Tag: collaboration

complexityinnovationpsychologysocial systemssystems thinking

Kindness Confusion in Collaboration and Co-creation

Hidden Love?

Hidden Love?

An emerging look at evolutionary behaviour is suggesting that we are better suited for survival by working together than in competition. This cooperation imperative has been called “survival of the kindness” which risks lumping affective social generosity and goodwill with effectiveness and desirability and, in doing so, risks the entire enterprise of collaboration-based efforts. 

A recent article in Mindfulness Magazine* profiled work of behavioural scientists who’ve looked at the evolutionary patterns of humans throughout the ages and see convincing evidence that the ‘survival of the fittest’ metaphorical explanation for human development is misleading at best or even outwardly wrong altogether. We are socially better off working together than competing.

What I found disconcerting was the term Survival of the Kindest which has been used multiple times in Mindful in its early issues.  As attractive as this idea is, it a lens. In the photo above love is visible if you look for it. Indeed the lens is literally focusing on what the photographer wants you to see – love. That we see love through the trees (and in our work) is notable, but it doesn’t mean that collaboration and co-operation is necessarily a loving act. In the case of the picture, it draws our attention past the man sleeping on the street with his cardboard donation placemat lying beside him.

And that might be the problem. Framing co-work as necessarily imbued with a set of qualities like kindness or love may mean we miss seeing the forest, the trees or the people sleeping beneath them.

Why might this idea of linking the two together so emphatically be problematic? After all, who doesn’t want a little more love in their life?

Cruelty of kindness

There are many utilitarian reasons to cooperate, co-create and work with others, which has a lot to do with the kind of problems we face. Collaboration requires co-labour — working together. For complex (sometimes wicked) problems that is usually necessary. For complicated problems (or very large ones like healthcare [PDF] ) that is also usually required. But for simple problems and small ones — of which we encounter in abundance every day and are often embedded within larger, complex ones — working alone might be sufficient and efficient.

Working together requires a set of skills that are often assumed, but not rarely paired up. Working together requires different motivational structures, leadership and coordination efforts than working independently. These are not better or worse, just different.

Coupling kindness with the ‘co’s’ of working together — cooperation, collaboration and co-creation — takes a human experience of generosity and imposes it on our work situations**. Certain contemplative traditions emphasize the role in kindness, generosity and love in all things and that embracing kindness in our daily lives we are enabling greater equanimity with our world around us. But to equate one with the other is to betray another saying from the Buddhist tradition:

Do not confuse the finger pointing to the moon with the moon itself

Thus, do not confuse bringing kindness to co-work with cooperation, collaboration or co-creation itself.

Another issue is the ‘est‘ part of the term survival of the kindest. By placing kindness on some form of evaluative gradient where one is either more or less kind we impose a very specific set of cultural parameters around our work. Who is the kindest in the bunch? Assuming we had some tool to measure kindness (which I don’t know exists) are we really comfortable rating and ranking people’s ability to be kind in their work? Should we reward the kindest of the bunch? What does it mean if we are not the kindest?

You can see where this might go.

Working smarter is kind

Min Basadur and his colleagues have been studying work preferences for over 20 years doing research on how people work together. His Basadur profile (below) is based on rigorous psychometric tested data and allows teams to see what kind of preferences their members have for certain types of work. These are preferences only, not value or competence judgements and amenable to change over time. It can be a tool to validate the way we like to work and help us guide how we work with others as well as potentially identify what parts of the problem finding, framing and solving process so important to design and complexity that we might be best suited for.

For example, some are more amenable to generating ideas, while others are more comfortable organizing them or putting together plans of action that are useful to those who are ready to act. While everyone draws on each quadrant in their life, there are spaces where they feel more at home and what the Basadur profile does is help us identify those so we can use our talents well and provide guidance on areas we might wish to develop. I’ve used the Basadur profile with my own work, my academic learning and with clients to helpful effect in spotting problems. Like anything that can ‘type’ people it needs to be used with care and like the Buddhist quote above, it is important to remember that this is pointing to something (work preference) as opposed to being those things.

The Basadur Profile

The Basadur Profile

Just as the Basadur profile shows preferences for certain type of work there are also aptitudes for certain kinds of work that leverage these preferences, for leadership, and for social engagement. Some are better working in groups and some just prefer it.

