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The game called collaboration

‘If collaboration is cool, if cross-functional working is so amazing, why do we build these huge hierarchies?’


That’s Eddie Obeng talking, in his great TED-talk ‘Smart failure for a fast-changing world’. He claims that the rules of the game have drastically changed in our 21st century. Our main problem, as humanity, is that we haven’t adapted to these new rules. Actually, it’s even worse: we haven’t even noticed that the rules have changed.

Past midnight

He calls it ‘past midnight’. It’s as if we were asleep when the rules changed. We woke up in a different world, but nobody told us. In the new game speed, scale and density of interaction have been exploding exponentially. And we don’t know how to react to this.


Old structures (governments, corporations, etcetera) react the way they’ve learned to react. Slow (by making plans that turn out to be useless). Stressed (by requesting creativity in the form of solutions from our workforce who rightfully mistrust any top-down approach to creativity for fear of failure).


In this new world we not only have to behave in a different way, we also have to learn in a different way. We need a learning that may cope with the turbulent and ever-increasing speed, scale and density of the new game.


Wait… let’s just step back for a minute.


Just one rule left

It seems to me that the new game is actually changing its rules at any time. In a linear world, the rules remain more or less stable. In a turbulent world they change continuously. ‘Past midnight’ has the far-reaching consequence that we’ve actually simplified all the rules and turned them into just one single rule:


‘The rule is that the rules are continuously changing’


And that means that the game is in a continuous state of change, meaning that we need to adapt continuously…


Hmmm, well, that’s quite a reactive way to look at it.


Disrupt or be disrupted

Disrupt of be disrupted

Disrupt of be disrupted

Viewed from a pro-active stance it actually means: loads of opportunities to set the rules yourself. And that’s what many around us also do. New companies disrupt markets at an amazing pace (think usual suspects like Amazon, Facebook, Airbnb, but also concepts like Jugaad or Reverse innovation).


And that brings be to the initial quote by Eddie Obeng. As society we’re frenetically seeking ways to collaborate purposefully, to tap into as much creativity as possible, just in order to be able to create the game ourselves, to be literally on top of the game.


Or, as the Red Queen rightfully says in Alice in Wonderland:


‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’


Speeding up is a collaborative exercise

But the old rules, like hierarchy, like formal planning, like fear of failure… keep getting in our ways to running twice as fast. And instinctively we feel it: creating a new game while being in the old game is not only difficult, it’s also mind-boggling. Because successfully operating in two systems at once requires black belt schizophrenia without becoming mad.


It’s exactly at this point that I help organisations. Not by advising them (that would be the old and broken consultancy way of doing things) but by facilitating them. Facilitating them to create a new game and set the rules they want to set. And facilitating them through that transition.


It’s a collaborative exercise. It’s a difficult exercise, especially because participants need to set the goal and the rules all by themselves (instead of looking at the hierarchy); and because the hierarchy needs to step back (which is the total opposite of what they’ve learned at MBA).


And it’s an exercise that is much helped by a well-thought process, made resilient by the sheer fact of its flexibility (my process is only as valuable as the discussions within the group, so if the discussion is not valuable, then I need to change the process; on the spot).


And only such a collaborative process will help you proactively in applying the single rule left. So, are you ready for the new game?

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