It's a simple concept, in theory. Gather up your best ideas. Share them without prejudice or pride of ownership. Get others to add their great ideas to make yours even better, to completely change directions, or to find a totally different application altogether.
But it must not be all that simple a concept. Google 'collaboration' and you get 128 million results. Search 'collaboration in the workplace' and more than 2 million results come back. A search for 'collaboration' in the book section at amazon.com returns 142,000 entries, over 26,000 of which are related strictly to business.
It never occurred to me the difficulty our society has with the concept of collaboration until last week, during a Vistage meeting. Mike Murray delivered one of the most usable, practical and common-sense talks about listening and communication that I've ever heard. In it, he spoke briefly of collaboration. The gist of what he said:
- In business, when we take what we think is the answer, share it with coworkers, experts or consultants with the premise that they improve upon it and offer guidance, it's called collaboration.
- In school, when we do this, it's called cheating.
After most of us spend 16+ years in school, it's no wonder we need millions of books, web sites and facilitators to teach us how to collaborate and, more importantly, that it's a good thing.
I give schools credit - many of them seem to be working hard to address this issue. They're pursuing multi-age classrooms, uncovering opportunities for teamwork and team projects, and actively cooperating with outside groups and other schools.
As for the rest of us, it's got to be a constant effort to encourage collaboration. Our firm is in the midst of designing new office space with an intense focus on teamwork and communication. It'll be interesting to see how our team reacts when going from a traditional office/cubicle set-up to a space void of walls and filled with open workstations, breakout areas and, hopefully, buzz.