Collaboration and it’s co-siblings are frequently touted as desirable, positive qualities, yet like many forms of work it is the context in which they are used that matters as much as whether they are used. Certain problems — as mentioned above — are more likely to need co-work to address, but not all. Perhaps more importantly, not all facets of problem solving require co-labour; some may simply require coordination.

The personality of creative work

Co-work makes many assumptions about people’s work preferences and capabilities that are often untested. It also places certain implicit value judgements on personality type. In her popular TED talk and book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain speaks to the often hidden, but large segment of our population of people who draw energy from contemplation, solitary work, or reduced social engagement rather than other people.  As she points out, there are myths and prejudices placed on those who don’t want the attention or are quiet rather than boisterous in this age of social broadcasting. That has enormous potential implications for our work and quietly excludes those who don’t fit the profile of the innovator, the leader, the ideator or whatever archetype we hold in our cultural minds.

Just as the knee-jerk reaction of many in the social innovation community to bringing things to scale, so too is our push to collaborate and co-create everything all the time. And like scaling, there are well-intentioned motives behind this push. Working together brings in many voices to the problem and appears not to exclude people, however if those people we bring in are not as comfortable (indeed, dislike or feel uncomfortable with) working closely together or not skilled at doing so (it is a skill regardless of your personality) we are creating a new set of inequities in the process of trying to fix others.

The point isn’t that we shouldn’t work together; indeed, many of the problems we face demand it. Rather, it’s worth being creative and reflective about what that means in practice and explore ways to work together closely and also apart in a coordinated manner.

How do we honestly, genuinely, and appropriately engage the voices we need and recognize their work styles, personalities, and preferences in a manner that supports the best co-creative aspects rather than imposing a work-together-at-all-cost approach that can sometimes come through in our rhetoric? How can we foster kindness in what we do organically rather than impose it as a value on our work and recognize that co-work is simply working together, not good or bad or kind or unkind?

In being clear about our intentions and how we create the conditions for us to all meaningfully contribute to social transformation efforts in our own way will be more effective in the long run. By allowing all parts of the system — the big and boisterous, the collaborative, the quiet, the solitary — to come together in ways that fit how we actually work and how we like to work we are much more likely to bring about the innovation and systems change we seek.

* link is to supporting ‘extra’s’ not the original article, which is available only through subscription.

**  By work I am referring to any activity that requires some effort to accomplish and not necessarily paid employment

Photo: Cameron Norman

Link: Basadur profile

complexityenvironmentinnovationknowledge translation

Creating Campires For Innovation and Knowledge Translation

Gather round

A campire has been a beacon for human life for centuries and may provide the ideal analogy and literal tool to engaging people in creating new things. The opportunities for it to shape our thinking and actions is enormous.

The campfire is a place where we go for warmth, intimacy, safety, light, food and inspiration. As camping season comes upon us in the Northern part of the Americas, it seems fitting to consider the ways that the campfire might be used to stoke the sparks of imagination and flames of passion (pun firmly intended).

Metaphors and analogies are commonly used in systems thinking and complexity science to illustrate concepts that are, on their own, relatively complex and awkward to describe literally. A campfire provides both a metaphor for bringing people together, but also a literal tool that could be used more effectively in work with groups struggling to innovate, collaborate and contemplate together. From a design perspective, campfires and the social system that they create around them provide an opportunity to enhance intimacy quickly, allowing for the potential to explore issues in ways that are more difficult to do in other settings.

Consider some of the following properties of the campfire.

Lighting has been found to have a strong environmental effect on many behaviours and moods, and the type of inconsistent light that is thrown by a campfire is similar to that which induces relaxation and intimacy (PDF).

It can be argued that storytelling has been our most powerful vehicle for sharing what we know throughout human history. Research on narrative effectiveness has found that emulating the environments created by a campfire (PDF), the close-in, small-group, open dialogue sharing kinds of spaces, leads to more effective communication in business contexts.

The sensory richness of a campfire — the smell of wood and smoke, the crackle, the sight of sparks and flame, the feeling of heat — all create an environment that differs from much of what we are used to, provoking psychophysiological stimulation that has been associated with learning outcomes. Research linking environmental design and architecture has explored the phenomenon of sensory richness and how modern designed environments reduce this and (potentially) limit learning.  (See program example here).

Another quality of a campfire is that it creates space for meditative inquiry. Anthropologists and psychologists have speculated that it was the campfire and the meditative rituals that it created that led modern humans to separate from Neanderthals. The  focus on something like a fire draws attention away from the chaos of the world and channels into a circle that is generated through the campfire.

