A Meditation on the Meaning of Collaboration

As some of you will have seen, some time ago I coined the term ‘knotworks’ which I defined as ‘networks with ego’. My first articles about knotworks related to co-creation and the way in which many networks, projects and organisations eventually collapse due to underlying dynamics relating to ego which people, especially leaders, fail to either recognise or address.

The squiggle of Knotworking

The squiggle of Knotworking

In this article I would like to now move from co-creation to collaboration, especially as sharing and the sharing economy are becoming ever more hotter topics, which is great, albeit the fact that the current discussion on the whole tends to avoid the tricky, or knotty, issue of ego.

Credit: Simon Robinson

Credit: Simon Robinson

If we breakdown the word collaboration we find three elements.

co – meaning company, as in the company of others

lab – meaning laboratory, the sense of experimentation

ration – the etymology from which we can derive ratio

So here is the thing about collaborative projects. There is much talk about joining together in the company of others to experiment on a new initiative, with the expectation of a certain outcome. But if we look at the dynamics of any particular collaboration, especially in the “new” sharing economy, we also need to attend to the ratio of the sharing of the outcome, as well as the input.

If a collaboration is done without ego, then the person initiating the venture will wish success for those collaborating.

But a dynamic I have seen close at hand a number of times is the dynamic of the initiator seeing to exploit the inputs and efforts of others for their own gain, hence the ratio of the outputs are all geared towards the commander who always retains full control of the project. Same old logic with a new vocabulary.

Sometimes this dynamic will be far below the surface of any conscious actions, but it will be there especially if the project becomes successful and has just one person as the figurehead.

And at other times, the initiators of a project will have an absolutely explicit and predatory aim in their minds, ones which are in danger of creating master and slave relationships.

The whole situation is now becoming exacerbated with the added element of volunteering. This is an interesting dynamic to explore, since often the initiator will have received funding, either through explicit sponsorship or through less obvious means, and while therefore receiving some kind of income, will still expect others to volunteer both their time and also resources or intellectual property.

Where volunteering is centered around innovation, this sharing and volunteering model is wide open to exploitation, since there will often be no contracts in place which define how intellectual property can be shared. This is quite a different situation say to open technology standards, since those companies and organisations moving to open will have very clear strategic, tactical and well-thought-out business models which make sense commercially.

In this age of NGOs, where consultants receive payment from corporate sponsors, sometimes it can lead to volunteers feeling awkward, uncomfortable and unrewarded. Yes, they may start a collaboration project full of hope and the desire to improve a social, ecological or political situation, but when the dynamics of knotworks start to bubble up, then the leaders may well encounter turbulence, which can easily lead to recriminations, arguments and sourness.

If these issues of predators, ego and knotworks are not acknowledged and worked-out in advance then the project will struggle to remain sustainable and ultimately run the risk of collapse. We simply have to start to address these issues, since all the great and uplifting and wonderful and magical admonitions to volunteer and share will come to nowt.

So collaboration.

I didn’t mention little o.

If you have got yourself tied up in a knotwork, and it represents a ratio of 0, of no sharing of the outcomes and the recognition, then the ultimate long-term result of the project will be 0.

But if you are not in ego, and you full live by a set of values which as a leader you always ensure are shared in your collaboration project, then the o can be a symbol of wholeness, O. If the project is one of an authentic wholeness, this whole, the vision, the essence and values can fully come to presence in the parts.

So for me, sometimes it is no problem if members of a project do not initially share the same vision and purpose. This is not a problem if the people share the same universal human values of peace, truth, love, right-action and non-violence. Because then authentic, honest and creative dialogue can take place, and new ideas can emerge from the whole, from each person’s differing perspectives and mental models.

Tolkein quote mapping

Human values to me are like a map. The age-old metaphor of the moral compass is now needed like never before. Human values can guide us through our new collaborations where we explore new organisational structures, relationships and business models; business models where the ratio is shared, equitable and fair. Then you have sustainability, and then the magic happens.

Related Articles

Beware of Knotworks – Networks with Ego

Narratives, Knotworks and Authentic Networks

4 responses to “A Meditation on the Meaning of Collaboration

  1. Hi Simon,

    This is just great!

    My colleague Tom Romito, Facilitator and I are developing an I-Open online library with a section “Meditations”.

    The library also includes the section “Archetypes”. Just this morning we were discussing Holonomics as a definite item for inclusion.

    I am not certain how this will be built out quite yet, but may we include Holonomics and today’s article?


    I’ll circle back as things develop.

    Let me know what you think.

    Best regards, Betsey

  2. Pingback: The First Question to Ask Someone Asking You to Collaborate and Share | Transition Consciousness·

  3. Pingback: Successful Leadership in the Sharing Economy – The Journey to Authentic Dialogue | Transition Consciousness·

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