Hi, today I’d like to welcome you to a special edition of the Collaboration Dynamics Podcast.
I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned from nine months of presenting this podcast, and interviewing some amazing people.
In the 26 episodes that I’ve conducted so far I’ve interviewed people who are prominent in their fields, and whose success is due in no small part to collaboration. I was fascinated to find out what made these specialists tick – what motivated them, how they take decisions, how decide who to connect with, how, and when.
With each interview, I’ve explored the metaphors that each of the experts use day to day.
In uncovering someone’s unique and individual metaphors, you get an insight into how that person’s world is constructed. You find out what this way of thinking enables them to do, and how it may restrict them. It gives clues as to what can motivate them to take action and what it stops them from doing – for example, stopping them messing up.
Making these largely unconscious metaphors explicit has many benefits.
The benefits I see are:
- Help make people’s thinking much more tangible: when someone says that when they are collaborating at their best they’re like the conductor of an orchestra, you get an instant sense of what that might be like.
- Because you “get it” instantly with a metaphor, it’s a great way to understand the sheer diversity of ways that people think, and in particular how they think about collaboration. It’s easy to imagine, when you hear a word like “collaboration”, that it means pretty much the same to everyone. And then when the boss of a company announces it wants more collaboration to happen, they think everybody knows what they mean… until everyone does something different as a result.
- Thirdly, exploring people’s metaphors helps you take people off their well-worn thinking paths and invite them to share something different about themselves. So you get someone like Tim Ferriss, who when I met him was bashing out a dozen interviews a day for a book tour, and actually get something new and interesting from him: that when he does his modelling thing, finding out how people do stuff, it’s like drawing animals in a zoo.
So what were some of the metaphors that I found among these effective collaborators?
Several people had metaphors which picked up on a “flow”-type experience – like a surfer caching the perfect wave; like a millpond, completely still and silent; like a gazelle, off and running.
There were high-energy metaphors, like a cauldron bubbling with ideas; like a lively daytime party; like the Large Hadron Collider.
The most common single metaphor was that of the conductor of an orchestra: three people came up with this one. But when you listen to the interviews, or read the transcripts, and compare them, it’s soon obvious that each of those conductors is very different from the others. That’s one of the things I love about metaphors – like snowflakes, they really are unique.
And there was one metaphor that was missing. In 26 episodes, not a single person referred to a “team” or “teamwork”. We had no football metaphors, no rugby metaphors, no cricket, no cycling. That struck me as very interesting indeed – although it might just be something about the people I chose to interview.
So, what’s the practical value here? For me, there are a couple of those:
- Once we understand how different people think about “collaboration”, we can use that information to find the people that we want to work with, or to work better with the collaborators we have. Do I want to collaborate with an orchestral conductor, or would I work better with someone whose idea of collaboration involves independent yachts, floating round a bay doing their own thing as long as they don’t bump into each other? And if I’ve been working with the little boats guy, and wondering why they don’t beat out a rhythm, then I can adapt my expectations! This is the stuff I do to help virtual teams work better together, and it’s absolutely beautiful to see people who’ve been at loggerheads suddenly realise that actually, nobody’s trying to make life difficult – they just see things differently.
- You also have the option, if you choose to, to borrow ideas from other people and “try on” someone else’s way of doing collaboration. You don’t have to be stuck with the orchestral conductor thing if it’s not working for you – why not play with the boats-on-the-bay thing? This is the heart of “modelling” – to find out how someone does stuff, and try it on. And I think metaphor provides an effective, as well as rather beautiful, way of doing that in any context where the way people think about what they’re doing makes a difference – which is more of less everywhere.
So, as I’ve been interviewing all these lovely people I’ve been trying on their ways of thinking about collaboration, and as a result I’ve been opening up to new ways of working with people. I’ve been rediscovering the value of co-thinkers in my field and beyond; I’ve been noticing how important random, lateral connections can be; I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zone to explore the gritty details of subjects like self-organisation, or complexity theory.
Now, let’s talk about you. What are the metaphors that you use in collaboration? How well do they work for you – and for the people you collaborate with?
If you don’t know yet, and you’d like to, I can help. I’ve set aside some slots in my diary to do private “interviews” for anyone who’d like to explore their own metaphors for collaboration, and find out how to use them to collaborate more effectively. This is a pilot, so I’m charging a nominal fee of £20 per session. If you’d like to grab one, drop me a message via the contact form on my website.
Next time I’ll be talking about collaboration with a collaboration technology expert, Matt Ballantine. So until then, this is Judy Rees saying thanks for listening and speak to you soon.