Balancing Collaboration With Focus
Innovation comes from balancing collaboration with deep focus. The collaboration provides an external stimulus that helps generate new insights. The deep focus helps the mind process the insights captured.
I spent years facilitating corporate strategy sessions. These all centered on creating a unique advantage that they could exploit over their competitors. In each session there were multiple perspectives. The session was an amalgamation of the entire organization but based on positional functions.
The delicate coordination always centered on the interplay between deep thought and connection. I could have just put everyone in a room to figure it out, but the odds of an effective strategy coming out of the session was rare. To find the right balance with direction the team needed a design that brought people together and then separated them to nurture both sides of the process.
Collaboration is a classic buzzword like teamwork. The combining of work efforts to make something bigger than individuals can on their own. While corporate America slings around the word like a common verb, it misses the intent that the human race is reaching new realms of complexity and possibility that require the efforts of multiple experts.
Think of NASA in the 1950’s and 1960’s trying to get to the moon. The goal couldn’t be reached by being at the direction of one person or mastermind. It was too complex of an issue; NASA needed a collection of specialists working together.
In the office though, the bulk of work done is still mostly individual. We problem solve by bouncing ideas back and forth in a group. But we still revert back to the individual side to refine to solution.
Steve Jobs had an ill-founded theory on spontaneous connection. Believing that people with different disciplines would interact with each other spontaneously and drive innovative thoughts. Jobs with Jony Ivy even designed the new Apple headquarters in a circular fashion to elicit this outcome. Which worked to an extent, but it was more by accident than serendipity.
Theories like this fail to take hold that humans are tribal by nature. Their preference is to not go out of their way to interact those outside of their tribe. In this situation, roles and organizational departments represent internal tribes. Serendipitous meetings of others only work for the outgoing few in the office.
Approaches like this miss the key insights from quiet and shy. Instead, design events that maximize everyone’s’ efforts. You can gain spontaneous interaction in a controlled manner.
The mind doesn’t necessarily need specific conditions for deeper thought. On occasion the mind will tunnel when stressed. This is a limitation of cognitive bandwidth hyper focus and narrowing on one subject. However, this can also lead to focus on low-value tasks right in front of the person instead of the highest valued items.
Tunneling is great for putting out fires, but not building suppression systems. The mind needs space to think and process. This comes with controlling external people and stimuli.
Bringing back the need to find solitude at certain points during the thinking process to achieve progressive next steps. Solitude helps regulate emotions; it calms us down to then engage with others. The key is choosing to spend time alone.
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