Why Do We Behave The Way We Do?

How do we build new habits and change old ones? How do we eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live happier healthier lives? What are the habits of successful individuals as well as companies and organizations? What are the habits of societies? How do we break free from habits that do not continue to serve us well and learn new ways? Habits can be changed if we understand their patterns and how they work. According to Charles Duhigg in his fascinating new book, The Power of Habit, our brains use a three-step process loop. The first is the cue or trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode helping it identify which habit to use. Then there is a routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.   Managing one’s habits, and the habits in an organization, is essential for powerful collaboration.

Duhigg talks about “all of what we do in life” is a mass of habits. Many of the choices we make each day may feel like well considered decisions but they’re not. They are habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to each other, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, relationships and happiness.

If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine. Here is one story from the book about organizational habits and how they were changed with amazing results:

After becoming head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, Tony Dungy said to his team, “here are the reasons everyone thinks we can’t win,” – The teams management was messed up, their new coach was untested, the players were spoiled, the city didn’t care, key players were injured, and they didn’t have the talent.  “Those are the supposed reasons,” Dungy said. “Now here is a fact: Nobody is going to outwork us.” Dungy’s strategy was to shift the team’s behaviours until their performances were automatic. He didn’t believe the Buccaneers needed the thickest playbook or needed to memorize hundreds of formations. “Every play in football, every play – someone messes up,” said Herm Edwards, one of Dungy’s assistant coaches. “Most of the time, it’s not physical. It’s mental.” Players mess up when they start thinking too much or second-guessing their plays. What Dungy wanted was to take all the decision making out of their game. Dungy’s goal was to free the players mind from all that analysis. He gave them different routines that, eventually, occurred automatically. In Dungy’s second season as coach, the Bucs won their first five games and went to the play-offs for the first time in fifteen years. In 1999, they won the division championship. Dungy’s coaching style started drawing national attention. In 2000, the Bucs made it to the play-offs again and then again in 2001. The lessons from this book are humbling and profound.  Every leader should be familiar with the principles Charles describes.


Collaboration Stations

In a recent HBR article, Brad Power makes the point that face-time is still crucial in our increasingly disparate marketplace. He argues that although we don’t always work in the same place, at the same time, with the same people, making a habit of “face-to-face” work can really pay off.

With information accessible from everywhere, new co-working centres opening every day, and the near-constant publishing of articles touting the benefits of social business, the idea of collaboration is taking hold. There is, however, another disturbing trend starting to develop. With the proliferation of so-called “social tools” we have ended up substituting the truly “social” experience for a kind of pseudo-social virtual interaction.

All collaboration is great, but virtual collaboration seems to be missing something. There’s no room for nuance, or body-language, or intimacy, leaving virtual collaboration as a sort of hollow shell. When we can fill that shell with face-to-face time, even just a little, we strengthen the core of that collaboration. We should keep talking in the physical metaphor here because we can literally fill a room with opportunities to collaborate just by changing a few things about the room itself.

Imagine a place where you can bring the team – a place dedicated to team-building, ideation, and problem-solving – to work together in person. In comes the Collaboration Station – a real physical space which meets the needs of those collaborators. These people work together all the time, but if that work is only ever virtual, they may be seeing less-than-stellar collaboration results. Having a physical space dedicated to collaboration and innovation means everyone knows where to go to find help, and everyone knows what they’re supposed to do when they get there. 

A Collaboration Station could be filled with inspiring material to generate the best ideas. It could promote collaboration by it’s very design, as opposed to promoting hierarchies. You could have project and idea headquarters and the facility could become a permanent idea incubation and innovation centre for the company. Plus, building routine into collaboration helps the team adapt to the culture inside your Collaboration Station and they become better team players, more creative thinkers, and more loyal employees. Not bad for a side effect.

