Rugged individualism is highly overrated. There’s a reason why many successful business owners have either an equally strong co-founder or a significant other who is a top cheerleader. It’s because most people are simply not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. We need others. When we are willing to become transparent and admit that need, we then are taking a requisite step towards success and away from failure.
Transparency is akin to vulnerability and is one way trust is built. Determining that you would benefit from the input of another requires humility and is hard to do. Those who dare to become interdependent, however, are amazed at the benefits. Interdependency equals collaboration. Collaboration, by definition, means that we no longer have to carry a burden–positive or negative–alone.
“The fact that I don’t have any technical background means I’m not impeded by my knowledge of what it’s going to take to build something, so I’m free to just dream up features and ideas,” says Cyrus Farudi, founder along with Omri Cohen of Capsule, a web and mobile app built for event planning, group interaction and photo sharing. “Luckily, my partner, who has a technical background, has a very ‘yes, it can be done’ attitude. There have been screaming matches when I’ve tried to get too involved in something on the tech side.”
“Collaborating is about co-laboring,” says Nilofer Merchant, innovation expert, Harvard Business Review columnist and author of The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy. “It’s not about hugs. I think people think about it as this positive thing, but it’s really about how you solve tough problems that neither party could solve on their own.”
If you’ve chosen someone based only on skills and intelligence, there might be a personality conflict that, under normal circumstances, could lead to a standoff. But you’re a team, so conflict over personalities would be distracting and frivolous. Sure, the tension of your differences might push both of you right up to the point of failure (the brink of doom, we’ll call it). But there are two reasons you’re not likely to go over the brink of doom: One, your fate is connected (by the handcuffs of mutual interest, for lack of a better metaphor); and two, because a lot of great ideas happen right before people fail–a kind of adrenaline kicks in, which keeps you from creative inaction (the abyss of “Man, we got nothin'”). The point is: Collaboration is harnessed conflict.
-Ross McCammon on entrepreneur.com
McCammon describes collaboration as “harnessed conflict.” It is important to realize that the best partnerships (not necessarily legal co-owners of a business, but in the general sense) pit people together whose worldviews can be decidedly different. Finding a way to respect one another and build consensus on how to move the organization forward is not just an internal exercise–it yields fruit outside the company in other key relationships as well!
When you set out to have a meeting with someone for collaborative purposes, here’s some advice from those who have gone before you:
- “You have to have the difficult conversations first,” says Jim Moran, co-founder, president and COO of Yipit, a New York-based deals aggregator and recommendation service. “You have to determine who is better at what. That transparency will make everything flow.”
- The habit of reflecting back to the other person what you have observed being communicated is a good way to build cohesion. “It’s nonverbal behavior beneath people’s awareness, but you can get skilled at doing it deliberately,” says Steve Kozlowski, professor of organizational psychology at Michigan State University and editor of the Journal of Applied Psychology. “You mirror the subtle behaviors of others during an interaction. It’s part of the attraction process. It tends to build rapport.”
Go find a new collaborator for your project/business!