TregoED Blog

Resisting the Temptation to Avoid Collaboration

James Watson (of Nobel Prize-winning science duo Crick & Watson) once stated:

“Nothing new that is really interesting comes without collaboration.”   Most of us accept that the world is too complex for one person to have all the answers. But do we behave this way in practice?   Do we risk complicating – but ultimately improving – our decision-making by getting others involved?

You, like me, have probably had the experience of attempting to collaborate with others on something important – only to later question your sanity.  In theory, collaborative decision-making sounds compelling. In practice, though, it can be messy, scary, and sometimes downright infuriating.  Often it just seems easier and more effective to do it yourself.

The problem is, while it may seem easier, it is rarely more effective. In his bestselling book The Wisdom of Crowds,   James Surowiecki explores the intriguing and well-substantiated idea that the collective judgment of many people is almost always superior to the opinions of just a few – even the experts’.  When we choose not to collaborate, we lose the opportunity to:

–          Develop the best possible solution or outcome

–          Reduce the odds that our solution will face significant, indefensible opposition from others

–          Garner support for implementation

–          Further build trust and transparency

–          Help others increase knowledge and capabilities through participating

–          Help a district further evolve into one that is collaborative, continually learning, and committed to excellence

However, despite all the compelling reasons to use collaborative decision-making, it can still strike fear in the hearts of the strong.  Why is collaboration simultaneously revered and feared? In a blog post entitled  “8 Dangers of Collaboration” Nilofer Merchant posits that collaboration feels inherently dangerous.  Leading her list of dangers is a big one: not knowing and being able to control the answer. To collaborate, we need to relinquish our need to control the outcome.  We need a certain tolerance for ambiguity – a willingness to learn and to allow our thinking to evolve.  We need to be open to listening and learning from others – and to thinking that may be vastly different from our own.

If it were easier to admit we didn’t have all the answers, how would that change the way we teach?  The way we parent? The way we lead?   Imagine the example we set by embracing other contributions and perspectives. In this age of increasing demands and decreasing resources, we need some new and interesting – and viable – solutions.  Schools and districts that have been most successful in innovating have figured out how to harness the power of collaboration. Stay tuned for more on how they have done this….