Cooperation, coordination and collaboration are terms that are often times used interchangeably to describe the way people work together.
In fact, if you’ll Google these terms (like I did), you’re likely to find contradicting and overlapping definitions.
Interestingly, our friends in the government and non-profits sectors seem to have done the most thoughtful work around coming up with consistent and distinct definitions for these terms. While the original context is aiming to define the way organizations can work together, tweaking the definitions to apply for a more personal context is pretty straight forward.
I in my (re?)search, I came across two useful definitions. The most useful one is the one provided by Robyn Keast and captured in the image above. Keast explains the difference between the three terms by calling out changes across several attributes / dimensions: connection and trust, communication and information sharing, goals, resources, power, commitment and accountability, relational timeframe and risk/reward. All of which, are just as relevant in a more personal context.
To an extent, it’s a consistent, but zoomed out view of Keast’s definition, putting cooperation, coordination and collaboration on a broader spectrum. The pithy descriptions make it easier to get the big picture and key differences but some of the nuances are lost.
As described in the beautiful illustration above, the rider refers to our rational brain, the elephant refers to our emotional brain. The book focuses on behavior change and the key thesis is that most behavior change efforts fail because they are focused only at the rider. But if the change effort spooks the elephant, the rider has very little control over its movement…
They then suggest a three-part strategy, addressing the rider, the elephant and the path:
Direct The Rider
Follow The Bright Spots. Investigate what’s working and clone it.
Script The Critical Moves. Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors.
Point To The Destination. Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.
Motivate The Elephant
Find The Feeling. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.
Shrink The Change. Break down the change until it no longer spooks the elephant.
Grow Your People. Cultivate a sense of identity and instill the growth mindset.
Shape The Path
Tweak The Environment. When the situation changes, the behavior changes. So change the situation.
Build Habits. When behavior is habitual, it’s “free” and doesn’t tax the Rider. Look for ways to encourage habits.
Rally The Herd. Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.
It’s probably been 5 years since I read Switch. I found myself thinking about the rider/elephant/path metaphor recently from a different lens — the lens of organizational design.
Many organizational design strategies suffer from the same myopia as the conventional behavior change strategies — being overly focused on the rider, the rational mind, and forgetting to account for the two other critical elements — the elephant and the path.
What would it look like to design organizations and human systems with the rider/elephant/path metaphor at their core?
One interesting difference between a behavior change strategy and an organizational design strategy, is that since the former is focused on the conditions of the system at the time of the specific desired behavior change, it therefore views the relationship between the rider and the elephant as fixed. In an organizational design strategy, we design for a continuous stream of interactions, and therefore can, and I would argue should, view the relationship between the rider and the elephant as dynamic. We can design with an intention to influence that relationship.
The strategy can therefore be formulated with a longer view in mind:
I remembered finding the notion of “deconstructive communication” to be a pretty interesting idea while reading the book, but it really hit home for me in the last couple of weeks: a colleague was sharing with me some really difficult feedback and as he was sharing it with me, I was feeling a great deal of discomfort. It was not until several hours after the conversation that I realized that a lot of my discomfort stemmed not from the feedback itself, but from the way it was shared with me.
So what are we talking about here?
The distinction between “constructive criticism” and “destructive criticism” is a well accepted one. Constructive and destructive criticism differ on several attributes. Criticism that is specific, supportive, solution-oriented, and timely is often described as constructive criticism; while criticism that is vague, blames the person, threatening and pessimistic if often described as destructive criticism.
Sharing criticism using constructive framing and language is considered a “best practice”. Even the words chosen to make this distinction make it clear that constructive = good, destructive = bad. Pretty straight forward, right?
But what if constructive criticism also has its challenges?
If we dig one level deeper, and consider the big underlying assumptions of both constructive and destructive feedback, we’ll find that they have a lot in common.
They both assume that the person receiving the criticism is doing something wrong and the person providing it is “setting them straight”.
They both assume that the person proving the criticism “knows the trust” and is now sharing it with the ignorant receiver.
They both assume that the interaction should be transactional and mostly one sided: the job of the person sharing the criticism is the provide it, and the job of the person receiving the criticism is to (gracefully) accept it.
Is there an alternative?
There is. This is what deconstructive communication is all about. Deconstructive communication aims to level the playing field of the dialogue, working under a different set of big underlying assumptions.
It assumes that there is some merit in both perspectives and both perspectives may not be accurate.
