Exploring the origins, ethics and future of changemaking

Limits of the mind and how to work with others

In Collective Impact, Personal Reflections on June 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm

“One day you’ll find out that you but play with words, and though you think you simplify the world, you but shroud truth in small complexities” – Joan Grant

I have been having a dilemma lately with one of the projects I am pursuing. The project has been a major collaboration between a number of parties over the last couple of years. We have been progressing quite well, and despite the divergent views and interests of those involved, we have been able to put our differences aside to focus on what collectively unites us.

Then entered a new partner, who rather than focuses on what is working well within the collaboration, he seems to focus on what is not working. His intellect is extraordinary and his ability to question almost anything is very strong. On the upside, his divergent views could help us to move into a better understanding of where we need to go. Questioning is incredibly valuable and it is important for us to continually seek out greater insight to our motivations and what we want to achieve. Questioning, doubt and negativity though totally rubs me up the wrong way.

I have worked with this individual before, and it is the same story every time. From my experience, seeking to understand truth by dissecting knowledge and information does not get you closer to truth. Seeking to make oneself right by making others wrong also does not lead one closer to a higher viewpoint. Not only does it constrain thinking, it is not effective in building relationships with others. And dominating conversation by shutting others down also gets under my skin.

While others have perhaps not been triggered to the same level as I have, they have noticed this injection of negativity. One colleague suggested that perhaps we have different values. I don’t necessarily buy that one. While I can’t really know his values or motivations, my sense is that we perhaps do share similar motivations on one level. I appreciate that he wants to do good in the world and have what we are doing end up successful. I am simply challenged immensely by the way he goes about it, and even have judgements that his way is not as effective as mine (my arrogance).

Every situation has the opportunity to teach us about ourselves, and I am keen to understand what this is trying to teach me about me. How have I created this? or how am I bringing the same qualities to this situation? My understanding of the law of karma, or cause and effect, is that everything that is experienced in life somehow originated in my own thinking or actions.

My approach in working with others is in many ways opposite to his. I am incredibly optimistic and focus (almost blindly!) on what unites us rather than divides us. I see great value in looking at how unrelated and divergent views do in fact add up to a greater whole. And I know the positive effects of optimism, and how it creates energy, gives voice to others and enables the flow of creativity.

It is not to say that I don’t have intellect or a strong mind. My mind trips me up constantly, and I wonder whether this form of optimism is just another trap of the mind. I state that my focus on this is ‘almost blind’ because I don’t readily go into detail. I fear getting caught up in over-thinking and being trapped in analysis paralysis. Perhaps my reluctance to go into his space mirrors his reluctance to enter mine. While I think that my approach is the most effective, so too does he. How arrogant is it to assume that my way is the better way.

There is a great deal of fervour around this notion of collaboration and ‘collective impact’ at the moment. I am involved in a bunch of projects that are bringing together diverse stakeholders. I am hearing from government, philanthropy, individuals and community organisations about the need to collaborate, and ‘collective impact’ is being heralded as the great new frontier for doing good in the world. I am not wanting to dismiss or dispute this new meme. On the contrary I am running full-steam-ahead into this; playing and exploring. I do however think it will be many years before we truly understand how to do this work effectively.

A lot of attention is being given to the technical aspects of collective impact – structures, strategies and resources. In my experience however, the most difficult and influential part is the human dimension. How is it that we come together to work towards a common goal? Will opinions, attitudes and our limiting frames of reference actually get us there? How can I approach this as an adventure and with a spirit of play, enthusiasm, openness and curiosity.

As for my dilemma, perhaps this collaboration needs us both. I simply need to learn how to work alongside a totally different viewpoint. I need watch how his inputs trigger stuff in me, be courageous in my own sharing, practice empathy, allow for alternative ways of approaching it, and maintain my optimism that truth will prevail. I need to play.

“One day I shall take you from this ancient land where people are grave with too much wisdom, and take you to Minoas where their hearts sing with youth” – Joan Grant, Winged Pharaoh.

For more on optimism vs pessimism, check out “Is that really going to work? the ups and downs of cynicism”

For more on “Collective Impact”, check out this Stanford article or FSG Social Impact Consultants

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  1. I read ineffective process – nothing more.

    As a rule we seek to reach alignment always at least one point beyond where we actually have alignment. If it’s true that there are shared values, then I would suggest a process of uncovering values and pushing down the line until, as a group, you can see where you are misaligned. Then, instead of focusing on the mis-alignment, shore up the lowest level of alignment. This will provide a solid foundation for moving forward into what appears to be trickier territory.

    It’s the inevitable challenge of bringing a new person into a group where (perhaps) some of this work has already been done. The process of onboarding and familiarising others with the group dynamic and rules of engagement is something that needs to be taken as seriously today as it did in tribal times.

    Conflict is the inevitable consequence of ineffective communication. It is the group’s responsibility (not yours) to address this, not specifically, but from the meta. It seems as if you need to answer the question at a process level in order to ensure that you can not only deal with this particular experience, but any future ones that may arise.

  2. […] Limits of the mind and how to work with others […]

  3. I would like to make a suggestion. There is a thinking key to building cooperation (when possible) between two seeming opposites.
    People can enter quite quickly into what we are ‘against’. But when we do this our actions will be defined by and dependent upon what we are against and will create a closed, bipolar loop, and therefore stasis.
    Being ‘for’ opens that system, allows you to go beyond the obstacle and leave it behind. Being ‘for’ promotes solutions and forward movement. So to get out of opposition, always go back, again and again, to what you and everyone else is ‘for’.
    Try it. It’s simple, but it works every time to clarify action and direction..

    • Hello Kimberly, thank you very much for your comment. You articulated so much more succinctly and beautifully what in essence I was trying to say…a gift. If you are keen to share what you are up to in this space, or your interests around these topics, I would very much appreciate that. All the best, Benny

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