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Wednesday 7 August 2019

Be curious about the obvious

A few years back, I was delivering a workshop about collaborative working. During one of the discussions, I mentioned the importance of developing and maintaining informal relationships with partners and other key stakeholders.

My words gained an instant response from one of the workshop participants. She said that the importance of informal relationships was "obvious" and that she wanted to know the recommended methods for working collaboratively: the templates and good practice guidelines.

On another occasion, I was talking to a colleague about my attempts to capture the key lessons arising from his immense experience of collaborative working. Two thirds of the way through our discussion, my colleague paused; he then said the following: "Well Charles, what you are capturing simply amounts to common sense, doesn't it?" 

On one level, each of the above responses is perfectly reasonable: a participant on a collaborative working workshop has the right to expect specific guidance, tools and techniques that will help improve his or her ability to collaborate; my colleague, having experienced working collaboratively over an extended amount of time in difficult and demanding circumstances, probably did perceive the insights and key lessons I identified from his experiences as being "common sense".

Indeed, responses such as the above (so straightforward and precise in their judgements) enable us to put the apparently obvious quickly to one side so that we can give complex and challenging problems the attention they deserve.

But when this response becomes an instinctive and immediate response, a habit of immediately swiping the obvious to the periphery of our thinking, it can cause us to miss fundamental insights and lessons (and common sense lessons about collaboration can fail to become common practice in collaboration).

Avoid developing the above hasty habit by pausing before you dismiss the obvious. Fill this pause with curiosity about the obvious.    

If the above mentioned workshop participant had asked why informal relationships were important to achieving effective collaboration, she would have likely encouraged an exploration of the uniquely developed personal relationships invariably found within successful collaborations. (To read about these click here.)

If my colleague had asked why and how his experiences were valuable, he would have likely encouraged an in-depth exploration of how his approach to collaboration could be adopted and adapted by others. (I am, in fact, being very unfair to my colleague; he recorded his experiences in this book, enabling those so inclined to identify and benefit from the lessons to be learnt. (To read about these lessons click here.)

Do not swipe the obvious aside; be curious about it.