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The long shared history between creativity and collaboration
Here’s the skinney: Those companies that foster creative collaboration, both internally among different teams and departments and externally with other companies, including co-called competitors, will prevail over those who choose to silo different departments within the organization or to isolate themselves from outside influence.
In this segment of Creativity in the Workplace: How to Build Cultures of Innovation, we’re going to explore the relationship between creativity and collaboration.
Collaboration goes way, way back
As we hinted upon in the last segment on innovation, with the speed and interrelatedness of the world economy, collaboration is more important than ever. With things becoming more and more complex in the world, it is more important forever for individuals to leverage their power by working together in teams, and teams to collaborate with other teams, and even expanding outward, with other groups, and even other organizations that might be working on similar challenges.
Sometimes we can mistakenly think of collaboration as a “new thing”, that collaboration a new thing to do that goes along with creativity. But really, like creativity, collaboration goes back again to core aspects of who we are as human beings.
In the fall of 2015, for example, Scientific American came out with a cover article entitled, “How We Conquered The Planet.” In it, there was a new theory, basically looking at the way that Homo sapiens, the wisdom beings that we’re named for, were able to disseminate from our beginnings in Africa and thrive in all regions of the world, a feat that no other species has accomplished in quite the same way.
The author listed two main reasons for the success of Homo sapiens. On the one hand, was our ability to cooperate, our ability to cooperate with other Homo sapiens who were unfamiliar to us, meaning the ability to collaborate with people who weren’t family members or part of the immediate tribe. Even though that there were differences amongst different groups of Homo sapiens, somehow homo sapiens found ways to work with other homo sapiens as they moved throughout the globe.
On the other hand was our use of advanced projectile weapons, which, when I heard cooperation and advanced projectile weapons used together in the same sentence, it made me laugh.
The deeper cut, thought, is this: Since the beginning, we have had a natural genetic disposition to 1) to collaborate and cooperate with one another, and 2) to create and innovate.
So when we intentionally and strategically bring collaboration and creativity together, it adds real fuel to what we can do as both individuals, and as organizations.
How collaboration helps organizations
Organizations and businesses, of course, are just groups of people who are working with one another and, hopefully (but sadly not always) collaborating, ultimately so that they can move forward whatever the mission is of that particular organization.
Again like creativity, the other thing about collaboration is that it feels good, it feels good because It’s naturally part of who we are. The great creators and innovators out there sensed this intuitively. Even though individuals come up with insightful ideas, none of us realize anything entirely alone.
And the more complex the challenge, the more we have to draw upon the talents and feedback and knowhow of others.
Examples of collaboration
Two of the greatest scientists who ever lived, Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein both said in their lifetimes, “If I’ve seen any further, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
What did they mean by that? Well, even though that Isaac Newton, came up with four groundbreaking discoveries in science and mathematics, and is still reputed to be one of the greatest Scientists ever, he really saw his work to be built on all the people before him.
Additionally, Newton noted that as things moved forward in time, he also recognized that other might come up with more profound and exacting versions of what he’d discovered, perhaps even prove him wrong.
Einstein was the same way. He also loved science, but also of the great mysteries inherent in being alive. Like Newton, he also respected the innumerable causes and conditions, causes and conditions outside of an one person’s control, that have to come together in order for these discoveries to be made in the first place.
Collaborating with the world at large
Which brings us to another aspect of collaboration: It’s not just collaborating with other human beings, it’s actually collaborating with the world at large. In organizations that means our willingness to stop seeing our competitors necessarily as competitors, and start to say, “How can we learn from one another, so that we can all better our businesses?”
Such was the case with the teaming up of General Motors and Toyota in the 1980s. General Motors was interested in making a compact car that was profitable, and Toyota was interested in getting a toehold in the U. S. Market without having to pay high import tariffs.
So they collaborated.
General Motors had a plant that Toyota could use in California. Toyota taught General Motors about the Toyota Production Method, which was highly innovative compared to how General Motors building automobiles. Up to that point, General Motors had one cardinal rule: don’t stop the assembly line for anything, which dehumanized the workers involved.
The Toyota Production Method taught that that anyone on the assembly line can stop it at any time if they see an inefficiency, which empowered everyone in the plant as a creator.
So the willingness to collaborate with others can enrich our lives, and also, lead to strategic alliances, and ways of growing our business that wouldn’t have been there if we were to say, “That person is the enemy. They’re the competition. I have to keep this thing to myself.”
How collaboration fueled the rise of Silicon Valley
Another example of the power of collaboration comes from Silicon Valley. It’s well known that Boston area was in much better position to rise to the top. There were already big computing pioneers such as IBM working there. Harvard and MIT and all the mental capital and research facilities were also in the nearby vicinity.
And yet it was Silicon Valley that ended up rising as the world capital of computers, the internet, and other related technologies. Silicon Valley became the heart of the Digital Age, the Information Age, and the dot.com industry.
Why? Because there were far fewer non competitive clauses that were instigated over on the West Coast. On the West Coast people collaborated and shared ideas freely. And when they shared ideas freely, everybody was learning from one another.
Collaboration takes us from isolated creators, to groups of innovators, to ecosystems of growth and fulfillment, as well as groundbreaking products, services, and ways of being.
When we start to break down the barriers between what we perceive to be the insiders and the outsiders, magic happens.
We can even involve the consumers themselves within the process of developing products, as so many companies are starting to do. That is yet another form of collaboration, and a powerful way of building relationships, of collaborating with the people that will ultimately be buying our products and services. It’s a great way to get people onboard.
Contemplations for your collaboration
Before I go, I just invite you to think of ways in which you might have an opportunity to collaborate, where you may have not seen it before.
Just based on our conversation, could you begin to collaborate better it with another department within your organization? Could it be with another person or individual that you’ve never particularly thought of working with before? Could it be a person who works in a so-called competitor company or organization? How can you start to build allegiances that benefit both of you, that create what Steven Covey called, a Win-Win Situation?
How can you go about doing that? I invite you to think about that, to ponder that, to see how you can forward your own sense of collaboration, both internally and externally?
Please share your ideas in the comments section below so, in the spirit of collaboration, we can all learn from one another.
Austin Hill Shaw wants to collaborate with your organization!
Austin Hill Shaw is a creativity expert who works with individuals who want to unlock their full creative potential and organizations that want to build cultures of innovation. He is the founder of Creativity Matters, author of The Shoreline of Wonder: On Being Creative, and inventor of The Creativity Quiz.
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