INsight/ Collaboration Or Else

Photo by The Guardian

Photo by The Guardian


Manila, 22 May 2019 — Partisan politicians talk up differences and damage collaboration. Leaders do the opposite. Where do you stand?

Politicians or Leaders

The second biggest democratic election in the world will be held this week in Europe. 

Looking around, we see many politicians and few leaders. Talking up differences, what partisan politicians do most the time today, is much easier than the act of working together, which we call collaboration.

Notice the word ‘labor’ inside collaboration? It requires work, real work, to make it happen. It’s not as easy as talking, for sure. And it calls on us to keep working on it with passion, perseverance, and patience.

So what kills collaboration? I would say that we stop working together when we loose curiosity, openness, and humility. As long as curiosity is our mindset, we will be open for collaboration.

That openness is what Otto Scharmer, a scientist at MIT, researched to understand how positive changes happen in projects, organizations, and cities around the world. He found that what makes the difference is for people to engage in change with an open mind, open heart, and open will. He called it Theory U, otherwise known as the U process.

End of Collaboration?

On the unhealthy end of the spectrum, Scharmer found what he calls toxic economies, toxic politics, and toxic learning and media systems. These, he explains, are responsible for many of the negative changes that we see in our societies today.

In particular, we can observe at present a downturn in collaboration when some governments become intolerant, start trade wars, pull out of promises, and generally focus their messaging on explaining that they are right, rather than on doing right.

If collaboration means to labor, politicians since times immemorial have found that it is easier to win votes for the opposite of collaboration. For example, by stressing who is right, who is better, and naming someone as the enemy, for example a company (like Facebook), an organization (like the EU), a group of people (like refugees and immigrants), or a country (like China or Iran).

Listening to the persuasive talks of partisan politicians today, it’s easy to forget about the benefits of collaboration. And this is what happens across Europe today. Most people have only a sketchy understanding of what the EU has delivered.

Realizing that, Rem Koolhaas and Stephan Petermann, two Dutch architects, teamed up with The Guardian to dig into the files and unearth what the EU has actually delivered over the years through collaboration.

A Remarkable Record

What they found is a truly remarkable record. Watch the video for yourself to see what I mean when I refer to the track record of collaboration in Europe.  What the video makes clear is that the benefits of collaboration are enormous, and that they come to Europeans everyday, at a cost that is comparable to their subscription to Netflix, according to Koolhaas and Petermann. 

Going back in time to 1957, the year I greeted our planet for the first time, the European Union’s humble beginnings took place in Rome, where six countries entered into a treaty to establish the European Economic Community.

What the governments of Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany agreed in Rome was a testament to their insight and vision. With Europe just turning away from an era of destructive wars, these founding members of the EEC understood that they needed a radically new way to secure peace between the members.

The radical change that these six founding member states embraced was to make it impossible to wage war by making them dependent on each other through a common market.

This formula turned out to be highly productive and mutually beneficial to the family of countries, which then started growing, now to 28 countries (still including the United Kingdom).

Diversity Calls for Collaboration

While many partisan politicians, for whom the wars of the last century are no longer a part of their personal experience, seem to have given up on collaboration, our world, for all its connectedness and the death of distance through technology, is still a very diverse place. The only sensible and productive way that we can build on that diversity is by choosing collaboration. Regardless of what power-hungry political naysayers contend in their talk shows, the benefits of collaboration hugely outweigh the costs.  

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Rather than partisan politicians talking only to their followers in settings that quickly become echo-chambers, silos and even fortresses, what we need to see much more of is communication that crosses boundaries, shows curiosity, respect, and a desire to find better solutions together.  

That requires work, and that’s where leaders and leadership come in. Will you stand with them? Then I encourage you to vote for a party that values working together and creating collaborative solutions over talk of being the best and posturing to be the most powerful.

In our highly complex, connected  and interdependent world of today, leaders create understanding, collaboration and prosperity. On the other hand, what do power-hungry partisan politicians create when they value power over collaboration? Well, just read up on history, and you’ll find the answer: discord and distrust, which can lead to destruction through conflict and wars. 

Where Do You Stand?

Deciding to believe in, and taking a stand for, collaboration is the best way forward. By showing up to vote and choosing to support a party that champions progress through collaboration, voters in the European elections can this week share a valuable lesson for their fellow citizens on the planet that we share. 

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