The importance of negative energy in a collaborative august 2011
BUILDING THE COLLABORATIVE: THE IMPORTANCE OF NEGATIVE ENERGY & THE CREATION OF “SWAGGER” -- Further thoughts about a new model –The thoughts I presented in the Death of the Company and Birth of the Collaborativehave stimulated some very positive reactions from a broad swath of people. I think it isfair to say that the vast majority of people who have entertained these thoughts reactfavorably (sometimes very favorably) to the general theme of the collaborative as anorganization versus the current organizational structure of the company. But theirfavorable reactions also beg numerous questions.The non-stop harangue of internally- and externally-created new questions thatconfront the company trying to create something new, together with dealing with thereality of making lots of mistakes as you go about that process, invades an enterprise’sculture. The more the enterprise is involved with creating new things (a market, aproduct, a service, a model, etc.) the more self-doubt exists and the more mistakes areencountered, with greater impact to the culture. In the case of the “extreme start-up”(the enterprise with few if any role models, such as those using the collaborativestructure), the constant questioning is along the lines of: What have we not done right?What are we doing wrong? Why is (or, isn’t) this result happening? When you thinkabout it, those questions aren’t particularly upbeat. Just imagine waking up everymorning thinking about yourself with such questions; you’d pull the blankets back overyour head and go back to sleep.But the company that avoids such questions and sacrifices new initiatives for the sake ofavoiding a potential mistake are actually putting themselves in a position certain to fail –at a minimum, it certainly won’t succeed in the same way as the company that createssomething new.Because the collaborative is a new organizational structure – in fact, one in a nascentstate – there will be an inundation of questions, ranging from the minor issues of howcertain procedures are assigned and completed to major issues such as the strategicdirection of the enterprise or how fees are to be set and profits shared. That means thepeople (at least the current pioneers) engaged in creating a collaborative, by definition,exist in an environment of “downer” questions.But why are these questions downers? I think the answer is because mistakes anduncertainty are, themselves, considered negatives, and that means if you are alwaysfocused on the negative, you’ll be negative, and that’s the downer. You don’t want tobe negative and you don’t want your enterprise’s culture to be negative. Great, thatleaves you with a major dilemma: You want to be innovative but you don’t want thenegative energy that is integral to the innovation process. What do you do? Well, if you
want to be innovative there is only one option: accept the negativism. That leaves youwith another critical issue: Can you accept the negativism as a positive?Imagine the possibilities that arise when negativism is seen as a positive. Instead ofshying away from making mistakes, you hurdle into them as fast as you can (constrainedby intelligent management of resources). Instead of seeing the mistake as somethingyou try to hide, you share it as quickly as possible with your colleagues so they can avoidthe same mistake and offer their ideas as to what happened, why and how to solve it.That’s all good. That’s an upper, not a downer. Collaborative builders must adopt thatattitude.The Concept of “Swagger”:Unique models encounter unique mistakes and develop unique solutions; as thathappens, the enterprise itself becomes more unique, and that uniqueness can beleveraged beneficially for the enterprise in the form of what I call “swagger.” This canbe an amazingly important and valuable asset.Here’s why and how swagger is created:The most important thing to understand about “unique mistakes” is that you can’t seethem coming. Think about it: a cash flow problem is a well-defined mistake. You cansee a cash flow problem emerging well before it becomes a reality. There areestablished best practices for how to monitor the evolution of a cash flow problem andhow to deal with it if and when it can’t be preempted.But you cannot see a new problem emerge. Because it is new, by definition it is notidentifiable. There are no established leading indicators. You can’t see coming theproblem that never existed before. Furthermore, you may not even know you’ve beenhit by a problem until the symptoms become so obvious that you can’t miss them – thatdoes not preclude the possibility that the problem may have existed and beenincubating for a long time. The first inclination once you’ve realized that some vitalbody part has been bitten is to identify it in terms you already know: “Oh, we wrote themarketing copy too long,” or “We should have adopted a different bonus plan,” or “Thebranding is all wrong.” But along with those sorts of questions it is necessary to ask: “Issomething entirely new happening here?”If the answer to the question of whether something new may be happening is even just“maybe,” it’s important to begin the most difficult task when it comes to benefittingfrom mistakes: defining the problem correctly. Once the problem is defined, a solutioncan be considered. But if the problem is defined incorrectly, the solution may become(as John Caswell points out often) a brilliant solution to the wrong question.Unfortunately, the only way you can determine if the problem has been correctlydefined is by determining if the proposed solution actually exerted at least some
