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Alone And Connected: Work in the Age of Collaboration

Posted by Chad O'Connor  March 8, 2012 10:47 AM

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Kevin Dooley/Creative Commons
Alone and connected...
In my last blog I suggested that in order to adapt to a “new creative economy,” and set ourselves up for success in a changing world of work, one of the things we must do is take smart risks. Just the word risk makes some folks uncomfortable, but taking small, smart risks fairly regularly is important because it it creates new opportunities where there previously were none, and it helps us prove to ourselves that we are capable of taking lead on our work lives. Taking risks keeps things interesting and reminds us that ultimately, we have tremendous agency over our projects.

For the office worker, risk-taking at work might mean asking for flex time or going part-time in order to start that side endeavor, increasing happiness and productivity on both fronts. Or putting in a few extra hours per week in order to shift work from one project to another that is better aligned with goals and interests. For the freelancer, it might mean going after gigs with far more initiative, offering a service clients don’t even know they need yet, but will greatly benefit from. For the entrepreneur, it could mean letting a startup change again and again, letting go of the old so whatever needs to come next can come next.

But rather than talk too much about how to go about taking risks—the “how” is going to be different for everyone—I want to think about what makes risk-taking even possible in the first place. It’s a bit of a paradox. In order to be confident enough to take risks in our careers, we need two things: radical independence and a consistent, meaningful connection to a community we can trust. We must have deep faith in our own ability to lead, asking for help when necessary, and we must actively seek and rely on the wisdom of the collective—a community of peers and leading thinkers in our fields, or a group of key people at work that help us think through and forward our ideas.

This week I have the privilege of attending and covering the Lean Enterprise Institute’s 2012 Lean Transformation Summit in Florida. In essence lean is about minimizing waste in any given process and creative problem-solving out of deep respect for both the worker and the work at hand.The Summit theme this year is collaborative learning, namely how this focuses and accelerates lean. We cannot make real headway on a project or effectively problem-solve without first creating the conditions for collaborative learning to take place.

The timing could not be better. I’m consistently struck by how mindful each of us must be as individuals in relationship to our own work before we can begin to collaborate with others. Conversely, it’s difficult to have a healthy, interesting relationship to our own work without inviting the creativity and input of others.

As our relationship to our work becomes more and more conscious—in the lean world or anywhere else—we are becoming more alone and connected than ever. This lean idea of respect for the work, and of keeping the work (not our egos) at the center, can guide us in improving our relationship to our work and taking smart risks over time.

How do you show respect for the work in front of you each day? Or for your own good ideas? How do you show respect for others so that real learning can occur? I’ll be mulling over these questions myself this week, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Follow the learning from the 2012 Lean Transformation Summit on Facebook and @leandotorg on Twitter.

Lex Schroeder writes frequently on leadership, change, and creativity. She is a writer, editor and Program Associate at The Berkana Institute, and a Connector for Boston World Partnerships.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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