NYOI) transforms the above general point into a centrally important one: one which is crucial for realising collaborative potential, attaining shared goals and working together to become game-changers within an area of activity or sector.
Many, if not most, collaborations are formed for one purpose: to combine people, activities and organisations in new ways to create new approaches to difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible challenges. This means that old and limiting assumptions, which in most contexts inhibit creative thinking and problem solving (an outcome which is bad enough), will quickly become existential threats to collaborations.
A collaboration which cannot think and act innovatively is like a bucket with a hole in it: people and ideas may flow into it but, pressed upon by the gravity of old thinking, will just as quickly flow out.
So, make sure you do not allow your collaboration's creativity and innovation to flow away. Neutralise the gravity of old thinking with the energy of positive and ambitious assumptions.