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Direct vs. indirect collaboration

Some of the most wonderful collaborative moments occur indirectly. If you’ve ever been in a desultory conversation with colleagues, when the perfect solution to a collective problem or the perfect arrangement for working together seemed to magically show up, you know what I’m talking about.

The appeal of indirect collaboration is obvious: it’s powerful and seemingly effortless. So it’s no surprise that anytime we need collaboration, we’re quick to engage in a passive egalitarian exchange of ideas, and hope for that collective eureka moment. The key word here: hope.

Just recently a couple of entrepreneurs asked me to a cup of coffee. They were doing work that was complementary to mine and thought if we all put our heads together, we were bound to discover an opportunity to collaborate. So we chatted about our lives, our businesses, our goals, our dreams, and waited for the collaboration to happen. But it didn’t.

And therein lies the problem with indirect collaboration, it’s not available on demand. It happens by way of serendipity and you can’t create serendipity.  The best you can do is foster it.

Steve Jobs understood this. When redesigning the Pixar Studios complex, he famously put all the bathrooms (he decided on just two) in one central space. Sure, it was inconvenient for many, but it ensured people from every corner of the organization would frequently bump into one another, fostering lots of random conversations. The chance that any one of those conversations would lead to collaboration was slim, but enough conversations, and one of them was bound to lead to the next great project.

Clay Hebert understands this too. His new platform, Spindows, allows speed video networking between people in the same organization. Spindows  randomly connects users based on a particular topic or common interest. The beauty of the service is that it allows you to do a lot of sessions in a short amount of time. The more chats, the greater the likelihood of a collaborative breakthrough

Indirect collaboration can be a worthy long term strategy but it requires foresight and patience.

If you want collaboration right now, you’re far better off going with a more direct approach. Direct collaboration doesn’t require serendipity,  just leadership. It involves one person, putting themselves on the line, risking rejection, selling their idea to others. A champion.

Sometimes we forget that this is the way collaboration usually happens. It’s effortful not effortless. It’s often messy, seldom romantic, and can sometimes lead to broken hearts and bruised egos. But it’s much more reliable.

  • http://CorporateCultureRevolution.com/ Bob Winchester

    Very insightful! I never thought about indirect collaboration like that. I feel like this is often the case when we try to force “art”. You just can’t.

    The best you can do is setup the environment where it’s most likely to happen.

    With that being said, it’s seems like it’s a good idea to be intentional about the environment you are collaborating in.

    I wonder if you had chosen a different environment, besides the coffee shop (maybe the golf course), if the outcome would have been different? With less emphasis on the outcome, maybe serendipity would have been kinder?

  • http://www.facebook.com/marc.wong.184 Marc Wong

    Sometimes you can have a eureka moment when you have a good listener. They can just listen to you talk; be a sounding board. They can ask good questions that make you think of new possibilities. They can give you support and encouragement.