One of my favorite collaboration tools is brainstorming. Now don’t go thinking that this is some antiquated, over-the-hill technique. Coined back in the 1950’s brainstorming has stayed the course as a key contributor to the creative process. Here’s the trick though when it comes to enhancing your collaborations.
Step 1 - Think solo
Current research (http://www.cpsb.com/research/articles/creative-problem-solving/Reexamination-of-Brainstorming-Research.pdf) suggests that having some solo time to consider a topic for brainstorming before joining a group to collaborate will result in a more divergent set of ideas. For example, if your job requires that you come up with a new way to cut costs, starting a list of things that are top-of-mind will prime your idea-generating machine. Then to ensure you don’t get tapped out too readily or rely too much on vanilla-type notions, join with others to enhance your list.
Step 2 - Find collaborators
Asking a colleague to add ideas is a start but you can also do something like a popular beverage company did when it featured an opportunity for visitors to its Facebook page to brainstorm ideas for its’ next energy drink. Think first and then go find collaborators – that’s a formula for a successful collaboration.
Dr. Carol Greider was awarded the Nobel Prize in Science this week for her research on telomeres, a part of the chromosome. The New York Times interviewer, Claudia Dreyfus, asked Dr. Greider why telomeres research attracts so many female investigators.
Dr. Greider acknowledged that the founder of this line of research was a woman, and like the bias in the “good old boys network,” women can be known to look for and train other women too. She added something interesting though when she went on to say that it is important for women to hold higher leadership levels in academic medicine as women work in a more social, collaborative way. Her view is that women could change how science is done and how institutions are run, making way for different kinds of results. Dr. Greider is certainly not the first to postulate that women are better collaborators than men. David Gergen, editor-at-large for US News & World Report, in his forward to the book Enlightened Power: How Women are Transporting the Practice of Leadership, suggests that whether it is through socialization or genetics, women seem particularly tailored for the new “web-based” leadership. Sally Helgesen agrees in her book The Female Advantage as she points out that women are particularly well-matched for the collaborative requirements of today’s world. Do you have experiences with women collaborators that matches what Dr. Gredier and these others suggest? Can you give us your story?
So far the results of our one-question LinkedIn poll:
How do you like to Collaborate?
says that we have a preference for a Combination of methods followed by Face to Face. If you haven’t weighed in yet, click on the link above to state your opinion.
You can also participate in our longer collaboration survey at
Contributors have commented that filling it out was informative. We will summarize the data from all polls and report on it here once the sample is large enough to be significant.
According to the Price-Waterhouse 2008 CEO Survey, when CEOs were asked which of the following were critical skills to their corporation, the Ability to Collaborate ranked 3rd.
The survey summary went on to say:
“Although they [CEOs] say that it is quite easy to recruit people who can cooperate with each other, they also say that lack of cross functional collaboration is the third biggest roadblock in realizing the benefits of major change programs.”
So, one message from these corporate leaders is that people are stymied when exercising their capacity to cooperate. Perhaps one of the deterrents is the vertical silo structure many companies use to form their businesses. Maddie talks of her work in an R&D organization where the marketing/sales staff was perceived to promise product features to customers which the engineering staff could not deliver. Members within each function teamed quite well together yet there were few marketing-sales-engineering pow-wows to create common expectations. Hence, fault-finding between functions often accompanied disappointed customers.
What changes has your organization made to foster collaboration?
Please take our LinkedIn poll to answer this question:
Recently I listened to an interview on a local NPR-affiliate radio station of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. He described a collaboration with South African artist Robin Rhode which they are performing at NYC’s Lincoln Center. “Pictures Reframed” included Rhode’s panels of art and a video along with Andsnes playing “Pictures at an Exhibition”, by the 19th century Russian composer, Mussorgsky.
Performance of "Pictures Reframed" ( photo used with permission)
Reviews suggest that this mixing of music, film and abstract art surpassed the impact of each art alone. Andsnes is quoted as saying he doesn’t know where this collaboration will lead but more performances are scheduled throughout this fall season. As Andsnes reminds us in his biography (http://www.andsnes.com/index.php), joining with another to create is a way to increase the challenge in ones’ work and life. This all makes me stop and take stock of where I am acting solo when a collaborator might help me have greater impact.