Why We Need to Collaborate

Considering the number of people participating in the sharing economy, it’s a wonder it’s not growing any quicker. With the increased popularity in sharing and collaborating, I believe we are currently watching sharing “go viral”. At first it’s a few organizations building a few websites to participate, now it seems like collaborating is the new hot thing. I’ve been following collaborating in the news for the last few years and recently I’ve seen a massive influx in all things “sharing”.

The UK Consumer Earnings from Sharing 2012 is an earnings report done specifically for Global Sharing Day to outline the number of people already working within the sharing economy and the advantages therein. When you look at the numbers, collaboration is only gathering more and more evidence as the next innovation revolution. Collapsing tiers and hierarchies and business sectors seems to be an ideal solution and inevitable response to this increased “need for sharing”.

When you look at who is collaborating, and how, you realize that it’s not just one business that changes because of collaboration – it changes all business. We’re seeing companies collapse silos into one collaborative entity; projects that were one person’s idea turning into  global movements; entire secondary and tertiary economies developing – collaborating is literally revolutionizing business from within.

It started with a general interest in efficiency, and has become a global project. “Sharing”, “collaborating” – whatever you want to call it – has turned from a way to minimize cost and maximize value into what will become the only way to do business. The numbers are only going one way, and as far as I can tell, they’re speeding up. As more and more people seek to join the sharing economy, there will be fewer and fewer that will do business with so-called “non-collaborators” or “loners” – if these people keep resisting change, they’ll be left behind.

Collaboration Across Boundaries

Boundaries like hierarchies, departmental disassociation, difference in expertise and even personal opinion consistently get in the way of collaboration. It’s no one’s fault, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to account for it so we can stop it from getting worse. These boundaries exist wherever there is any, shall we say “difference”, between collaborators. This could be a difference in rank, a difference in expertise, a difference in interest, or even a difference in personality, but regardless of the difference, it creates a boundary that must be overcome.

Minor friction between different personalities is to be expected – some people just aren’t great team players. In many cases though, there is a specific reason for this friction, and something to be learned from it. The disagreement you’re having is probably based on something else you actually agree about. Carl Jung would have something to say about this. You both want what is best for the company, and you both think you’re right, and you’re both missing a piece of the puzzle.

Hierarchies too. There are people in every level of an organization who presumably spend some percentage of their time thinking about how to make the company better, and because of their relative positions within the company, we can presume that they would have different opinions on how and what to improve. This conflict between so-called “managers” and “employees” could happen because front-line staff are better informed of a company’s daily activities than the managers and executives. Or just the opposite.

In most cases, the external conflict that arises between collaborators is actually because of a paradoxical internal conflict – collaborators both fundamentally agree and disagree. In this conflict there is opportunity. The subtle agreements underlying the disagreements are the foundation for a good collaborative team, but they have to be developed in lieu of the much more obvious disagreements. Each side has a chance to understand the other side, each has a chance to learn why this conflict exists, and learn from the other side.

Conflict across departments is the same story. Different expertise = different opinion = some fundamental disagreement somewhere. And yet you work in the same place. Some conflict in collaboration is good – it’s going to challenge everyone a little bit – especially when that conflict arises because of a shared desire or interest. Boundaries can be good too, because they point out the most obvious opportunities for development. Boundaries can be barriers to collaboration, but they also present the chance to build bridges.

“Success” vs. “Results”

We always seem to talk about success and results in tandem, as if they are intuitively tied, but whenever we do, it seems to be based on a limited understanding of success. If we have to “measure positive results” to call something successful, how do you decide on the success of something like building a community, or collaborating?

With social media, or collaboration, or innovation, we may never see success, because our view of success is too narrow. We’re looking for something that can be compared to traditional marketing, personal productivity, or process improvement – some number that shows us how much extra we made or saved. We keep trying to measure the difference between working alone and working together, between improving the old and creating the new, and we’re at a loss. This is because we keep trying to measure success according to an outdated and purely results-based model.

