The essentials of collaboration

The story of business has come to be as well known as many of our oldest cultural stories, and like every defining story it evokes a good deal of imagery. Suits and crisp ties, pressed slacks, firm handshakes and, for some reason, the occasional monocle, are all representative of good business. And the big one: competition.

We touched briefly on traditionalism in a previous article and the role it can play in modern business – often in a rather negative way, unfortunately. Now we touch upon another core concept that has a great deal to do with an enterprise’s ability to ride the markets, be innovative, and stay ahead of the curves – and to see the sharp corners ahead in time to flex with them. Now we’re talking about paradigms.

While global business is often the setter and maintainer of trends, it must also be fluid enough to adapt to them or be swept away by the inability to do so. Many folks become deeply uncomfortable with an ongoing deluge of new concepts and ideas while others not only handle the challenge well, they find it enervating.

The Big Picture

We have two conceptual keystones to have a good look at here: Competition and Collaboration. At first thought, these two paradigms seem to contain and reflect very different values and methods of doing business. But let’s peel away some of the more obvious considerations and take a hard look into a few practical applications.

Enterprises are no more or less than the people that comprise them. As such we can turn to the behavioural, sciences to help us examine the relevance of our own ethos and principles. It’s exceptionally hard to stay solvent, reap good margins, and please shareholders when you’re operating off of unexamined assumptions and shaky premises.

By utilizing the newest research and understandings of human behaviour, we place ourselves in a position to cast off the detritus of old paradigms that would otherwise muck us down to travelling in a muddy, rutted circle.

In Context

We’ve always considered the following equation to hold true – that incentive equates to productivity and profit for the enterprise. Indeed, much of our philosophical acumen comes from this truth. But how true is it? Hopefully, it holds some relevance, given how very much we’ve based our systems upon it.

This is one of those scenarios by which our common sense may prove to be a slippery slope on the side of a very tall cliff. But in all, it’s fairly understandable; after all, excellent rewards should generate excellent performance – this is completely reasonable. Science, however, is constantly taking us by the shoulder and firmly telling us that no matter how we may wish a thing to be true has no bearing on observable and tested fact.

RSA Animate produced a video detailing the findings relevant to this article. This research was produced by some of the top people in economics, behavioural studies, and psychology. These individuals hailed from some of the top schools: Carnegie Mellon, the University of Chicago, and MIT. It was funded by the US Federal Reserve, so despite the conclusions of the studies, we can rest assured the following summary has nothing to do with a slanted political agenda of any sort.

The Findings

The science is clear: when a given task moves beyond the most rudimentary need for cognitive skill and creative thinking, increased incentives have an inverse impact on performance. Again and again, in an array of scenarios, the scientists determined that our classic carrot-and-stick approach to labour and business is – and has been – an incredible hindrance to innovation, creative thinking, and real productivity.

The studies also speak to solutions and a new way of doing things: in order to help replace our fallacies, they promote standards that are far closer to what truly motivates us all. People want to be financially stable, undoubtedly; however, what matters most to people is to be treated as people – people find satisfaction in pursuing creative projects, having a sense of purpose, a sense of real contribution that is valued and appreciated, and to achieve mastery of their skills and abilities.

There are so many opportunities in this new collaborative paradigm that are out there, just waiting for us to catch up. Let’s step up to the plate and grasp them together.


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