Collaboration 2.0: Seven talking points on optimising the new
Written by: Paul Cope, Managing Director at The Creative Lab
Reading time: 7 minutes
There have been, as you might expect, many millions of wise words written by vast numbers of terribly clever, pre-eminent thinkers on the definition, principles and benefits of collaboration – the “process of two or more people, entities or organisations working together to complete a task or achieve a common goal”(1).
This is hardly surprising though. It’s commonly considered to be one of the main foundations underpinning human achievement. The secret sauce of rapid progress. In fact, it’s such an accepted input to success in business, sport, the arts, science… we sort of take it for granted. You might even argue there isn’t really even that much new to say about such a familiar behavioural construct. Here at The Creative Lab, we’re not so sure.
It was this almost throwaway quote about the power of collaboration from songwriter, singer, playwright, producer, film director and all-round creative genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda, which we found particularly inspiring and worthy of further discussion: “The fun for me in collaboration is… working with other people just makes you smarter; that’s proven.”(2)
We think there’s some important stuff going on here. Miranda’s insight that collaboration “makes you smarter” implies it isn’t just a static tool to be switched on to help deliver certain tasks. It’s way more than that, particularly when applied to marketing and communications and their role in brand and business growth. Collaboration is a key dynamic ingredient of ongoing improvement and scalable success, and therefore requires continuous monitoring, honest appraisal, and frequent checks and balances to maintain its effectiveness. The nature and expectation of great collaboration, in other words, is always evolving. This raises a number of important questions...
What influences this evolution and how do we harness them? Is all collaboration born equal? Collaborate with whom and how, exactly? Can collaboration be made more accountable? What does truly effective collaboration actually look like?
In the spirit of opening up this important discussion, we’ve identified seven talking points that touch on these questions and invite further scrutiny. They’re areas that seem most likely to inform truly effective, sustainable, business-driving collaboration in the ultra agile, tech-enabled, post-pandemic, hybrid workforce, web3 metaverse of 2022 and beyond…
Talking point #1:
The role of mindset
According to Stanford professor, Carol Dweck, author of ‘Mindset – The New Psychology of Success’: “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset… [Fixed mindset triggers] make it harder for people to practice growth mindset thinking and behaviour, such as sharing information, collaborating, innovating, seeking feedback, or admitting errors.”(3)
It would seem, then, that being mentally prepared to do what’s needed to be better and do better work – both individually and as a group – is a pre-requisite for effective collaboration.
This has big implications for collaborative endeavours in general, as it implies that simply pitching up in a room with a bunch of people hoping to get something done can’t really be classified as ‘collaboration’. It would appear to require a far deeper intellectual commitment from everyone involved.
Talking point #2:
Like-minded thinkers vs diversity of thought
Much has been done over the past couple of years to create more diverse and inclusive work environments in the UK’s creative agencies and marketing departments. This is, of course, a very good thing. There’s plenty of work still to be done, but the overall trend is encouraging and evidence of ever more positive outcomes is revealing itself all the time.
That said, active representation of diverse ways of thinking – a.k.a. cognitive diversity – in collaborative environments is arguably lagging behind. Unconscious bias is still common and it’s not unusual to be told, like it’s a good thing, to “get on the same page”. Why is this important? Well, put simply, it’s far easier to collaborate with a group of people who all think like you. Easier, definitely, but almost certainly not better.
The group ‘Diversity for Social Impact’ put it nicely: “It’s just about letting people with opposing ideas to rub against each other until they can achieve a positive outcome. It’s about valuing how everyone thinks and encouraging them to express their thoughts.”(4)
This suggests that the best collaborative experiences spark when there are highly curious, divergent brains in the room who accept that each other’s specific expertise and authentic life experience means their voice needs to be heard. Great minds, it would seem, don’t necessarily think alike.
Talking point #3:
Is the beginning always the best place to start?
With cross-functional, multi-location teams and a diverse blend of skills and motivations increasingly common in marcomms tasks, opportunities for collaborative chaos lurk around every corner. Accountability can quickly become blurred, dependencies ignored, prioritisation confused. No doubt we’ve all observed a well-meaning collaboration effort derailed by conflicting reputational, financial, and cultural end-goals.
Setting and agreeing on the desired outcomes upfront – the all-important ‘why’ – would certainly seem to be one important way of overcoming this common trap. According to project management gurus, Workpath: “If there is insufficient coordination when setting cross-team goals [at the start], it may result in teams working past each other and missing the goal altogether [later on].”(5)
There’s much to be admired in the “right, let’s crack on then!” approach – and it’s impossible to eliminate all peril – but attempting to shortcut the alignment of a collaboration end-point probably isn’t a risk worth taking.
Talking point #4:
Navigating the data conundrum
As well as having an aligned appreciation of where you want to end up, collaborative success also appears to be impacted by how much you understand the historical and current context in which the collaboration is taking place. This can feel daunting. Getting a decent grip on precisely where you are, usually requires access to organisational and market data, of which there are a dizzying number of sources and storage locations.
The main problem is that “Big Data and analytics are only happening on around 20% of an organisation’s data… it is ignoring the unstructured data, the data that houses the day-to-day momentum of an organisation.”(6) Combine this with complex and expensive research methodologies and the decentralised nature of data in general within Web3 (7) and you start to get a clear sense of the challenge.
This suggests that each collaboration requires a bespoke yet accessible approach to establishing context and collecting and analysing the data that will inform it. It makes sense that not every opportunity requires the same depth of data analysis, and there will come a point where momentum has to be prioritised over contextual detail.
