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Impossible Objects — Power Dynamics and Collaboration. A Love Affair.

Impossible Objects — Power Dynamics and Collaboration. A Love Affair.
By Gustavo Pimenta • Issue #3 • View online

Collaboration for decision makers, and 4-year old kids…
Power is present in all types of relationships. Some mutually rewarding, some scary, and others, well… undefined; like a love affair usually is.  
The crossroads between power and collaboration is often seen as an uncertain place for decision makers. And we all know that when in doubt most leaders shy away. Let’s fix that.
Since we’re at it, why think small? We’re aiming high here, so sound the bullhorn, put your big boy/girl pants on, and let’s turn this love affair into a proper relationship — whatever that is. 
And the best part? In the end, you’ll be able to explain it to a 4-year old kid. No cutting-edge, buzzwordy stuff for you today, my dear. Back to the basics we GO.
The agenda for today, and beyond
“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin
We all have an agenda, and mine today is to persuade decision makers that collaboration is something they should champion.
The business value of collaboration isn’t up for discussion anymore, it has been proven again and again. Plus, innovation (all types of it) and collaboration go hand in hand — and we all know that in the current world, businesses either innovate or perish.  
So, if we all agree that collaboration is a key practice, why are so many leaders afraid of committing to it? Why don’t they put a ring on it? 
Simple. They see it as a risky game, instead of an enjoyable and, most of all, highly enriching one. To overcome this, and feel secure, they need to understand its ground rules, but first…
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
Right off the bat, I’m going to reveal the main takeaways you will get from this article - all three of them (hooray!).
Here they are waving at you:
  1. Collaboration is not black and white; you can shape it as you like.
  2. Collaboration is a play in three acts; from sharing ideas to making decisions. 
  3. Collaboration doesn’t clash with any management model; it enriches all of them.  
I’ll keep the concept as abstract as possible so you can apply it to a broad range of contexts. And, if you’re in a hurry, just look at the diagrams to get something out of this.
In the end, love won’t tear power and collaboration apart. I promise.
The SPECTRUMS
Adapted from Which Kind of Collaboration Is Right for You?
Adapted from Which Kind of Collaboration Is Right for You?
“Can you please shut the door?” That’s probably one of the most typical expressions in the “business world”. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t. 
Collaboration is the same; you need to define how open you want it to be, and how the decisions will be made.  
Two radically different scenarios:
  1. You want to outline your company’s strategic plan for the next year. You’ll keep this behind closed doors and invite people from different departments to step in. You’ll give the final approval. 
  2. You want to uncover possible directions for the next five years. You promote a BIG collaborative design session with ALL your employees, sum up key findings and run some pilots. You’ll have the final, validated word. 
These are just two examples. When it comes to collaboration, there aren’t silver bullets that apply to any context. Just mix and remix at will. Keep in mind, though, that any relationship needs some stability, so assure that everyone is on the same page.
Bonus tip: never forget that DIVERSITY is the strongest power-up of collaboration. Try bringing people together with different backgrounds and mindsets. You’ll see the value of your sessions increasing exponentially.
Diverge, emerge, converge, and on and on.
You know the saying — there is a time for everything. Collaboration is no different. 
In general, collaboration is a play in three acts — diverge, emerge and converge. Yes, it rhymes, so sing along while checking the following diagram.
Adapted from Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers
Adapted from Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers
The diagram is self-explanatory, but you can use the acts metaphor to explain it to a 4-year old kid like this:

1. Put your ideas out there — speak out.
2. Play with those ideas — mingle up.
3. Pick ideas to move forward — decide on.
Pretty straightforward isn’t it? It is, but the real fun starts when you see this as a series of plays. You know, reality is not a snapshot, but a continuum. More about that ahead.
O Captain! My Captain!
One of the biggest myths about collaboration is that it collides with vertical management models. Nothing could be further from the truth — ok, 90%  of what people say about artificial intelligence is. 
Not only can you decide what type of collaboration fits your style, but even after that, you can decide to follow a different path. Remember the series of plays I mentioned some paragraphs ago? Look at the next diagram to see it in action.
Collaboration can have as many layers as an onion. For instance, an idea can blow you away during a collaborative session, but be senseless business-wise. 
Side note: I’m not advocating for any type of management here, just using a vertical model to show that collaboration works even in this type of hierarchy.
In the end all goes well, happily ever after
“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Aristotle
Wrapping up time, let’s review the takeaways once again:
  1. Collaboration is not black and white; you can shape it as you like.
  2. Collaboration is a play in three acts; from sharing ideas to making decisions. 
  3. Collaboration doesn’t clash with any management model; it enriches all of them. 
See this article as a cheat sheet that doesn’t aim to be perfect or holistic, just a humble reminder of some main concepts to take into consideration.
You see, in the end, power and collaboration can have a very respectful relationship.
Stay strong,
Gus
P.S.
If you are asking yourself what it takes to be a pro in collaborative processes, in one word: PRACTICE. To get a jump-start, check out the book Gamestorming and my article on collaborative design sessions.
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Gustavo Pimenta

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