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Collaboration and Cliffs

Posted By Jeff Cohn, Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 19, 2014

In our latest Plexus book group meeting, we discussed chapter 5 of Andrew Zolli’s excellent and provocative book, "Resilience.” The chapter focuses on collaboration- within groups, between groups, and when there are no pre-existing groups. The book contrasts the failed efforts from 2008 as the banking/mortgage crisis was emerging with the more successful efforts that emerged during the days and weeks after the Haitian earthquake. In the former, a panel of experts from the financial industries was pulled together for the purpose of reversing the economic tide and trying to figure out a way to save Lehman Brothers. Ultimately no "solution” was reached and the group disbanded without action being taken. In the Haiti example, despite (or maybe because of) no central planning, individuals and groups were able to create and coordinate roles and actions, identify and fill gaps, and respond rapidly to the crisis. In addition, the efforts were able to use social networks, diverse perspectives, and ongoing feedback to make adjustments as the effort evolved.

In our discussion we shifted our attention to our current economic crisis: the looming financial "cliff.” We are looking to our elected officials to solve this crisis for us and implement the solution. Doesn’t this resemble what occurred in 2008? Why do we think that a group of pretty homogeneous legislators will actually be able to solve this complex challenge? Yes, there are a few different perspectives in Congress- but just a few. And the backgrounds of most of the people in Congress are amazingly similar. Why can’t we employ the science of how to make progress in complex situations like this to guide us? What if each Representative and Senator had to bring one or two constituents with him or her to join in the search for a way out? What if this large group was then shuffled in a way that people were forced to interact with people they did not know, that might have very different perspectives from them? What if the interactions were designed by the sort of skilled facilitators that are in the Plexus network, who worked to create the conditions for emergent innovation through relationships and communication? And what if whatever emerged was viewed as step one on an iterative pathway, since there is no way to really figure this all out in advance, and we will need to learn and adapt as we go? What ideas do others have? How could we use our own social capital, the power of our collective networks, to try to help make this happen?

Tags:  catching butterflies  cohn  collaboration  resilience 

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