One of the benefits of a campfire is the circle that it creates. Leadership scholar Meg Wheatley, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea reflected on their use of the circle and how it has been used historically as a means of creating a common space where participants are on more equal footing with one another as a means of leadership promotion. In a circle, everyone can (usually) see everyone else and no position is held as more important than others, which privileges all participants and not just some.

Lastly, the campfire creates not just internal peace, but social intimacy as well. Indeed,modern social media has been compared to the campfire (PDF) in its ability to potentially replicate the focused, shared space that a campfire occupied for much of human life. For the reasons listed above, the social media effect is likely limited, but nonetheless the metaphor may partly hold in light of a lack of alternatives.

In practice, lighting a chord of wood in the middle of an urban setting might be problematic, but it is worth considering for those of us looking to create those social spaces where people can gather. Taking a break and leaving town might be worth doing as well. Failing that, what are the campfire-like spaces that we can create with what we have.

Designers, health promoters or anyone seeking to bring together ideas while working in complex spaces may wish to give this more thought — or meditate on it, which might (as it has done before) spark a new evolutionary shift attributed to the campfire.

art & designdesign thinkinginnovation

Gaming the Health System for Innovation and Change

Yesterday I attended the Cure4Kids Global Health Summit at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The three day event (continuing for the next two days) aims to bring together researchers, practitioners, and clinicians working on issues of importance to child and youth health — including an emphasis on the role of engaging young people. Of the many presentations and conversations that were had on the first day of the event, the ones that struck me the most were on the potential of games and gaming to engage people and promote literacy.

Games are entered into voluntarily and allow for natural collaboration, creative exploration, and constant, developmental learning.

Developing serious games for health often requires artists, designers, users, engineers, social scientists, educators and health professionals working collaboratively so it provides a natural laboratory for design research and studies on participatory engagement on health issues.

But what excited me the most was seeing how games were being developed through games themselves. Small competitions, limited budgets and compressed timelines along with mentorship produced some amazing results (which will be discussed in a later post).

Watching it all, it opened my eyes to how gaming — the games and the process of creating the game itself – could offer so much to learning about innovation, discovery and collaboration.

education & learninginnovationscience & technology

The Persistent Myth of the Lone Genius in Art and Science

Alone in the Sky

Of the many persistent myths about innovation, the lone genius is about the most sticky. Continued research shows how untrue this is. 

When we consider achievement in science, we think of individuals. The Nobel Prize might be awarded to small groups of individuals, but they are not awarded to teams. Indeed, team science is not something recognized in the same way that we recognize individual achievement.

There is a persistent myth that discovery is best achieved through individual genius applied to a problem. The “eureka!” moment is played up in science fiction stories and films from Frankenstein to Back to the Future.

It is a myth because research on creativity and innovation consistently shows that hard work and persistence beats out raw skill (which is a myth in itself) . Indeed, people become skilled through some natural talent, but mostly hard work, concentration and consistent practice.

Yesterday, Keith Sawyer, a psychologist and researcher of innovation and creativity, asked that the lone genius myth to be put to rest. I wish that luck and support the idea, but don’t suspect it will come true. He writes (on artists):

The Wall Street Journal of June 3, 2011 reports that many contemporary artists use an equally collaborative studio system. The article (by Stan Stesser) reports that Jeff Koons has 150 people on his payroll and readily admits that he never paints himself. A long list of expensive, widely collected artists are named in the article; apparently, it is not a secret that the “artist” doesn’t actually execute the work himself. There’s no misreprentation here; gallery owners and dealers tell potential buyers the actual story, and buyers still collect the works.

The earliest return to a collaborative studio model was probably Andy Warhol in the 1960s, who called his studio “The Factory” and famously said “I want to be a machine.” So the “lone genius” model of the painter has been fading for several decades already. In the greater scheme of history, the Romantic era belief that the painter was an inspired solitary genius has been a small blip: slightly over 100 years. Painter as lone genius: Rest In Peace.

The notion that creativity is an individual thing might have to do with the uniqueness in which we all experience creativity. While each of us might create a idea from different things — ideas, feelings, abstract experience — we put such sensory stimuli together in manners that must make coherent sense to understand them. To communicate them, we need to make sure that these ideas are coherent beyond ourselves to others and the best way to do that is to get the input of others in the process. It means, collaboration.