Consider Twitter

Or Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, the list goes on. The goal of social media is to be social: to find and engage with a community of like-minded individuals on a variety of topics that further your shared interests and goals. If the goal is reduced simply to “make friends”, then what do we call a success or a failure? The results argument says that if you have “friends”, “followers”, “subscribers”, etc. you are successful, and that the more you have, the more successful you are.

Consider a company with thousands of subscribers that use big money to buy followers: are they successful? How about compared to the person working alone who has 300 fully engaged followers who do everything they can to spread the message? The “results” would suggest the company is more successful, but what happens when the person or the company wants something from those followers? For instance, both are trying to increase engagement, so both ask a question on Twitter.

The company will probably only get a small percentage of their subscribers that actually participate. The person with 300 actively engaged followers gets 300 actively engaged participants. In terms of flat number of followers, the company wins. In terms of achieving the goal of engaged participants, the person wins. However, we usually measure response rates, click-throughs, and number of followers, because those can be compared on a balance sheet. This need to overly simplify results is risky, because when we are deciding if the project was a success or a failure, the answer changes depends on your measurement.

With collaboration, innovation, or community building projects, success or failure can’t be measured except in certain circumstances. Compared to their “old-school” counterparts, there is no measure. The success of a community only appears when they’re presented with an obstacle and overcome it because of the rapport they have built in times of ease. With innovation, success seems to happen overnight, because we ignore the failures and their “negative” results. And with collaboration, success seems impossible to measure or predict, but it’s easy to differentiate between the successes and failures.

If we reduce success to “positive results”, we create a constant uphill battle for ourselves. If we can’t measure our success, and success is based on measurement, we can never be successful. Rather than obsess about creating a way to measure collaboration results, I would argue instead for a more theoretical understanding of success as “the increased possibility of achieving your goal based on actions taken with that intention”. Any step you take that brings you closer to your goal, you accomplish something, so let’s call that success instead.

Practice makes Perfect, so Start Collaborating

Collaboration is “working together towards a common goal”, but how do I know when and where to do that? Any situation that has a problem and a solution is a perfect opportunity to collaborate, and here’s why.

Collaboration works really well when all parties involved share the same goals, or face the same problems, and have some intrinsic motivation towards achieving or solving them. Goals and problems are motivating in and of themselves, because they create unresolved tension.

Goals present an “end point” that implies the journey or task is incomplete in some way. There’s a finish line, we’re just not there yet. Problems are the same way. When we see a problem, we instinctively look for the solution, and if we don’t see it, it sparks some inner curiosity that makes us want to find it.

Take brainstorming for example. Brainstorming inherently means people working together to solve a problem. It implies a high level of complexity, or why would it require a dedicated event with a guest list? It also seems to imply a degree of unknown-ness or newness that requires exploration by the parties involved.

Department or company projects are another great example. They create a finish line, but one that can only be reached as a team. This creates a twofold motivation. Individuals are motivated to collaborate because none of them can reach the goal alone, and the team is motivated to leverage those individual skills and assets.

This is only to say that these are great opportunities for collaboration, not that they always turn out that way. The motivation is the important part. Extrinsic motivation (compensation for achieving the goal) has to be balanced with intrinsic motivation, the latter being much more powerful.

Problems that need to be solved and goals to be reached are just such motivations, and it is in these situations that we should try to collaborate. Any situation that has a problem to be solved or a task to be completed presents an opportunity to collaborate with someone. If we start taking those opportunities every time they are presented we can become expert collaborators, meaning more collaboration in more situations. Practice makes perfect!

Social Media begets Collaboration

First, check out this Harvard Business Review article by John Seely Brown: Social Media Will Play a Crucial Role in the Reinvention of Business. Then, consider his arguments with a view to collaboration.

His basic point is that social media not only allows for, but promotes innovation by its very use. John claims that innovation, or any new idea really, comes from the outside in, because core competencies are foundational to the organization and are usually too stable to change. So his point then is that when we look for a new idea, we will have more luck if we search outside the organization.