It assumes that there may be more than one legitimate interpretation to behaviors.
It assumes that both parties have something to learn from the interaction, and the only we to do so, is through a two-way conversation.
Constructive Communication vs. Deconstructive Communication
Here’s a good summary of the main differences between the two:
Which one should I use?
I would not go as far as to say that constructive communication is bad, and deconstructive communication is good. There are likely some situations in which the assumptions underlying constructive communication are rather accurate. If you choose to use constructive communication, do so while making explicit decision to choosing over deconstructive communication, given the accuracy of its underlying assumptions.
But more often than not, I suspect that the assumptions underlying deconstructive communication are more accurate.
Using deconstructive communication is hard, and requires an even more challenging adaptation period. I am nowhere near mastering it myself. Yet. But anyone who succeeds in modifying the default way in which they engage in conflict from constructive to deconstructive is unlocking a whole other level of personal learning and growth.
I stumbled upon the Americanized version of this image (replacing “Ikigai” with “Purpose”) on my Facebook feed a few weeks back (oh, the irony) and it really stuck with me. When it came up again this week, though a different channel, it was time for a post.
Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced [ikiɡai]) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.”… Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life… “people can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”
Despite the visualization most likely being a gross simplification of the deeper meaning of the word, that sweet-spot of “what you love” + “what the world needs” + “what you can be paid for” + “what you are good at” is a tough one to find for most people.
I find it to be a useful, self-reflective, diagnostic tool. Understanding where you currently fall short in pursuit of your Ikigai (which circles don’t yet overlap in your life), gives you a focused direction for the next step towards that ideal.
I’ve been a Breaking Smart subscriber for almost a year now and this is exactly the type of post that made my subscribe in the first place.
If you skip the Ethereum intro, and look beyond that IT-focused framing, you’re left with a fascinating concept.
Rao introduce the distinction between Rhizome — a structure that allow for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation — and Arborescent— as tructure following totalizing principles, binarism and dualism.
In the context of the organizations, while the transition from a hierarchical to a networked mental model is a hot trend in organizational design, both concepts remain in the realm of arborescent. Trying to capture the complex, multi-dimensional attributes of the organization in a reductionist, two-dimensional architecture. But what if we started looking at organizations as rhizomes?
Rao suggests that this leads to some interesting insights, and able to predict interesting phenomena that we’ve all encountered:
The archetypal action in a rhizomatic information architecture is cut-and-paste. The spreadsheet is the archetypal integration tool: a sort of generalized clipboard. There is a relationship here to the idea that the medium is the message, and Conway’s law (product structure mirrors org structure). Our information environments are becoming rhizomatic because our informational lives are becoming rhizomatic, and vice versa, in a chicken-and-egg loop.
There is perhaps a distinction between a n00b and an expert, but it is highly localized around specific corners of the rhizome. You can go from n00b to expert and back to n00b in 2 steps. In a traditional org, you can count the floors between the executive suite and say the shop floor where blue-collar workers build products on assembly lines. Authority falls as the elevator descends. n00b/expert relationships change slowly and predictably in space as you move. Expertise and authority turfs are simply connected and simply bounded. In a rhizome, in a move from point A to point B, relative knowledge and expertise might swing wildly. And the value of actions might swing wildly while you’re moving
A rhizome is also a high-friction space. Movement through a rhizome involves an unpredictable stream of transaction costs. Every journey is an obstacle course… Sometimes a single click moves mountains. Other times, you need to move mountains to do one tiny thing. Effort-outcome relationships get out of whack… In a rhizomatic world, if your expectations and work habits are built around architectural cleanliness, you will get deeply frustrated and be perennially frozen. If you can only navigate well-paved paths and clean, well-lit spaces, you’ll likely spend a lot of time in low-value, or even futile, ritualized behaviors while getting nothing done. You must be willing to adopt an opportunistic approach to navigating complexity, and switch from ugly hack to elegant beauty, from amateurish fumble to expert flourish, in an instant.
It’s a short read, arguing that in the era of knowledge work, the distinction between work and personal lives is a false dichotomy, and the tension is only if you choose to look at reality through a very particular lens.
A few memorable quotes:
We need to study the intersection of business strategy and personal narrative and use the new agenda to challenge our industrial age practices and flawed ways of thinking. We are accustomed to taking work home, but what would the opposite be? Knowledge work needs people who are more fully present, people with responsibility and ownership.
Post-industrial business is about doing meaningful things with meaningful people in a meaningful way.