Friday, April 07, 2006

collaboration and creating together



Collaboration is a slippery sort of concept. Weren't collaborators the people who protected themselves by siding with the bad guys during WWII? We have a way of turning things inside out so that only the dark side is showing. Have you noticed that if you say "it's a great day today," people are likely to reply "yeah. It sucks that I have to be inside all day." Collaboration is like that: a sunny day that people notice in terms of what they can't do.

Despite the language, we all want to co-create our reality with other people - sometimes the people in our personal lives and sometimes people whose talents and abilities complement our own and allow us to achieve more together than separately. We want to know that we are working toward the same thing, and even to enjoy the process. We want to influence and to be open to influence, simultaneously.

It's easier said than done. What does it mean to want the best for someone else? We use words like 'best' to describe an intention without prescribing the form it should take. Sometimes the results are that the 'best' we want is quite different than the 'best' they choose. Sometimes we take the safer route of specifying which 'best' we want to share: when we tell our children to do their best in school because we want the best for them, we accept some responsibility for getting outside information about what their best might be.

As a teacher, getting the best from students means giving them a little more than they can comfortably handle so they can discover that they have set the bar a little lower than their best. The approach is not without risks, and depends on my flexibility to notice their best and set a standard that is challenging and not discouraging.

Notice that there is an edge of opposition that inevitably creeps in to working for the best for someone else, a presupposition that one knows where to go looking for the best that is not always shared by co-creators. Then we make a choice between accepting their views or fighting for our own. Which may be why we hold onto the idea that collaborators are both valued partners and people who conspire against us.

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