Here’s where collaboration comes in. Social media allows for interaction between the “edges” and the internal workings of an organization, as well as between the organization and its environment. These points of contact allow for ideas to reach right into the centre of the organization and jump-start revolutionary changes. Social media increases these points of contact to the degree that newer, better ideas are constantly being shared and developed because you get more people volunteering ideas and more people vetting those ideas and therefore, more “good” ideas overall.

The informality of social media is its other huge asset. Because social media allows for such consistent interactions, pitching an idea, sharing your opinion and gathering support have been de-formalized. The consistency just makes it feel like a virtual conversation with a group of friends. Therefore, it’s much more likely that an idea makes it out of your head and into a discussion. Social media creates a perfect environment for like-minded people to meet and interact, share and develop their ideas, and find support for achieving their shared goals. Our interactions on Twitter start to sound like THE definition of collaboration.

Why should I care?

The ubiquitous nature of social media means it has stepped in as the primary opportunity for daily collaboration. Basically, if you’re not on some social media platform, you’re betting against the odds for finding collaborators. With the number of people using social media, and the nature of the beast, it presents itself as the ideal resource to meet a growing interest in, and need for, collaboration. Not only that, the way we use these social tools is a sign that our perspective on the value of collaboration has changed. Collaboration can be, and usually is, viewed as a tool to minimize a drain on resources. Instead, collaboration in social media is a resource in itself – one that allows us to move from sharing work-loads to creating shared value.

Sharing and Collaboration

The following is a guest post written for Kingbridge Conference Centre by Ryan Jaques.

As some of you may know, today is the first ever Global Sharing Day – a day dedicated to promoting and participating in the sharing economy. Sharing plays a pivotal role in most parts of collaboration, because in one way or another, it is how we connect with our fellow collaborators.

Stories and Dreams

It starts by sharing your story or your dream. You have some goal you want to accomplish, but all you have right now is that goal, that idea. So you start sharing that idea or that story with a few friends, and maybe they get on board. Then maybe your friends start telling their friends, and their friends. Maybe you get into social media and start sharing your story with the whole rest of the world. Maybe it turns into a global movement because it turns out that dream you shared with a few friends is shared by more than just your few friends. Sharing your dream with your team mates can help them understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, and having a common goal is invaluable for keeping a team working together.

If you want to see the power of sharing your dreams, take a look at the meteoric rise of the “Movember” movement in the last 10 years (bottom of the linked page) – from 30 members in it’s first year to almost a million world-wide.

Ideas and Plans

Chances are, your story or your dream is built on “Why?”, not “How?”. Most likely, the plan is to “create a global movement”, not to “create a movement by ________”. This is a good thing, though: if Simon Sinek tells us anything, it’s that people buy on why. The downside is that “why” rarely leaves room for “how” and “creating a global movement” isn’t really an action plan. All those friends you shared your goal with though, they have lots of ideas, and  now they’re committed to the cause because they share your goal. When you have a team of people sharing their ideas for how to make your shared dream a reality, it’s a lot easier to go out and make it happen.

Resources and Expertise

The sharing of resources is the single greatest benefit of collaboration. It’s amazing what people have to offer when they’re given a chance to share, both resources and responsibilities. What I mean by that is, many problems are too complex to be solved by one “expert” – bits and pieces of the problem pull them outside of their expertise into a field of guess work. In this field, they are ineffective and not only that, they become ineffective as experts because they can’t focus. If there was a “bits and pieces” expert who knew exactly how to deal with those remainders, what a perfect partnership. Narrow expertise will still have its place, and not only that, each expert now has the time to dedicate their full attention to their section of the problem. Each person taking on their respective piece of the puzzle makes it easier for everyone else to do the same, breaking a complex problem into bite-sized brain teasers.

