As a parent of elementary school-aged children I’m fascinated by many things that make their way home in backpacks, artifacts and evidence of a modern curriculum that seems far more sophisticated and thoughtfully designed than when I was their age.  I find myself attracted to homework time like a cultural anthropologist to a world long forgotten for me. 

Some assignments require active parent involvement, sometimes a humbling experience when your memory fails you on simple things like naming US Presidents and continents.  I tend to fall back on business skills and other tricks like that age old consultant-reversal of the inquiry:  “Well, what do you think the answer is here?” Lots of questions and maybe some gentle nudging gets me through.

Imagine my surprise when a note came home with some homework that may as well have screamed “DON’T TEACH THEM MATH!”  Reinforced at curriculum night and in other take-home communications, apparently the way we learned math oh-so-many years ago is not the proper way to teach it today.  I get this concept rationally, although it is kind of a funny feeling being on the other side of educational innovation, the master of an ancient language not now taught in schools the way I learned it. 

This “new math” got me thinking about some “old math” that I learned many years ago in a book called Novations, which frames career development from an organizational perspective, and the relative contributions that individuals make, as a series of stages. Formally known as the Four Stages of Contribution , it suggests that careers develop in a series of distinct stages, with each stage requiring its own skills and behaviors and expectations, particularly regarding the value realized by the individual in relation to the system within which they work.  These stages are described briefly here:

Stage 1 = Dependent Contributor – Much of your contribution relies on the influence of others.  These are early stage professionals or experienced professionals new to an organization.

Stage 2 = Independent Contributor – You are your contribution.  You produce value by completing the tasks required in your role.

Stage 3 = Contributes Through Others – you contribute by managing or influencing others, produce value through formal or informal networks

Stage 4 = Contributing Strategically – you contribute at the enterprise leadership level

The mathematical formula I referenced earlier is one that aims to simplify the measurement  of value an individual provides an organization at each stage of contribution.  It goes like this:

 v = the Value you bring to the organization 

 y = You (Your contribution)

 n = The number of people you influence or influence you

Applied to the Four Stages it looks like this

Stage 1 = Dependent Contributor   v = y/n

Stage 2 = Independent Contributor    v = y

Stage 3 = Contributes through others  v = y (n)

Stage 4 = Contributing Strategically     v = yn

While at times here at Collective Next we work with Stage 1 and Stage 2 contributors, most or all our value lies with systems-level work most often owned by Stage 3 and Stage 4 contributors.   Naturally, since we are a firm founded on the principles of applied collaboration, I got to thinking that there must be another factor that influences the value of one’s contribution, one that would be an index (wouldn’t that be nice) that measures their use of applied collaboration. 

Taking this idea and applying it to the formula, where

 c = collaboration,

a new Stage 3 might look like    v = y (c/n)

This carries the premise that the higher the index for collaboration, the ratio of your influence with others and networks will yield greater overall value to the organization.  Conversely, if you influence a lot of people but are not collaborative in the way you go about producing value, the overall yield is less.

A new Stage 4 might look like     v = ync

Since Stage 4 contributors are such a small percentage of the overall population an exponential multiplier seems like a proper relationship to consider how collaborative tendencies can increase the influence of enterprise-level contributions.   A local CEO of a large insurance company, when asked how he influences a workforce of 30,000, simply said he put the majority of his focus on influencing his twelve direct reports.  But if he does that right, and does it as a collaborative process with shared ownership, good design thinking and a strong execution strategy, then the rest of the organization will realize the value.

Collaboration, the new organizational math.  Now excuse me while I Google who the 33rd US President was so my kids won’t find out I‘m not as smart as they think I am.  They’ll find that out soon enough.