October 8, 2015
One of your biggest problems is that you're smart and have great ideas.
No, really. It gets in your way.
What do you say when someone shows you something they're working on?
What's your reaction when someone brings you an idea?
Often, you can see ten reasons why the idea won't work or you think the idea could work but the implementation is wrong. Clearly, you think, we should do it instead like this.
I've recently watched a great talk by Randy Nelson who talks about this and so much more. The talk is called Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age and was given in 2008 while Nelson was the Dean of Pixar University.
He begins by talking about two aspects of improv that Pixar embraces for collaboration.
The first principle is that you accept what is offered.
"But what if it's something stupid or wrong?" you ask.
You still accept it and go with it.
Suppose someone says, "This morning the supreme court overturned the law of gravity."
One hundred things might run through your mind about what's wrong with that statement. Gravity is gravity - it works no matter what. The "law" of gravity isn't really a law that was passed. It can't be appealed or overturned. The supreme court can't change actual scientific facts.
That's fine. I'll wait until you're finished.
Now what happens if instead you reply, "please take off your shoes, I don't want you getting footprints on the ceiling."
Sure the original premise and the reply are non-sensical in this case - but you might have a playful exchange that explores what would happen if we lived in a world without gravity.
At work it might allow you to explore possibilities that the usual reply of not accepting what is offered would shut off.
Nelson says that when collaborating, not accepting leads to a predictable place but accepting can often open up worlds you wouldn't otherwise find.
The second principle is not judging.
This is so hard for me.
I want to be encouraging, so I like to say, "that's really good." I may have misunderstood Nelson but saying "that's really good, but" and then going on to make a suggestion is no better than saying "that's not really good, why don't we" and then making a suggestion.
Take what is offered and "plus" it. Add to it. Make your suggestion. Don't judge what is offered.
Kim says to me, "let's go on a walk, we've been sitting around all day."
I can say, "we could bring the dog with us."
Maybe I don't feel like taking a walk and don't want to go. Maybe she doesn't feel like including the dog.
The big picture is after twenty-some years of marriage we're engaged in the ultimate collaboration and if Kim wants to take a walk, I'd love to go with her and if I want to include the dog, Kim would love to include Anabelle in our walk.
This goes to Nelson's associated point that we should always strive to make the other person look good. If we are committed to accepting, not judging, and making each other look good, we all win.