Whether it is science or art, the notion of teams, collaboration, sharing, and co-creating is something too often denied or left unexplored in daily practice. In its place, the myths of the lone genius. It is why faculty are rewarded for being the first author on a paper or grant rather than being part of a team or collaboratory. It is why we do individual performance appraisals for most people. It is also why students are graded on their own work, with little attention to how they brought that work to others to share.

Dr. Sawyer’s declaration of the lone genius as dead is optimistic. What is needed now is something to make it realistic.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Visit the library section of Censemaking.

*** Photo lone giraffe by eddiemalone used under Creative Commons License from Flickr

art & designinnovationknowledge translationpublic healthsocial systems

Trying to Innovate? Try Empathy

Let's imagine what its like to be each other

Designers often point to empathy and collaboration as two essential activities in their creation process with clients. It now appears that these two are more linked than it first appears.  
Collaboration is increasingly becoming among the most “essential” of terms for those working in public health or any other field related to wellbeing. This is for good reason given that much of the environment is which this field operates in involves complex problem solving. And complex problems, those with multiple causes and consequences that are highly dependent on context, require multiple perspectives to adequately address.
Collaboration is a means of engaging the necessary diversity to problem-solve effectively. Adam Richardson from Frog Design recently compared collaborative activity to being a “team sport”. I find the analogy fitting, because a team sport is something that is highly engaging when you’re playing it. When you are on the field of play in a game like football (soccer) or hockey, the focus is on the ball/puck and attractor patterns that build around it. When control of the ball (or puck) is yours, the decision to move alone with it or share it with your teammates is strategic, but in the moment, with the aim of achieving (and scoring) a goal.
Team members don’t contemplate their relationship with others as “collaboration” while playing the game, they simply play the game. Although most of us have played some type of team sport, few of us are really skilled at collaboration and fewer are prepared for it when it comes about. Why is that?
Richardson’s HBR post provides some points to jump off on. He suggests the following key points to consider:
1. Collaboration is a process not an event. We need to be more attuned to the rhythms and pace of others if we are going to be successful at working together. Syncing these and understanding when they are not working together is important and this means paying attention.
2. Helping people warm up to collaboration. Socializing is natural, but many of the contexts we do this in terms of collaboration are not by themselves natural. It is important to get people in the right frame of mind and sometimes this means mixing things up.
3. What is good for collaboration is also good for innovation. What makes someone a good innovator is a willingness to take risks and to build trust. The former is something that comes from personality, experience and support. The latter adds empathy.
Getting these ducks in a row is a problem of design, not just a practice of design. Not only are we not designing spaces for collaboration (both social and physical), we are not designing the intellectual space for it. A study reported through Science Daily and presented at the annual meeting the American Psychological Society in Washington  suggests that students are nowhere near as empathic as their counterparts were in the latter part of the 20th century.
“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”
The report goes on to show how perspective-taking, a key component in empathy (and in good design practice) is becoming less familiar or practiced by students today compared to the 1970’s:
Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective” and “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.”
It is perhaps not surprising that another recently posted article on innovation suggests that large corporate structures where impersonal relations are formed are not conducive to innovation.
Perhaps this all comes down to the relationship qualities that we’ve used since we were kinds. Find and build a tribe of people who you trust and like and spend time with them, get to know them, and invite new people in whenever possible to mix things up. If that is the case, then the way we work in the health and wellness sector is surely in trouble where we don’t curate information and customize our knowledge for others, and we don’t support the kind of relationship building that equates to robust knowledge translation.
I can sympathize with my colleagues who face this problem. But the key is whether or not I can empathize with them.
art & designdesign thinkingknowledge translationresearchscience & technology

Design and Science: An Opportunity for Knowledge Translation and Exchange??

Design of Science or Science of Design

IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown recently observed a renewed interest in design within science, but is that same feeling reciprocated and, if so, what does that mean for both fields?

Tim Brown, author and CEO of the renowned design firm IDEO, recently posted on the firm’s blog some observations he had on the relationship between design and science.

In that post, he asks some important questions of both designers and scientists.

I wonder how much might be gained if designers had a deeper understanding of the science behind synthetic biology and genomics? Or nanotechnology? Or robotics? Could designers help scientists better see the implications and opportunities of the technologies they are creating? Might better educated and aware designers be in a position to challenge the assumptions of the science or reinterpret them in innovative ways? Might they do a better job of fitting the new science into our lives so that we can gain more benefit?

