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Leadership
A Meditation on the Meaning of Collaboration

As some of you will have seen, some time ago I coined the term ‘knotworks,’ which I defined as ‘networks with ego.’ My first articles about knotworks related to co-creation and the way in which many networks, projects and organisations eventually collapse due to underlying dynamics relating to ego, which people, especially leaders, fail to either recognise or address.

As some of you will have seen, some time ago I coined the term ‘knotworks,’ which I defined as ‘networks with ego.’ My first articles about knotworks related to co-creation and the way in which many networks, projects and organisations eventually collapse due to underlying dynamics relating to ego, which people, especially leaders, fail to either recognise or address.

If we break down the word collaboration we find three elements:

co – meaning company, as in the company of others

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lab – meaning laboratory, the sense of experimentation

ration – the etymology from which we can derive ratio

So here is the thing about collaborative projects. There is much talk about joining together in the company of others to experiment on a new initiative, with the expectation of a certain outcome. But if we look at the dynamics of any particular collaboration, especially in the “new” sharing economy, we also need to attend to the ratio of the sharing of the outcome, as well as the input.

Simon Robinson,
speaker at
Sustainable Brands 2015
San Diego
If a collaboration is done without ego, then the person initiating the venture will wish success for those collaborating.

But a dynamic I have seen close at hand a number of times is the dynamic of the initiator seeking to exploit the inputs and efforts of others for their own gain, hence the ratio of the outputs are all geared towards the commander, who always retains full control of the project. Same old logic with a new vocabulary.

Sometimes this dynamic will be far below the surface of any conscious actions, but it will be there especially if the project becomes successful and has just one person as the figurehead.

And at other times, the initiators of a project will have an absolutely explicit and predatory aim in their minds, one which is in danger of creating master-and-slave relationships.

The whole situation is now becoming exacerbated with the added element of volunteering. This is an interesting dynamic to explore, since often the initiator will have received funding, either through explicit sponsorship or through less obvious means, and while therefore receiving some kind of income, will still expect others to volunteer both their time and also resources or intellectual property.

Where volunteering is centered around innovation, this sharing and volunteering model is wide open to exploitation, since there will often be no contracts in place that define how intellectual property can be shared. This is quite a different situation, say, to open technology standards, since those companies and organisations moving to open will have very clear strategic, tactical and well-thought-out business models that make sense commercially.

In this age of NGOs, where consultants receive payment from corporate sponsors, sometimes it can lead to volunteers feeling awkward, uncomfortable and unrewarded. Yes, they may start a collaboration project full of hope and the desire to improve a social, ecological or political situation, but when the dynamics of knotworks start to bubble up, then the leaders may well encounter turbulence, which can easily lead to recriminations, arguments and sourness.

If these issues of predators, ego and knotworks are not acknowledged and worked out in advance then the project will struggle to remain sustainable and ultimately run the risk of collapse. We simply have to start to address these issues, since all the great and uplifting and wonderful and magical admonitions to volunteer and share will come to nowt.

So … collaboration. I didn’t mention the little ‘o’.

If you have got yourself tied up in a knotwork, and it represents a ratio of 0 - of no sharing of the outcomes and the recognition - then the ultimate long-term result of the project will be 0.

But if you are not in ego, and you fully live by a set of values, which as a leader you always ensure are shared in your collaboration project, then the ‘o’ can be a symbol of wholeness. If the project is one of an authentic wholeness, this whole - the vision, the essence and values - can fully come to presence in the parts.

So for me, sometimes it is no problem if members of a project do not initially share the same vision and purpose. This is not a problem if the people share the same universal human values of peace, truth, love, right-action and non-violence. Because then authentic, honest and creative dialogue can take place, and new ideas can emerge from the whole, from each person’s differing perspectives and mental models.

Human values to me are like a map. The age-old metaphor of the moral compass is now needed like never before. Human values can guide us through our new collaborations where we explore new organisational structures, relationships and business models; business models where the ratio is shared, equitable and fair. Then you have sustainability, and then the magic happens.

This post first appeared on the Transition Consciousness blog on April 5, 2015.

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