At The Creative Lab, when entering into a collaborative project with a new client, we look to source the most appropriate blend of data from a number of available sources – including structured organisational data, stakeholder attitudinal data, agile market research data and trend snapshot data – to establish a project-specific context the entire group is comfortable with. Rarely are two approaches the same and the effectiveness of the collaboration is, more often than not, all the better for it.
Talking point #5:
The hidden implications of embracing tech
It’s a given that the collaborative landscapes of the next few years will be epitomised by continuously evolving technology. This is all very exciting. As the traditional collaborative scalable constraints of geography, time zones and responsiveness melt away, so an elegant ‘third space’ will emerge where seamless collaboration flourishes. Or will it?
This apparent digital nirvana seems to overlook one essential truth: collaboration is a fundamentally human endeavor. For the time being, at least. According to a recent global study on remote working by tech firm Barco, 37% of those surveyed said that, in spite of the digital tools put in place to help them, they found it harder to collaborate while working remotely, while 42% said it stifled their creativity (8). So while tech solutions will inevitably play a big part in ‘collaboration 2.0’, the research suggests that simply delegating collaborative tasks to tech, using it to cut costs or bring an element of novelty (yes, I’m looking at you metaverse) would be an error.
Computer Weekly goes further, suggesting that “before looking at the [tech] tools designed to enable [collaborative] effectiveness and productivity, it may be worth looking at the needs of the people who will use them and to what end they fit into the big picture of the new normal of work”(9). The Creative Lab’s strategic and creative digital workspace, The Lab, is a good example of this kind of digital community workspace – carefully designed to support and enhance human collaborative skills not replace them.
The tech, it seems, should be in the service of the task and not the other way round.
Talking point #6:
The ‘gift’ of creative thinking
It’s almost a cliché to suggest that creative people think differently. It’s literally what makes them creative, right? It must be true, Apple told us. Here’s to the crazy ones and all that.
There seems little doubt that creative thinking is an essential component of effective collaboration, especially in the fields of marcomms and business-driving creativity. It has always brought varied and divergent ideas to what otherwise can be dominated by fairly humdrum, process-led procedural thinking (as touched upon in Talking Point 2). But the suggestion that only ‘creative people’ are capable of creative thinking in a collaborative context is certainly up for debate.
On the one hand, there are the devotees of Edward de Bono’s concept of lateral thinking. For them, “lateral thinking is a method of approaching a problem by deliberately forgoing obvious methods of reasoning… it requires one to consider a given issue from unlikely angles, uncovering innovative solutions as a result.”(10). In his famous paper, de Bono describes the four techniques that will enable even the most rigid vertical thinkers to bring their creative game to the table.
On the other hand, the likes of psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg consider extraordinary creative thinking as being part of the ‘genius myth’ (11). Weisberg argues that the creative process takes place via a combination of logical thinking, trial and error, real-world wisdom, and good old hard graft by people who have been drawn to – and have experience in – creative roles. All of which involve ‘ordinary thought processes’ rather than lateral thinking.
Whichever school of thought you tend towards, giving careful consideration to a suite of approaches and thought processes is probably most likely deliver the best possible output of your collaboration: numerous interesting solutions and great plans to implement them.
Talking point #7:
The noble art of curation
Any well-run collaborative endeavor will almost certainly reveal one final challenge that will need to be confronted: how on earth to make sense of all the stuff the collaboration has generated? Throughout the process, you’ll likely collate significantly more ideas, references, workshop outputs, innovative thinking, complete nonsense, feedback, datasets, and results than you’ll ever need. Making sense of this joyous alchemy is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s likely to be the difference between success and outright chaos.
Curation – like so many types of simplification – is often a brutal act. Collaboration software wizards, Samepage, go further: “The best collaborators are diplomats. They know that relationships are built on mutual respect, and that being liked is not always the most important thing. [They realise] that building consensus and establishing buy-in are musts.”(12)
There’s specially designed tech, concept testing approaches, and stage-based processes which all help the anointed curator cull anything that won’t directly contribute to the desired outcome of the collaboration. At The Creative Lab we use a carefully honed combination of all three, the balance of which depending entirely on the type of collaboration taking place and with whom. How you choose to do it, however, is entirely up to you.
What does all this mean for the age-old art of collaboration as we move into an ever more uncertain, culturally ambiguous world? This passage from workplace simplicity experts, Kissflow, seems to set the direction of travel: “In the age of digital workplaces, globally distributed teams and remote work, new methods of collaboration take on a whole new meaning when it comes to business success. Legacy tools and good old conference rooms have given way to information superhighways, integrated tools, powerful data analytics, and virtual meetings… Better and more effective collaboration gives an organisation a huge advantage when it comes to brainstorming, value creation and equal opportunity… [therefore] the organisations that will succeed in this decade will be the ones who have managed to successfully fuse a digital culture with an agile workplace to best derive the benefits of new-age collaboration.”(1)
But what do you think? Have we missed anything? How do you deliver effective collaboration? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this multi-faceted, ever-changing topic.
Please add your contributions to the discussion under this blog posted on our LinkedIn page here:
We look forward to collaborating with you.
Learn more about The Lab, our multi-stakeholder collaborative digital workspace, here: http://www.thec-lab.co.uk/
1) Digital Workspace: https://kissflow.com/digital-workplace/collaboration/what-is-collaboration/
2) BrainyQuote: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/linmanuel_miranda_727797
3) Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
4) Diversity For Social Impact: https://diversity.social/diversity-of-thought/#1-what-is-diversity-of-thought
6) The Data Conundrum: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/data-conundrum-simon-bain
9) Computer Weekly: https://www.computerweekly.com/feature/Trends-in-collaboration-technologies
10) Big Think: https://bigthink.com/neuropsych/lateral-thinking/
11) The Myth of Genius: https://lateralaction.com/articles/you-dont-need-to-be-a-genius/