The question of the relationship between designers and the science used to inform the materials or products they us is one that will play out differently depending on the person and context. However, I would welcome the opportunity for designers to challenge much of what science — and I use that term broadly — does, particularly with regards to the application or translation of scientific research into policies and practices. Indeed, this is a frontier where designers have tremendous opportunities to contribute as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

Knowledge translation and translational research are two of the most vexing problem domains in science, particularly with health. Despite years of efforts, scientists haven’t been able to advance the integration of what is learned into what is done at a rate that is acceptable to policy makers, practitioners and the public alike. The problem isn’t just with scientists, but the way the scientific enterprise has been engineered.

Scientists haven’t had to consider design before. Tim Brown asks further questions about what it might be like if they did:

If scientists were more comfortable with intuitive nature of design might they ask more interesting questions? The best scientists often show great leaps of intuition as they develop new hypotheses and yet so much modern science seems to be a dreary methodical process that answers ever more incremental questions. If scientists had some of the skills of designers might they be better able to communicate their new discoveries to the public?

In this case, it might be the chance for designers to step up and consider ways to work with those in science to create better institutional policies, laboratories, and collaborative environments to foster the kind of linkages necessary for effective knowledge translation.

Knowledge translation models, such as the widely cited one conceived of by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, are both process and outcome oriented; ideal for designers. KT is a designed process and the more it is approached through the lens of design thinking, the greater likelihood we’ll get a system that reflects its intentions better than what we currently have.

art & designcomplexityemergence

Clowning Around For Better Empathy and Design

Clowning & Miming for Better Empathy

Clowning might seem either silly or scary to some, but the art of non-verbal communication is just that: an art. And like art, it opens the door to myriad interpretations, but also to greater empathy and that only benefits design.

Tonight I attended my first of what I hope will be many monthly meetings of the Design With Dialogue community of practice being held at OCAD University in Toronto. The topic of the evening was What do clowns know that you don’t ? The hosts were an international clown troupe comprised of Patricia Kambitsch, Heidi Madsen, and Elsa Lam. The answer to the question posed by the evening is: a lot.

The night began with a series of exercises done first in pairs, then pairs of pairs, and then as teams of four. What struck me was that, prior to this evening and a few Twitter follows, I didn’t know a single person at this event. Yet, after the course of two and a half hours, I felt I had a room full of new “peeps”. I was thrilled to find an interesting, engaged and dynamic group of people who could perform for each other without the safety net provided by familiarity.

So what brought this about and what does it have to do with clowns? Actually, the clowns were not made up nor was there even mention of clowning beyond the introduction of the hosts. In the case of tonight’s activity, the clowning was due more to physical performance, and particularly the use of non-verbal communication. Over the course of two hours we went through four sets of activities:

1. In pairs, determined by how tall you were (which isn’t relevant, it just allows for a creative way of splitting the room up), introduce yourself using gestures — particularly exaggerated ones — and then mirror that response back to your partner with no words expressed between you.

2. As a pair, join with another pair and use the non-verbal communication rapport generated from the first exercise to work together to non-verbally communicate a particular emotion (including some tough ones like passed over and pity — try acting these out, you’ll see how hard that can be).

3. Working with both pairs together as a foursome, the new group of four is asked to act out a particular phrase. They are to do this while walking across the room where the rest of the participants are asked to guess the phrase. There is little communication between the four people in this new group.

4. The four individuals sit on four chairs and acts out a skit called “four clowns on a bench” where one person is whispered a scenario and the other three are asked to follow along, not knowing what the actually phrase is.

What happens after all of these is remarkable. I found myself acting in a group on something I didn’t know, yet perceived because of the empathy that I developed over the course of two short hours of working non-verbally. As a result, my group — team — and all the others put on performances that were funny, coherent, and creative with little to no verbal sharing of information.

This stoking of empathy and the insight it produced demonstrated enormous potential for design and teamwork. Building on work that Keith Sawyer has done looking at improv and creativity, this session demonstrated just how powerful non-verbal, emergent communication can be and how us designers — in whatever situation we inhabit — dismiss such opportunities for learning, creative expression and community building at our peril.

I wasn’t really a fan of clowns before tonight; now, I am.

Clown around.

** Photo by Peter Pearson under Creative Commons License from the Flickr pool