Collaboration, Curiosity and Creativity – My first month with Pioneer

Thanks to everyone who got in touch about Enabling Collaborative Leadership Pioneer Programme and also to share their stories about collaboration.

It’s now a month since I started as programme manager for Pioneer, and an apt time (as any) to reflect on what I know now, or rather what I have begun to inquire into.

Collaboration lies at the heart of the programme and I don’t think anyone would disagree that in these complex times, with less public resources, and a desire for a fairer society and better outcomes for all, that’s it’s not a good thing.

In the past month I’ve attended many meetings, workshops and events, all with a focus on collaboration. I’ve seen some wonderful examples of people bringing their whole self: their honesty, their willingness to learn, and their lively curiosity about how things could be. I have also experienced many people struggle to be collaborative. There is a sense that they want to , but for some the experience appears to be excruciating. They want to complete the task, and achieve the outcome. And yet, we know that what exists in many areas of public life isn’t good enough. There is still massive inequality, aspirations for many are still very low, and hierarchical structures and silo mentality prevails.

Why then is it so difficult to collaborate?

By definition it means to work together to produce something, and within the context of public services and collaborative leadership it means working differently to produce better outcomes.   This implies moving out of entrenched positions, embracing the complexity of situations and staying with uncertainty, not striving for quick solutions, but staying in a place of not knowing.  It suggests a gradual revelation of learning – what don’t we know or understand, and how might we look at this differently. It’s about learning:   learning about ourselves, our defaults, out ego driven responses and our desire for quick actions and quick fixes; learning about our organisations and how they can both support and hinder exploration of complexity , and it’s about learning about the structures and systems in society that keep us from knowing the questions to ask.

To learn, though, we need to be curious, and we need to believe that another way is possible, even though we don’t know what that it. Curiosity isn’t just about ourselves, our beliefs, attitudes and ideas, it’s also about our curiosity about others; those we are seeking to collaborate with. How do evidence this curiosity? One of the emerging themes in this last month has been around dialogue – really listening to others with openness, curiosity, and interest – not a matter of waiting for your turn to speak, to advise, argue or dismiss, but with a sense of how listening and questioning can create new or deeper meanings, and the possibility of transformation. In short we learn to inquire.

But truly listening is hard. It requires focus and a sense of presence – being truly there in that moment, giving your full attention.   Asking questions that deepen awareness is also hard. These are skills that can be developed with practice and patience but they have to spring from a valuing of others and a sense of journey with them rather than leading them to your conclusion. It’s also about being able to say “I really don’t know” and working together to rethink what questions are being asked and what possibilities may be.

This lays the ground for creativity (see below for a self-assessment model of creativity). When we start to inhabit the space of not knowing with curiosity or listen to another to understand their world, their view we begin to make connections and explore the territory from a fresh perspective.   It is not the case, that only some of us are creative! We all have the potential to use our imagination, change our perspectives and work with others to put ideas into action. However, where we often struggle is when we work in cultures that are risk aversive, and where giving and receiving feedback to hone and develop ideas is not regarded as essential. This make perseverance hard and sticking with difficulties more challenging.

Habits of a Creative Mind, adapted from Paul Collard, CCE

PowerPoint Presentation

On reflecting over this past month, I have become aware that we are all at different stages of readiness to embrace this new messy, meshed up/networked world, with no clear hierarchies and no real sense of permanence. It’s a difficult (but it can be exciting) space to inhabit, but we need to do more to support everyone involved in public services to understand this space and develop the kinds of knowledge and skills that will help navigate the uncharted waters. So with this in mind, we have developed a number of experiential workshops which hopefully will help ground, explain, and explore the experience of being a pioneer.

I’m also working collaboratively with the design team for the next U.Lab open event . That in itself has been an interesting process, which Nick Wilding has written about in his blog. This is an interesting account of the process of collaboration and gives some useful background information about why U.Lab now in Scotland.

Keep in touch with your reflections on collaboration, curiosity and creativity and if you would like to know more about Pioneer please email me:

1 comment

  1. Brilliant article Karen,

    In my own recent experience working with Dundee and Angus College there are many, many different reasons and problems that I encountered in my short 7 month contract but the main one is that everybody had their own agenda to bring to the fore and the employment hierarchy just meant that you had to fulfill what your boss told you, no matter how daft it sounded.

    One of the people I reported to has now been in the job for 30 years and doe snot take kindly to anyone suggesting new things. They say all the right things about collaborative working because that is where they have identified where they get the next bit of funding from but they don’t really want to change.

    I was told while implementing a £3 million ERDF funded project that writing about it in an office was more important than actually delivering the project, just in case we failed to meet any outcomes. While you have people who fall in to the structure and become scared of doing and trying not just new things but better things then you end up with a organisation that people who are willing to try an open approach with joined up agendas all working to a larger good just leave because they cant be bothered with all the crap.

    I have worked with a large number of SME’s on collaborative projects that have not always went to plan but all bar 2 in 20 years have had good or great outcomes for the client or main partner. A lot of the management techniques that we are seeing today in statutory bodies like colleges or local government are being managed by people who learned to work under managers who were working in the 1970’s and 1980’s, you can clearly see the trends and structures that just don’t fit in today’s world. or at very least causing an organisation to be very ineffective!

    I wish you good fortune in getting a grip on the problems…!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: