Don't Go It Alone CN card

This is one of a series of posts we’re running this summer about the Collective Next Cards.

The central theme of David Foster Wallace’s work was that Man’s greatest struggle in life is to overcome his obsession with Himself. By nature, we are navel-gazers, making our way down a road littered with cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias and seeking validation of what we already believe.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In most walks of life, having that elusive “strong sense of self” is not only comforting and empowering, it is necessary. Lucrative, too. Just ask Ralph Waldo Emerson or Steve Wozniak, renowned billionaire and self-described loner, who wrote in his memoir “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met … live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

At Collective Next, we couldn’t disagree more. We certainly recognize the necessity of the individual spark as part of any successful design process. We often employ an exercise where participants are given 30 minutes, uninterrupted, to imagine their individual vision for the future. But for us (as well as for all of our clients who hire us to help them work better together), the greatest potential for the group and the individuals is reached when we don’t go it alone.

One particular area where collaboration proves most beneficial is in the process of  “creation,” which is creativity plus execution. The energy and focus that it takes to come up with an idea is generally a very different type of energy and focus that is required to make that idea a reality. When we put people in teams in our sessions, we select to have the right balance of perspectives, experiences, titles and functions. Everyone needs a mirror, a challenger, a contributor, a tester, an inspirer, a temperature-taker. Without Boswell, there’s no Johnson, and vice versa. Good ideas also need multiple rounds of iteration to become great ideas. This is a grueling process that takes sustained energy, objectiveness, varied perspectives, resilience, and dedication. And those are in much greater supply when a group is collaborating to create something then when one is going it alone.

Education and learning is another area that is best served by collaboration. A tenet that is core to Collective Next’s development and engagement work is inspired by this quote from Blaise Pascal: “We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons that we discover for ourselves than by those given to us by others.”

In more basic terms, we believe it when we see it. You know what’s better than that? Believing it when a lot of other people see it with you. Better yet, when people see it a little bit differently than you, which helps you to refine and expand your perception of what you are “seeing.” We learn better, we develop more when we are able to add dimension to our perspectives. In our Collaborative Learning Programs, we create learning teams of four-to-six people for this very reason. There is a powerful multiplying factor when teams learn together, and this power is necessary. As children, we readily accept new ideas and information and have little difficulty entertaining conflicting and preposterous concepts. Harold and the Purple Crayon was not written for adults (although it is enjoyed by seven-year-olds of all ages). For us grown-ups, our hard drives are sort of full already. Our neural wagon wheels have established pretty deep ruts in our brains by the time we “mature,” and there is little space for new ideas or information. And this is dangerous! We must learn. We must grow. However, shifting our beliefs on what’s most important takes a significant mental force — one that is not easily generated alone.

Certainly, the “artiste” in all of us has the power to change the course of history, all by ourselves. But even then, doesn’t that sound sort of lonely? Regardless of whether you are more effective as an individual or a team, isn’t it better to have a team along for the ride? Even misery loves company.

At Collective Next, we live by the power of the team. We know that the only way to harness the lone genius in all of us is to collaborate with the rest of the geniuses. We never go it alone.