Attract and serve unexpected allies with different talents and life and work experiences and you are more likely to gain insights that lead to your greater success — and theirs. Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration,” Collaboration author, Morten T. Hansen emphatically concluded, yet you already knew that. Involving others in smart ways has sparked greater success in these five proven ways:
1. Combine Methods or Models From Different Domains
Richard Garfield, the inventor of Magic: The Gathering made $40 million dollars. He combined, for the first time, card games and collectibles (card decks for the game) to create a game that attracted millions of paying players. This is what Frans Johansen, in The Medici Effect, called intersectional thinking. That’s combining two unrelated ideas to create something new and valuable.
Here are two more examples: Beto Perez forgot to bring his usual music tape to class, he looked in the duffle bag he brought to find a substitute to play. He wound up using his mixed tape of salsa and merengue songs. The lively mix of activating music proved to be so wildly popular in class that a lightbulb went off in his mind. He used that unexpected mix to launch the Zumba dance class craze, now the world’s largest fitness movement. Way back in the fifteenth century the Medicis, a banking family, attracted to Florence, Italy, (and funded) people from diverse disciplines — including sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, financiers, painters and architects — who began collaborating.
2. Hone Your Divergent Thinking Skills
Creative people are skilled at “divergent thinking” — “the capacity to come up with many responses to carefully selected question or probes, as contrasted with ‘convergent thinking’ the ability to come up with the correct answer to problems that have only one answer,” found neuroscientist, Nancy Andreasen. She adds, “Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way — seeing things that others cannot see, that sometimes do not exist.” Just like your top talent has a flip side, your biggest weakness, this insight about the up and downside of being creative can motivate us to closely connect with those of different asset, sometimes enabling us to not fall into a pothole via our weakness.
Tip: Compare notes with others in different professions or life situations to see how two unrelated products, services, events or other methods could be combined to create something that is more valuable. Also look for ways to adapt something successful in one market, profession or use to another.
3. Encourage All Employees to Give Insights On The Organization’s Top Project
Pixar encourages employees to participate in the creative process — no matter what their titles are. For example, they screen new films multiple times internally and encourage every employee to give feedback. They also offer after-work programming courses for all employees who want to hone their skills. One janitor took these classes and went on to do a number of jobs at Pixar, including layout work, camera art and voiceovers.
Tip: What if your firm, association or nonprofit set up regular times for cross-functional, candid and facilitated discussions of projects, including potential problems and opportunities?
4. Do Pair-Ups to Pull Out Your Greatest Strengths
To make smart choices on exactly what to “edit, rather than add,” pair up a highly experienced person with a novice on that topic, according to Sian Beilock, performance expert and author of Choke. Through working together, one winds up teaching the other and thus gaining clarity on the subject. The other person, writes Beilock, “helps think about the problem differently or ‘out of the box’ which facilitates the type of creativity that is often needed to solve atypical problems in new, intuitive ways.”Pairing up those with those who have what psychologist Carol Dweck dubs a growth mindset yet different temperaments. For example match up a rosy-lens optimist with a more realistic pessimist, using Marty Seligman’s Learned Optimism to confirm who is on the ends of that spectrum. Pair an introvert with an extrovert, using Susan Cain’s Quiet as a guide to finding both and understanding the benefits each can bring to the task.
5. Capture The Clout of Weak Ties
In Morten Hansen’s book Collaboration, he describes how both weak ties and strong ties are crucial — and that the weak ties created through networking and social media are often the key to new opportunities: “Research shows that it is not the size — the sheer number of contacts maintained by a person — that counts. Rather, it’s the diversity of connections — the number of different types of people, units, expertise, technologies and viewpoints — that people can access through their networks.” Weak ties help here because they “form bridges to worlds we do not walk within,” whereas strong ties are most likely people in worlds we already know. Further, the most valuable relationships are with what Hansen dubs “T-Shaped” people. They freely share across the parts of their organization (the horizontal part of the “T”) and deeply within their work unit (the vertical part of the “T”).
Also cultivate diverse ties “horizontally” across professions, industries and your various interests, and also hone relationships “vertically” deep in your core area of interest and talent. For example, two of my most valuable relationships when I was a journalist for The Wall Street Journal were the CFO — because we had a strong shared interest and extremely different areas of expertise and responsibility — and an analytics expert — because we had different yet mutually beneficial ways of recognizing emerging trends.
Hint: Attract and serve unexpected allies with different talents and life and work experiences and you are more likely to gain insights that lead to your greater success — and theirs. To do so adopt a mutuality mindset where you consistently see sweet spots of shared interest.