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How do I use Alpha Ursae Minoris to help me collaborate?

Added on: 17-Oct-17 12:00am

Author: Stuart Waters

Nobody has ever asked me this question, but I'm going to answer it anyway.

Star-gazers from the Northern Hemisphere may recognise the proper name for Polaris, the pole star, which sits close to the point in the sky above the North Pole. The long name tells us that it is in the constellation Ursa Minor.

For thousands of years navigators have looked to this star and its near neighbours to guide them on their journeys. Find Polaris and you know where north lies. You may not know where you are, but Polaris shows you which direction to head.

Just as it is for navigators crossing the oceans, for collaborators it is easy to get lost some times. You aren't sure of the situation. A wide range of actions is possible but outcomes are unknowable; Which to choose? There is no way to know what lies over the horizon. Help!

This is where Polaris becomes important. When working together in the face of complexity, with little clarity about how to make progress or which direction to choose, it is very helpful to have a 'pole star' to help you. Except when collaborating it isn't a star, but an idea, a goal, a sense of the destination. It is a light on the hill to help guide you on your journey.

Sometimes the goal could be distant and very aspirational. For example, in catchment planning one group of collaborators is aiming for "an iconic waterway". While another group is aiming for something closer, more within their control, more achievable: "a strategy that we all own".

The light on the hill helps collaborators make choices about what to persist with. Is a specific action bringing the first group closer to an iconic waterway? If yes, then keep going. If no, then try another tack. Is a particular process building ownership among the second group? If yes, do more. If no, try something else.

When collaborating there are always choices to be made about what is working and whether to change course. One of the most useful tools for guiding decisions is that shared idea of where you are going.

Create your pole star together and you will always be able to find true north.

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