Creative Collaboration: What does it take?

Creative collaboration is doubly complex because the “common” goal we are working towards isn’t even known yet. We’re working together to come up with something entirely new, so it’s impossible to “know” what the outcome will be before we start. Therefore, we should try to find a replicable method that can help stack the odds in our favour.

By looking at examples of collaboration successes and failures, we should see common factors among each. Unfortunately, with the sheer number of factors that could affect collaboration, this will be like a giant game of “Where’s Waldo?” – there will be many possible answers, some more accurate than others, but we will have to wade through a certain amount of irrelevance. Fortunately, like Waldo, successful creative collaborations do seem to have a few trademark characteristics.


It may seem counter-intuitive, but there has to be a defined leader who’s job it is to run the collaboration. This can be a facilitator, truly outside the group, or an elected member of the group who’s specific job it will be to make sure the agreed-upon rules are followed.


Rules are key. Everyone must have a chance to speak, but no one can be allowed to pontificate. Personalities can be given a chance to shine, that’s why they’ve been invited to the collaboration, but they can’t be allowed to dominate. New ideas can and should be fielded, within reason.


If a group is too similar, you can get groupthink, if they’re too diverse, the lack of common ground might inhibit progress. It has to be a combination of expertise on the subject matter, and “curve-ball” participants, whose specific role is to think differently.


Last but not least, a little discomfort goes a long way. When people know what to expect, they shut down their creative brain. If you can keep people slightly off-balance, they don’t know what to expect, and will be more open to the “unexpected”, allowing them to think more creatively.

Some proponents of collaboration might disagree, claiming that boundaries will infringe on the creative abilities of the group, but it is these boundaries that seem to be the most important components of creative collaboration. Without keeping the process “reigned in”, it can quickly spiral out of control. So while it may seem counter-intuitive to have someone “lead” the collaboration according to a “set of rules”, without boundaries we end up with the tennis match from last week.

Collaboration 101: A New Look at the Definition of Collaboration

Cooperative vs. Non-Cooperative Play                  Illustration by: Tracy Ma

Collaborate: to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.

We know what it’s supposed to mean, but what is collaboration? With a myriad of definitions and uses, the word appears in many contexts, and often with different interpretations. With elements of competition, co-operation, and compromise, we can see how subtle collaborations throughout our days make it possible to achieve our goals. To learn about collaboration, then, it seems much more valuable to seek out and learn from stories and examples of collaboration in daily human interaction. With so many situations that require, or at least enable collaboration, it seems plausible that we already have the skills and just need practice adapting those skills to different situations.

We can learn by studying examples of effective and ineffective collaboration, and seeing what works and what does’t. For example, simply by driving in traffic we are practicing collaborating. Equal parts competition and compromise, the concept of “right-of-way” is a structure that enables collaboration, and defines how everyone participating will interact with each other. In sports, the combination of co-operation and compromise make the game possible. Although we are competing against the other team, we also have to agree with our competitors to play by the same rules. Non-cooperative play results in nobody being able to play, as shown in the image above.

As the activity gets more complex, there is a more complex form of collaboration. Our traffic system, our healthcare system, our education system, even our business “system” exist as collaborative entities. The moon landing would not have been possible without a massively complex collaboration. Neither would a cure for smallpox. These systems are dependent on collaboration: intuitive, subconscious, or otherwise. If subtle, almost unconscious collaboration prevents total chaos in seemingly every group activity, then conscious, grand-scale collaboration is an incredibly valuable tool just waiting to be harnessed.

We seek to untangle and understand collaboration by sharing and learning from these stories, to find a way to harness the power of our collective intelligence and commitment, and so, we ask for your help. If we can practice and perfect our collaboration skills, we can solve more complex problems in increasingly innovative ways. If you have a story, an example, or even a question about collaboration, please share it. The more people participating, the more powerful the collaboration can be, so add your voice and your insights.