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A Six-Word Story

Submitted by Richard Crespin

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts

Ernest Hemingway inspired the idea of six-word stories with his famous challenge and the first, six-word story: “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.” When we work with groups taking on big problems, we challenge them to come up with their own six-word stories describing their endeavors because, to paraphrase Einstein, if you can’t explain it simply, you simply don’t understand it.

Here’s our six-word story: Strange bedfellows doing great things together.

That’s our life’s work. To make it possible for people who don’t normally work together to do really amazing things together. We’ve spent the past few decades looking at how to make the act of collaboration easier, more organized, and more likely to produce results. We’ve uncovered nine pivotal moments in the course of collaboration that can make or break, broken down into their own six-word stories: 

  1. Only some problems need collaborative solutions. Deciding if your problem needs collaboration – or doesn’t – is the first step to building an effective collaboration.

  2. Collaboration takes real human connection. Michael Porter coined the term “shared value” but creating that kind of value starts by creating real human connection, building trust, finding shared purpose.

  3. Inviting individuals to live their greatness. Inviting not just a list of organizations but the specific people and inviting them in a way that inspires, engages, and calls them to something greater than themselves.

  4. Nothing happens until people meet. Viktor Frankl observed that, “…man has to make choices…No instinct tells him what he ought to do.” And the basic unit for groups making choices is the meeting. Animals don’t meet. They just act. The meeting is the fundamental unit of human organization and decision-making.

  5. Solve problems; don’t advocate solutions. Too often, we become advocates instead of problem solvers.  Before we fall in love with our solutions we must first fall in love with our problems.

  6. Getting institutional commitment takes commitment. These kinds of collaborations involve institutions and getting institutions to commit takes commitment in and of itself. Would be collaborators need to give institutional representatives the time and information they need to seek commitment.

  7. Specify the who, what, how, when. Now that you’re clear on the problem and you have committed partners, get specific about exactly what you’re going to do together, for whom, and under what terms and conditions. Hope for the best but plan for the worst, so have good documentation and a prenup!

  8. Achieving greatness takes trial and error. People will often tie up their own egos and personalities in a big endeavor. And when the solution fails, they take it as personal failure. The path out is both semantic and fundamental. Semantically, consider an approach as an experiment designed to test a specific hypothesis. If it fails, you didn’t fail. The experiment failed. Fundamentally, design experiments with testable outcomes.

  9. To have impact, tell impactful stories. Before we had a written language, humans told stories. Our brains are pre-programmed to remember data arrayed in narrative. Don’t just gather facts and figures. Use them to tell stories.

Together with our Collaboration Nation we’ll explore the underlying theories, tips, and tricks for each pivot point. You can share your own six-word collaboration story and follow our progress at http://www.collaborateup.com/collaboration-nation

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts

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