influence in mitigating or solving the problem. If the influence of the solution is none-to-modest, rather than concluding that the solution was wrong it should prove morebeneficial to consider whether the problem was correctly defined. Once the problem isreally understood, developing a successful solution is relatively easy.Thus, the problem of answering unanswered questions, coping with mistakes, orcontending with unique problems is a process of: define the problem, develop a solutionfor the problem, test the solution, re-define the problem, re-craft and then re-test thesolution, and repeat and repeat until the quality of the definition and the solutionachieve an acceptable enough level so that you can move to the next unansweredquestion, mistake and unique problem (assuming they aren’t already on your agenda).That is the culture that will characterize the early collaboratives precisely because thecore role models have not yet been developed, all the problems haven’t been identified,and collaborative builders to a large degree still do not know what they do not know.But there is one thing that is a certainty: a productive and palpable uniqueness willgrow in collaboratives involved with inventing new models.As collaboratives identify new problems, they will discover that to solve new problemsthey will have to do so in a way that is consistent with their core values. For example,an enterprise that is committed to billing their services on the basis of the value theyprovide rather than how busy (or not) they are cannot develop solutions based on howmuch time something takes. That is just out of sync with the core values and the cultureof the organization will be stressed, perhaps fatally. Because different values influencecollaboratives as opposed to those that influence companies, as noted in my first articleon collaboratives, the solutions adopted – and that includes the enterprise’s taken-for-granted everyday processes and rules-of-the-road – will be quite different from what wehave come to know as company fundamentals. For example, as I wrote in the firstarticle, a collaborative is managed with the idea that financial results are theconsequences of the culture and quality of lifestyle and work-style for the members ofthe collaborative, whereas a company is managed with the idea that the quality oflifestyle and work-style of employees and bosses are consequences of how well thecompany manages itself when pursuing financial results. The consequence of such afundamental difference in value can be enormous in numerous ways.As the collaborative creates more and more of its own solutions, it becomes moreunique. The collaborative and the company are similar in that they are bothorganizational structures, just as an oak and a pine are both trees. But the collaborativegrows up different, looks different, finds fertile ground elsewhere, requires differentresources to flourish, and so on, just as pines and oaks differ from each other. Ascollaboratives begin to prosper and grow both in numbers and success, those associatedwith collaboratives will understand why they are prospering. They will know it arisesdirectly from their uniqueness – their willingness to reject what have been taken asimmutable laws of business since the emergence of the manufacturing economy. That
sense of exceptionalism will lead to a “swagger:” a sense of confidence that will imbueevery component of the enterprise. There is no replacement for the benefits that comewhen a group of people moves together with the confidence that they are ontosomething uniquely right.It is important to remember that the swagger is greater in direct relation to how trulyunique the enterprise is. Thus, the swagger is a direct result of confronting the downerquestions that lead to negative energy. Accordingly, energy both positive and negative,must be considered as one force, just as Yin Yang must exist as one unit.That will become clear to those involved with collaboratives – both the good part of thisand the bad part of it. It will also lead, ultimately, to those who are pioneers withcollaboratives to begin to adopt their swagger. That swagger is still premature becausethe collaborative model needs a lot more meat on its bones. But it’s coming. Thecompany will die; the collaborative will be born and will grow as the preferredorganizational structure of the knowledge economy.