It’s a situation played out time and time again: in a generic boardroom bathed in fluoros — tense silence. Someone just dropped the c-bomb.

“We all need to Collaborate better, so we can really Innovate. Now, who’s got a Good Idea?”

There’s only one place this meeting is going, and it sure ain’t anywhere good. 

Mis-used and abused; wheeled out once in a while, dusted off, and fired haphazard at whatever problem happens to be standing in someone’s way. Here are a few of the collaboration myths we hear most often, and the potential pitfalls and consequences of collaboration gone sideways.

Myth/assumption: Collaboration is essential.

Remember back in topic 1 when we delighted at the revelations contained in collaboration’s definition — the action of working with someone to produce something, if it’s already slipped your memory. Yes, there’s no denying collaboration is essential, it’s simply the way we work these days. However, how effective the collaboration is depends entirely on the way we consider it. More on this notion sprinkled throughout topic 2, 3 and 4, and wrapped up in topic 5.

Myth/assumption: Collaboration is when we all come together to solve a problem or work on a task/project.

Here’s another ol’ myth debunked in the definition (the action of working with someone to produce something). The word most worthy of your eyeballs here, is action. Yes, collaboration is an action — a process — not the event or tool it’s often treated as. This is important. Great collaboration rarely turns up only for one-off meetings or annual all-in days — it’s an ongoing affair. A process, you ask? A culture, we suggest — and detail in topic 5. And while we’re banging away at semantics, it’s also worth noting that there’s nothing in the definition to suggest any inherent problem-solving (or any other benefits) to collaboration — these are dots we’ve joined, and expectations we’ve assigned. 

Myth/assumption: Collaboration equals innovation.    

Collaboration sure does equal innovation — ahh but haul the reins before galloping towards conclusions, Kemosabe! We made briefest mention in topic 1 of how collaboration can provide the perfect climate for innovation, however it isn’t necessarily a given. Coaxing the ideal physical and psychological environment for innovation to occur involves numerous considerations. In topic 3, we’ll peel back multiple layers of tin foil to find out what made Warhol’s Factory a hub for innovation, as well as acid-fuelled debauch. We’ll also peer into the English coffee houses to discover why, behind those deceptively traditional facades, new ideas brewed prolific. Finally, we’ll identify the factors involved in assembling the right mix of people, and establishing the psychological safety required for ideas to flourish, in topic 4. 

Myth/assumption: Put smart people together and great collaboration (and results) will just happen.

It’s obvious that the smartest group would be made by corralling the smartest individuals, right? Nope! In recent research into the collective intelligence of groups, psychologists from MIT, Carnegie Mellon University & Union College discovered that the individual intelligence of team members had only minor correlation to the overall smarts of the team. Google’s Project Aristotle confirmed — apparently one plus one does not equal two, would you believe? Don’t take our word for it though, we’ll tuck into both their findings for what makes a high-performing group in topic 4.

Myth/assumption: Everyone needs to be involved at every stage of a project.

Among the most common collaboration assumptions: every person needs to be involved at every stage. The truth? Fattening a team with unnecessary bodies throughout the process merely drags out deadlines and delays delivery — administering slow and certain death by committee. It’s also an excellent means of diluting good ideas — smothering strong, singular messages in the attempt to incorporate numerous (often contradictory) points of view. Advertising is one of the few industries to commoditise an effective collaborative environment— albeit and ironically, in remarkably uncollaborative fashion at times. To take the briefest of peeks behind their mysterious drapes: teams are composed only of people with the skills required to produce the desired result, and group contribution occurs only at certain stages of the process. Curiosity piqued? We expand in topic 3. 

Myth/assumption: Everybody who contributes needs their ideas included in the final outcome.

There’s no denying, give folk the opportunity to contribute, and there’s potential for peevishness if their idea isn’t implemented. However, this is by no means unmanageable. We can pre-empt angst by setting group objectives, clear expectations around individual roles and contribution, and engineering a group free of fear and uncertainty. Again, we turn to advertising to suggest process in topic 3, and research into psychological safety to shape the right environment in topic 4. 

Myth/assumption: People will be more likely to buy-in and have ownership if they’ve been involved.

Do people value something they’ve been involved in more? They certainly do. Research by Duke University reveals there’s a value distortion towards things and situations in which we’ve had involvement. Good news, right? Get everyone involved! Alas, when we involve every person at every stage, we smack headlong into the issues penned previously, compounded by the discontent that may arise if ideas aren’t included. Once again, the solution lies in presenting the right opportunities, expectations, and environment for contribution. We’ll cover ownership in more detail, specifically the Duke University findings, in topic 4.

Myth/assumption: Collaboration can aid decision-making or validation.

Here’s a truth: when faced with big decisions, particularly when there’s substantial risk involved, we often turn to others for assurance. Here’s another certainty: ask a hundred people for their opinions, you’ll get a hundred different opinions — many contradictory; often irrelevant. Not ideal — poised on the brink of delivery; fully invested; more confused and less confident than we were before. Yes, there’s few ideas worse than spending months on a project, finishing it, then seeking feedback just before delivery. The solution isn’t to exclude people from the process however, but knowing when and how to involve them. Also, and perhaps more importantly, being aware of the times to cup the proverbial cajones, and back ourselves. More on this notion peppered throughout topic 3, specifically in advertising and artist collaborations, along with the evidence for why focus groups are a truly terrible idea in topic 4.

Next, we tuck into slightly heartier fare. All the examples, research, and notions just mentioned? We cover them thoroughly. Bibs on — learnings aplenty.