In May 2016, USE (University of Stirling Enterprise) invited Van Phillips, inventor of the running blade, to talk to staff and students about innovation and inspiration. He was open and honest about his experiences in developing world-changing equipment and shared his ideas for the future.
As a Piirus correspondent, however, I couldn’t help picking up what he said about collaboration, and in particular what he said about leading a group of collaborators.
You have to think of egos: your’s and the engineers’. You can’t show that you think their idea is nonsense: it stifles their creativity. The spark goes out.
He said that a leader has to stroke egos, to nurture and to look after the souls of their collaborators.
I must admit, I immediately thought of the world of academic collaboration when he said this. In academia, we can, from time to time, find ourselves dealing with powerful egos. Add to this that we are engaging in cross-disciplinary collaborations more than ever before, and the communication problem we encounter adds to this tension. And as if that wasn’t enough: you might not have the training or the experience to be a leader in the way that Van is.
There’s something to be said here about how we communicate and treat our collaboration partners, something that goes beyond professional respect or deference. What Van was getting to was the person behind the idea expressed. It isn’t simply taking everything that is suggested and implementing it: that’s not your job as a leader. Instead, you should be finding ways to establish your vision without extinguishing the creative spark that they cradle. It’s about communication, yes, management, yes, but it’s also about you as a person and your relationship to another person.
Van expresses these ideas in terms of collective consciousness and spirituality. But we don’t need to adopt that framework in our lives. What metaphor works for you? For some it will be in terms of the mechanics of people management, influencing skills and negotiation. For others, the framework will be reward and punishment, or “who’s getting what?”. What makes sense to me is the idea of the interlocutor as a whole person, the personal and the professional converging in a complete package. Whatever it is for you, Van’s advice is worth heeding. Be aware of the egos involved in collaborative working and come prepared to build something of mutual benefit.
Images: CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay