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Collaborating Upside Down

Added on: 24-Aug-17 12:00am



Author: Stuart Waters

If you wore glasses that made everything look upside down, how would you cope? This question is at the core of a famous set of experiments from the mid-20th century. You can find some information about that here or try this quaint video.


It turns out that at first the brain struggles to make sense of the upside-down view, but after a few days, something miraculous happens. The brain adjusts and upside down becomes the new normal.


To me this story is a good metaphor for learning to work differently with others. In my work with clients I often encourage them to “put on their collaborative goggles” after which they won’t be able to see the world the same way. It sounds easy, but I know that those collaborative goggles can be just as disorienting as if they turned the world upside down.


With the goggles on we see opportunities to collaborate everywhere, but our business as usual brains struggle to make sense of the vista. While we see an opportunity to be vulnerable, to express uncertainty and to invite people in to our dilemmas, our business as usual brain is telling us that we can’t talk to people until we ‘have all of our ducks lined up’, or that we need to create the plan and then ‘sell it’ to our stakeholders.


Initially, the collaborative world looks strange and unmanageable and we struggle to make it work. But after a while that miracle happens and our brains begin to adjust. It isn’t long before we stop noticing the newness and strangeness, and find ourselves operating in a very different way. Rather than tell we ask. Rather than solve problems and ‘roll out the solution’ we share dilemmas and invite others in to help. Rather than apply linear thinking we value emergence in the face of complexity.


And after a while we no longer need those goggles. We have rewired our brains and can never go back to the old ways.


So, put on those collaboration goggles. The world will look strange at first, but it won’t be long before you are seeing things you have never seen before.


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