Musings On Collaboration

Yesterday, I attended an exceptional event.  The Energy Futures Lab (ELF) here in Canada, have been conducting a grand experiment here in Alberta, and Fellows of the Lab over last 2 years, gathered at Calgary’s Arts Commons to share sound-bite-sized presentations about the new initiatives that are rising up in the name of creating sustainable change for not only our province, but for the energy sector as a whole.

I LOVED IT.  Not only because I have a “closet curiosity” for the sciences and for alternative energy forms, but also because the ELF is operating VERY similar to how our vision for WINfinity has evolved over the last 15 years.  In an effort to move toward a more structured form of convening an incredibly diverse range of people, to have essential conversations about incredibly important topics.

And so… I attended yesterday afternoon at the Jack Singer concert hall with “multi-hatted” interest and enthusiasm for everything that was being shared – not just to hear the content, but to witness the structure, participate in the side-conversations at breaks, all of it.  It was inspiring, and the afternoon just “flew”. Super fun!!


Then earlier this morning, I former client (and now friend) of mine posted the article below on Facebook, as a point of interest…  “Collaboration Creates Mediocrity, Not Excellence, According to Science”

It particularly caught my eye since Collaboration was talked about at length yesterday.  So now that I’m seeing this today… I thought I would put my fingers to the keyboard, and respond to the article here, feeling led to pose some additional thoughts on the topic for equal consideration… So here it goes:


First, I think it’s important that we be clear about what we mean by Collaboration.  Because it gets thrown around a lot, without us really knowing what it means, for the most part.

Collaboration is “an aspiration”–  It’s a move to a common highest good.  Because Collaboration is a common good to aspire to, it is important to note that it can never really be completely attained; because as human beings, there will always be the motivation or question of “what’s in it for me?”.  Think about it… even the most altruistic of motivations, is still a motivation. There is still “something” that you get out of doing “something”, even if there isn’t any direct benefit to you.

So from my standpoint, the best we can ever, truly create is “collective action”, and please note… that’s a good thing – because even then, that can be pretty powerful stuff.  So from here forward, I’ll use the term collaboration, because that’s the word of the day, knowing that I usually substitute the term “collective action”.


Now, you might be surprised to see me write that the author’s point in this article about collaboration, and how it can penalize the competent employee, is valid.

However, please note something important…. The author’s point is only valid because the illustration he gives in the article assumes a lot about the environment / the context in which the studies were done.  In my experience however, while I’m sure the findings are valid when seen completely through that pre-disposed lens (and that half can be very real…) it’s really only half the lens.

There is no doubt that the experience of someone feeling “penalized” for exceptional performance within an attempt at a collaborative model, most definitely CAN occur.  But this has less to do with the effort toward collaboration being at fault, and has more to do with what inevitably happens when the environment in which collaboration is being tried, is still operating through a context of performance, and as one that rewards a certain kind of performance.

And what I mean by performance is this… when that performance is defined as whether or not someone’s behaviour aligns under a pre-conceived (or singular) way of doing business.  The experience of being “penalized” then, unfortunately happens when a specific way of going about embarking on something, is put in front of the principle of why “we” are all doing our best to work together and do something about it in the first place.

And unfortunately that is a context which, at least for now, is still what most of us know of, and operate by, as “that’s just the way it is” out there in the work world.


The truth is, you can’t expect new or different behaviours (like those that lead to healthy collective action or collaboration) to thrive, if you continue to keep the environment in which they are expected to happen, the same.

And I’m not talking about just the physical environment – i.e. like the open-plan offices the author seems to be so simply focusing on.  Yes, there is no doubt that manipulating our physical surroundings can influence our behaviours… but that is just one of many conditions that CAN influence us.

The truth is, we are a part of a dynamic ecosystem of influences, and until we go back to the basics of what assists people to thrive at the most basic of influencers, we are going to keep losing sight of why our efforts at collective action or collaboration are causing more angst than advancement.

If what we are truly looking for, is a means to increase the ways in which we may work more effectively together, may I suggest that what we really need to talk about isn’t just about what kind of structure or model is going to foster that exchange between us.  Rather, that our conversations might also need to be most fundamentally about what increases our “agility” – not just organizationally and corporately, but even more importantly – professionally and personally?


The truth is, there are those elements which you control, those which you guide, and those which you nurture, and each has it’s place, and purpose.  Control is necessary to access our stability through our strengths; guidance is essential to cultivate healthy boundaries; and nurturing is vital to raise up well-being.

I’d like to suggest that changing the physical aspects of our environment (as the author puts forward in the above article) is putting the cart before the horse.  That perhaps we look closer at our own internal environments, and be willing to explore that together, first.  Questions like… What would it take to create “Safety”? “Appreciation”? “Curiosity”? and “Desire”? and then from there, discovering jointly where the common through-lines of understanding already exist between members of a given group or team?

THAT is where we need to start at our most basic of needs as humanity – no where else. The data that emerges then, leads US (not the other way around) to collectively choose between and among those connected and involved, as to what will work – or not.


As for what the author describes as top performers feeling miserable and socially isolated?  Well, it can be very real…  I’ve witnessed it myself throughout the years, directly and indirectly. However, it only occurs within our biases about how business should or does work. And when we drill down on it, despite our pre-conceptions, performance has very little to do with whether or not behaviours align with a pre-disposed way of doing business.  Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that we are human “beings” not human “doings”.

The very labels of “top performer”, vs. “mediocre employee” only becomes an issue if the environment has allowed that kind of dynamic to pre-exist in the first place.  Most would say, well that’s just human nature.  And I would say to that… “No, not in my experience.”  Think about it this way…. If that dynamic exists in the first place, then of course you’re going to be experiencing a range of “power-plays” and survivalist behaviours, not conducive to introducing or welcoming a diverse range of efforts toward cooperation and collective action, right?


When we truly allow ourselves the time to ask the above questions, and endeavour to listen first to what is important to each team member individually – early on, and then continuously along with their peers; from there we can all gain understanding of each other, and can be supportive of EVERYONE on the team as we dive headlong into disruption.

Because “doing business” isn’t a calling – it’s an assumption.  And if we’re called to anything, we’re called as humanity to look more closely as to why and how we are “being IN business”, and that IS an aspiration for all of us.

While that may sound too warm-and-fuzzy for most, and overly time and labour intensive to others, and completely not-doable to some, coming from my experience….  MAN is it worth it, when it’s done right, and sets the tone, and the culture from the onset, and going forward!!!


In short, I guess what I’m wanting us to become aware of is this…. That everyone has areas of brilliance — where one may be brilliant in one context, someone else is brilliant in another context.  There isn’t any such thing as a weak link – that perspective is demeaning.

And moving forward into cooperation and collective action, and even collaboration, isn’t new. It’s about getting back to the basics of who we really are, and what our world is demanding of us as a species now, if we want to survive on this planet.

I consider it a sacred calling to do that kind of listening first.  And then where I have the permission to do so, to pragmatically create spaces where all manner of varied brilliances can thrive.  And that includes the very mindful process of curating conditions that can “Add” or be an “And/Also” to everyone’s efforts.  It’s that simple and… it can also be that profound.

When we allow ourselves to learn what it means to hold space for each other and truly see, and embrace each other as brilliant in our own rights, and create a container for the most optimal conditions for success, then we CAN be on the journey to learn and aspire to collaboration… Then, we can connect more to ourselves in the midst of something bigger.  Then, we can all share in the collective brilliance of who we really are, move beyond sustainability, and truly thrive!


Thanx for reading…

In Spirit,



Categories: Co-creating Community, Finding Our Agility Point, Inspired Action

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